App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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Card Crusade is a deck-building roguelite that reminds me of old-school iOS titles like 100 Rogues. It’s got a pretty basic exterior, but underneath the sparse and bland pixel-based aesthetic is a deep and engaging dungeon-crawler that’s hard to put down. The mix of old and new in Card Crusade makes it feel like your new favorite throwback.
Deal with it
Card Crusade cuts straight to the chase. There’s no opening cinematic or even one piece of flavor text introducing you to what you’re doing. A short tutorial shows you how the game’s basic controls work, and then you go to work wandering a random dungeon killing enemies and looting treasure all along the way.
To move in Card Crusade, you simply tap on screen where you would like to go. You can progress in this way unimpeded until enemies appear on screen and make contact with your character. Once this happens, the game loads into a battle screen where you have to use a deck of attacks, items, equipment, and abilities to defeat groups of enemies. Your ultimate goal is to go down a full ten floors in this dungeon, defeating every enemy along the way.
At the start of any given run of Card Crusade, your character has the most basic tools at their disposal—a few attack cards, a few shield cards, and one special ability card. Once you use these tools to defeat a few enemies and loot some treasure though, things can change pretty rapidly. New cards emerge quickly and often, and you get to decide what you want to keep or ditch in an effort to make yourself the most efficient fighting machine possible.
The coolest thing about Card Crusade is how interesting its cards and their synergies are. There are cards that deal damage based on how many cards are in your deck, others that let you amass huge amounts of protection, and more. Beyond card variety, Card Crusade also features shrines that can add permanent modifiers to individual runs and unlockable classes with their own, unique abilities. All of these things add a ton of replay value to Card Crusade, but they’re also a huge part of the game’s overarching strategy. Only by honing and executing on specific deck strategies do you have a shot at getting more than a few floors in.
The enemies in Card Crusade scale in difficulty by floor, and they do so astoundingly quickly. Don’t be surprised if your first few runs end before you make it to the fifth floor. As is the case in other roguelites, death in Card Crusade resets your progress. You have to start at the first floor all over again with the same basic cards you start out with every time.
You can change the way your game starts somewhat by choosing to play as a different character class, but unlocking more than just two playable classes is pretty difficult. Beyond the default Crusader class and the Viking (who you can unlock simply by making it successfully halfway through a run), each class in Card Crusade requires that you meet specific criteria that is often hard to accomplish in a given session. This can make long stretches of the game feel like you’re not making any progress. Luckily, Card Crusade’s commitment with hitting you early and often with its fun and varied card set on every playthrough mitigates this significantly.
The bottom line
Every new run in Card Crusade feels like an instant opportunity to find your new favorite deck build. By the time you clear the first floor, you can be well on your way to making a poison deck or a deck that depends on draining enemy hp to sustain your own. The game is so effective in its ability to empower players immediately that it hardly matters how it looks or how hard it can be to unlock new classes. It’s just so satisfying to be able to make quick leaps toward building that perfect deck for that perfect run that every time Card Crusade kicks you down, you’ll want to get back up and try again.