Review: A fun time’s in the cards in Culdcept Revolt

It’s weird to review a game like Culdcept Revolt, because it’s not like a standard video game. Its nature — and appeal — is much more like that of a collectible card game, with its sets and formats and variants. And on that level, it succeeds, though it’s a bit difficult to unpack. Let’s try!

The latest in a long-running series but the first in a long time to make it to the West and the first to truly seek to change the gameplay formula, Culdcept Revolt has a wealth and depth of content you’d expect from its legacy without the long-running familiarity to match. Thankfully, there’s a good series of single-player maps designed to teach you the ropes, as well as a pack-buying system that lets you unlock and get used to cards gradually while pitting you against AI foes with similar access. The true appeal of Culdcept lies in taking on more human competition, but there’s a robust campaign to give you time to practice and an outlet for playing a match on your own when you get that itch.

So about that game! Culdcept is regularly called “Monopoly meets Magic: the Gathering,” though that may be due to a lack of knowledge of better comparisons. Rather than Monopoly, it borrows from Fortune Street, with its granular values, ever-changing functions, branching paths and value escalation. It’s a genuinely digital experience and embraces its form in its gameplay, doing things that would require way too much upkeep in analog form but works just fine here. Rather than Magic, it’s a more transparent, yomi-based game. Players’ hands aren’t secret. Players can build engines over time that work well together, but with only one spell or creature ability a turn, it’s less immediately combo-driven. Its combat hews closer to Yu-Gi-Oh!, with Trap Card-like equipment lurking in battle, of unknown presence but calculable effect.

Revolt‘s biggest selling point, even with this late-life 3DS release, is a robust online play mode.

Okay, okay, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Culdcept is a game in which you move around a board and, instead of buying properties, control them by summoning monsters to inhabit and defend them. Mana is both the game’s currency and its end goal, so every spell is an investment and every territory upgrade is imbued with both power and revenue potential. It pushes players toward the end with constant income, meaning it doesn’t take hours. It’s driven by “spellbooks,” the game’s decks, that are as varied and customizable as anything, perhaps, except for the decades-deep releases of Magic. There aren’t junk cards like in Yu-Gi-Oh! due to many revisions and balance adjustments, but collecting a larger library of cards allows you more opportunities to surprise opponents with less-standard approaches.

Revolt‘s biggest selling point, even with this late-life 3DS release, is a robust online play mode. There’s a level of polish here that doesn’t make a lot of sense until you realize that Revolt was a Nintendo-published release in Japan, and brings with that all of the company’s commitment to polish. Omiya Soft, like many external developers before it, stepped up its game under the publisher’s guidance (and pressure), and the result is a well-working lobby system, solid connections and even voice chat. (Which isn’t… the best quality? But it totally functions.)

This polish extends to the game’s interfaces and an unlock progression that feels much less stop-and-start than previous games. The story of this game is… not important, really? You don’t need to get into the lore of Culdcept if you don’t want to, which is right in line with other card games of its type. The happenings are all built to facilitate characters that embody peculiar traits to go along with different decks and strategies to face. But hey, if you want? Revolt has an all-new story that actually delivers on its narrative and doesn’t have a talking staff bouncing around with little to no explanation.

All of this is kept intact in NIS America’s Western release, with a localization that appears not to stumble and no noticeable attempts made to restructure downloadable content for more gain. It’s not easy for a small company to commit to the sorts of systems of a Nintendo, so that’s not a given and deserve a thumbs-up.

The value of a game like this is in its depth and competitive nature, and boy, does it have a lot to dig into. We wrote a whole thing about some very nuanced choices it makes about how its dice work, and its head-to-head has us trading strategies in regular matches. It’s, frankly, not common for a game to keep us coming back like this even while we play all we can in a review cycle. We’d finish a multi-hour campaign session, only to want to jump right back in to test out a new deck against fresh competition. Culdcept‘s tuned for half-hour-or-so sessions rather than all-day play, but it’s so good that it handles this sort of marathon mistreatment just fine and keeps on delivering.

The value of a game like this is in its depth and competitive nature, and boy, does it have a lot to dig into.

While its appeal may not totally line up with that of a traditional digital release, Culdcept Revolt does more than enough to deserve your attention, especially if you’re the sort of person who loves becoming immersed a collectible game and exploring its options and strategies. It’s a refined, seasoned game with some luck and a lot of variety, making it a friendly game to approach and a tough one to master. Don’t let it get buried just because a lot of people have started to move on from 3DS; it’s a great fit for the platform and no lesser from being on it.

Score: 9/10
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Developer: Omiya Soft
Platform(s): 3DS
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

Questions? Comments? Talk to us on Twitter or Facebook!