Having recently established how much I love card games (check out my Nowhere Prophet preview here) it should be of no surprise to see me review another one. It’s an odd thing to be reminded of classic Windows bundled games of yonder and you can’t be too surprised to find a solitaire game within. That’s not necessarily a bad thing mind you, Pocket Card Jockey on the 3DS was a game built around solitaire and I still find myself discovering where I’ve left the dusty handheld just for another quick go. Is Shadowhand a hidden diamond buried away in Steams dust or is it just a lump of coloured glass?
Shadowhand is an interesting blend of solitaire and mahjong. It mixes up the card game’s formula by having a main character that you can level up and increase their stats which with buying/collecting items, weapons, armour and equipment can change how revealing cards works. Shadowhand does use Puzzle Quest style duels as well but regardless of what’s going on in the story you’ll be clicking on cards higher or lower than the one in your hand and revealing them until you need to draw a new one. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp but there are enough changes throughout the gameplay to make the different chapters unique. Breaking out of a jail cell requires a set of jail key cards to be found which opens another pile of cards to clear.
The story is best described as florid with a winding tale of how a noblewoman is attacked while investigating a mysterious meeting with her friend only to slip into the seedy underbelly of robbery, murder and card playing. The writing is competent and interesting enough to warrant playing more but it feels strangely like a super hero comic series but without any powers. Shadowhand does have the power to change cards but it’s more a gameplay mechanic than plot device. There’s plenty to play to progress through the story as well, each chapter has a smattering of levels with the results being graded out of 3 stars. There are 22 chapters in total so you’ll be taking a while to see it all. It does drag itself out far too often with some battles that are only there for the sake of stretching out the experience. You gain loot and exp from every battle but only from victories so it helps later on to grind some easy combat encounters.
The problem is that the battles in Shadowhand don’t really work all that well. You take it in turns to play cards with the same rules as you would in the normal stages by yourself but as you do combos you’ll charge up your weapon cards and attack the opponents. The problem with this is that you’ll find some duels are over quickly with you luckily picking the perfect cards (or your stats helping) to crush the unlucky enemy and other encounters feel like you’re constantly having to pass your turn just to fall further and further behind. There is some balance to this using special abilities and items that work best against the enemy types but you can’t do anything about the draw of cards and it can feel unfair just as often as in your favour.
Visually Shadowhand is a really well polished game. The artists have impressively created equipment and armor that fits the model really well and every environment and setting has been drawn and coloured to look well polished. The aesthetic does feel a lot like a hidden item game that you could previously pick up on mobiles and tablets but the text is easy to read and the cards are functional. The effects for swapping around cards are nicely presented. The overall polish and feeling is a sort of by-the-numbers hidden item casual game that strangely felt throughout Shadowhand with the the music being nice and simple but largely forgettable and the sounds that work but don’t do more than exist. It all comes together in strange way that makes the game feel a lot older than it is.
I’m not sure what to say about Shadowhand. It’s the kind of game that if you’re in the mood for a quiet casual click through it’s great. There’s an interesting story with little quirky mixtures to the format throughout that I think my mum might enjoy. The problem is that the combat becomes grindy and as with any card game the odds can feel unfair regardless of the difficulty setting (especially in the later levels) You’re looking at a game that feels older than it is, plays newer than expected and all comes together into an experience like a really well made bran muffin. It’s good for you, you’re bound to have some fun eating it but just don’t be surprised if you’re not all that satisfied. The cards will only work for you half the time no matter how much you believe in them.
5/10 – A shadow cast upon its hand
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