Card games are an interesting sub-genre of roleplaying that usually skew just outside of this site’s remit, however with the introduction of a world map to explore, character banter and a story as well as item research and other systems, SoulSpark crosses the border into RPG territory.
Created by the clever minds at Copenhagen Creators, the game takes a traditionally turn based formula and makes it a live quick-fire event that bucks the trend of slower, more ponderous card games on the mobile market.
Graphically the game uses the artwork of Steve Prescott exclusively throughout its run, giving the game a strong sense of identity and knitting the world together in a relatable fashion. Unlike other card games, which usually split the artwork for cards between multiple artists to speed up production, this singular focus plays up the games strengths and establishes a strong visual identity. Characters are illustrated in a western cartoony format that is both serious and slightly comical at the same time. As such the world takes on a cheeky aspect that is easier to penetrate that the grim seriousness of many of its rivals. Battles realize the cards as paper objects in a 3D space, and move them around, causing lighting effects and casting shadows as they do so. It’s a visually interesting direction that works wonders. Monsters you will encounter along the way are vibrant and interesting in their design, with crab people among the first enemy types you encounter and things only getting more imaginative from there. The game is laid out at excellent dimensions for playing one handed on your phone in portrait mode, leaving lots of space on tablets by comparison.
Sound effects are largely limited to battles, with clicking and whooshing noises used in the games primary menus when looking over cards or selecting options. More violent and powerful effects are saved for the combat itself, which rings with the crunches of attacks of various weights and spell effects. Music is Celtic in inspiration, matching some of the design choices, but brings the big-bang flavour of soundtracks such as Lord of the Rings. Characters sadly go unvoiced, which is understandable for keeping the app size down but some of the dialogue is amusing enough that it’s a shame not to hear it brought more vividly to life.
The plot of SoulSpark is thin, largely a veil produced to keep the various missions and card battles the game throws at you hidden behind the idea of a narrative. At the games outset three heroes, collectively known as Bluestone, Ohna and Mala (Knight, Archer and Healer) are making landfall on the beach of a large worldmap. They’re adventurers by trade and the ship they’re docking in has been plagued by rats. Bluestone has taken personal offence at this and is trying to exterminate them all at the games outset, joined soon after by his friends when it looks like things are going to drag out. From there they begin to explore the map one dot along their patch at a time in a linear journey that sees them rescue a wizard and sees Bluestone incapacitated by a Siren among other things. It’s light fantasy fair that bumbles along at its own pace without ever getting too heavy for a casual gamer to come to grips with. The strength is in the writing here, with a show and don’t tell policy that has literal cards chatting to each other throughout the games length, making puns and generally enjoying themselves. They’re all archtypes of their class, so expect the knight to have a ‘hit first’ policy whilst the archer remains aloof or the healer motherly.
With a weaker story, gameplay is the key draw here. The decision to ditch turn based mechanics and implement a real-time action orientated command system gives the card game a dimension that few others on the market have and which couldn’t be duplicated in a real-world equivalent. Characters, of which you can field 3 at a time from an expanding pool of characters both available through the story or paying out premium gems to buy (a currency doled out regularly but in small increments or available for purchase at not unreasonable sums). Each character has their own deck of cards which you control, from which their action for the turn is drawn and presented at the bottom of the screen for your approval. Sweeping the attack up onto a target triggers it, with positive and negative actions such as healing and attacking represented in this way. Sweeping it down removes it and the game generates another once a timer has run its course. Quick action is necessary because all actions have their own timers and time management is the name of the game here. Some enemies can make themselves immune to damage for a set amount of time, making you have to factor in windows of attack against countdowns on longer more impressive attacks. When a character is knocked out by having its HP depleted it’s out of the game while it heals in real-time, but you can force it back into action for a limited period at the cost of taking longer to heal from exhaustion. The limiting factor here is the HP of your characters, and at any time after a battle you can pay a gem to renew full HP or wait patiently for your characters to heal and continue onward. More powerful cards are paid for using magic orbs which are fed slowly into matches one at a time as timers tick down, these are powered by cards that are swept away and light up when charged, letting you know how many orbs you currently have in stock to unleash more powerful cost-based attacks. Waiting for these orbs to unlock and keeping them charged is a secondary priority after keeping your characters health up, making most matched then a way of attrition that takes place across several waves. You win new cards to add to character decks, gold and gems from combat as well as unlocking the artwork for each monster you’ve defeated to date. Gold can be spent learning how these cards work, which adds them as a permanent fixture to your decks. Using a card you’ve not mastered in this manner turns it into a one-shot function which is handy when all hands are needed for a boss encounter, but less so if you want to keep your options open. As mentioned you can buy new characters and special cards in the shop using gems, as well as remove ads. An added feature is a melting pot that yields random results when pumped with unwanted cards or currency. There are some difficulty spikes intended to encourage buying gems to unlock new characters with higher HP totals, but the game does a good job of rewarding good play by allowing you to tackle these or grind earlier levels for the gems you need.
Overall this title is one of the most neatly packaged and self-contained apps mirroring the concept of card based battles I’ve ever come across. Hearthstone should take notes here, as the experience often feels more stable and polished than Blizzard’s juggernaut title and I’ve certainly had more close-calls playing it. The artwork is fantastic, the world setting pitched perfectly and the production values are through the roof. This is one card game that’s showing both genres how it should be done. There’s talk of adding a multiplayer aspect in the near future, which I imagine would suit the play style on display here perfectly.