Nowadays, I’m not normally the type to spend hours upon hours playing mobile games. There was a time when I was a major proponent of them, at one point buying an iPad for the sole motive of being able to play the Infinity Blade series the best way available (a surprisingly great trilogy of games if you haven’t played them already.) Following some frustration with the often overbearing and intrusive culture of microtransactions, though, as well as being in ownership of an iPhone 5C which seemed incapable of running anything past basic run-of-the-mill fare, I’ve had something of a separation from the platform in recent years, settling instead for more traditional console experiences. All it took was an injection of childhood nostalgia and some addictive gameplay to draw me right back in.
I stumbled upon Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links while watching, out of sheer curiosity, an IGN video touring the franchise’s booth at the recently-concluded SDCC. They had large vertical touchscreens there, with which convention-goers were able to duel each other, just like how I remembered so fondly from the beloved TV series. I was such a massive fan as a youngling that I would construct my own ‘box-sets’ of the animation by recording reruns on Nickelodeon with VHS, home-made covers made with coloured card and all. After just a few seconds of gameplay, my nostalgia glands were fired up and I just had to try the game out for myself. Since that day I’ve barely put it down, to the point where my girlfriend told me off the other day for playing it instead of spending time with her. Whoops.
For those unfamiliar, at the centre of Yu-Gi-Oh! is a card game known as Duel Monsters, in which players go head to head with the ultimate objective to get the other’s Life Points to zero. This is done through a variety of means, the most obvious of which being the eponymous monster cards, which have their own individual attack and defence point values. One of these may be summoned per turn in attack or defense positions, as well as face down. Additionally, players may utilise spell cards which have unique effects on different aspects of the battlefield, as well as trap cards which are placed face down and can be activated at specific moments during battle. It is a thoroughly strategic affair, and the ability to construct your own deck makes for a very meaty experience that you can easily get lost in (the very thing I’ve found myself doing.) The game is also a visual treat, with a beautifully rendered battlefield, and some slick 3D animations that are triggered when the main monster of your character’s deck is summoned.
So far I have only tried out offline battles with CPUs which, while rarely offering much of a challenge, are always entertaining and soon become downright addictive. There is a surprising amount of single-player content, with multiple characters to play as who each come with their own decks directly lifted from the manga and TV series. To earn the right to play as them, though, you’ll have to beat them in some fairly challenging duels. It won’t end there though, I’m sure, with a PVP option also available to sink my teeth into long after I’m crowned the Duel Monsters Champion.
Chances are that if you choose to pick this one up, you’ll be as surprised as I was upon visiting the app’s listing to discover that it is free to download. Yes, the horrendous evil that is microtransactions are indeed present, but it is far from a pay-to-win scenario; while you are able to buy better decks with real-world cash, it will make very little difference if you don’t know how to use them. If a player is no good at the game, that isn’t going to suddenly change no matter how much money they may spend.
So far, the only frustration with my experience has been what is a very cluttered menu system, especially in the hub area. I am fairly confident I don’t know what at least half of the buttons do (I have absolutely no idea what a ‘duel beacon’ is, for instance) and am somewhat scared to press them, for fear of accidentally triggering a self-destruct protocol. The screen is littered with adverts for current events and things begging for your attention, and it can feel a tad overwhelming at times. While it is certainly very functional, I can’t help but feel a slightly more minimalist approach would have gone a long way to smooth things out a bit.
Apart from that minor issue, though, I have to say that from what I’ve played so far I feel readily able to recommend the game. I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised by how much time I’ve spent on it, and I’m certain it will last me a great deal longer too.