Card Shark Preview: King Of Cards
When Card Shark was first announced in December of 2021, I must admit, I was a bit dismissive of it. Card-combat has become such a dirty word with me that any card-based game has been wrongly associated with those types of games. When Card Shark was first revealed I couldn’t have switched my brain off any faster and consequently knew nothing about it until the upcoming Steam Next-Fest demo became available to me. Thanks to our friends at Devolver I’ve now gone hands-on with Card Shark and my perspective on the game has done a full 180, thanks to card-based gameplay that is grounded in reality, and a plot, that while we’ve only been teased at it’s potential, is showing enough to leave me excited for the full release to see where it releases later this year.
Set during 18th century France, you assume the role of a mute, living a fairly horrid life, working a waiting job for a abusive boss. One day your world is flipped on its head when you encounter a man, Comte de Saint-Germain who realises your potential as a tool to help him cheat in a variety of card games. Who would suspect a mute right? That works well for about a day until you’re both exposed, the evening turns bloody, and the pair of you are forced to flee. Lurking on the edge of society in the shadows, you’ll learn a range of tricks to cut cards, and cheat the system to win big bucks for Comte, and his suspicious crew of friends. The near misses and increasingly complicated dynamic stands to keep things interesting in the future, while the ethics of cheating like this, are sure to create an even greater strain the deeper the narrative goes. I’m fascinated by the prospects.
As a playing experience, Card Shark features a range of adventure game elements, to the world navigation and conversational aspects, but is then merged with quick-time events when the scam is under way. These QTEs require players to split their attention between pouring a drink for your competitor (without spilling it!), while also taking note of their cards, remembering and then executing one of numerous gestures to indicate to your partner in crime the nature of their opponent’s hand of cards. When you’re also trying to cut a deck of cards you’ll need to swing the analog sticks in multiple different directions, and time other inputs to align the deck the way you want it to elicit a certain outcome. It all seems simple in theory but when you find yourself spinning multiple plates simultaneously it becomes a much more challenging prospect.
There’s a lot to like about the direction of Card Shark, and I’m thrilled that a long established personal bias has ceased to get in the way of experiencing it. The animation and art-style is fantastic, the writing engaging and the gameplay surprisingly challenging. There’s a lot to like about the title, so here’s hoping that when Card Shark hits PC and Switch later in the year, that it successfully builds on a solid foundation.