Review: Duel Masters: Sempai Legends (Game Boy Advance)

Game: Duel Masters: Sempai Legends
System: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Card Game / TCG
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari
Released: 6/01/04

So now Wizards of the Coast has released another collectable card game here in the States, and has released an anime to go along with it. While it does seem to follow the trend of trying to emulate crazes like the Pokémon TCG and the Yu-Gi-Oh! games, this isn’t really a bad thing per se. The Duel Masters TCG plays like a simplified version of Magic the Gathering, since you have five categories of spells, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you need to use Mana to pay for spells. I personally bought some starter decks and boosters of this game, and have grown quite fond of it.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that there would be a Duel Masters video game to add to this craze. Called Duel Masters: Sempai Legends, the handheld cart tries to replicate the same enjoyment level as the card game does. Within it are all the cards from the original set, and its only expansion set (for now). But even with all the tools for DM fans to create and customize dream decks, does the game help the DM craze along? You’ll find out shortly…


STORY

Today is your birthday, and as a surprise, you receive one of the rarest Duel Master cards as a present. (The card itself depends on which type of deck you choose at the beginning of the game.) However, that night, someone breaks into your house and steals it! Oh, no! So now your quest is to travel across the land and do whatever it takes to retrieve that card.

Of course by “whatever it takes”, I mean, “challenge everything that moves to a game of Duel Masters”. In fact, that’s pretty much what you’ll be doing about 85% of the time. Travel to this town, win their DM tournament. Travel to the next town, win their DM tournament. And so on, and so on. Outside of the beginning, there is hardly ANY story to supplement your quest. Sure you have a map with your next objective on it, but it will most likely say “Go to Town X and win their tournament.”

So what do you do in between dueling in tournaments? Well, DUELING of course! Talk to someone in town, and they’ll wanna duel. Travel from town to town, and you’ll run into random people who want to duel. Go to a Trading Center, and you can duel someone for the right to possess a specific card. Granted all these duels fill out your card collection nicely, but considering it’s the ONLY thing you’re doing in this cartridge is a bit repetitive.

In fact, the only times you DON’T need to be dueling are when you need to go talk to someone. And these encounters are SO forced and out of place that they’ll leave you wondering why they’re there to begin with. Especially this one encounter with an old lady that totally randomizes your deck after you customized it just the way you like it. Why the developers decided that this was warranted, I’ll never know.

And to make matters ESPECIALLY confusing, the “ending” comes when you least expect it. Out of nowhere, the person who stole your card comes out to challenge you, and once you beat him, your quest is over. No preparation. No knowledge you’re going to face him. No nothing. It just…ends. You don’t even get any credits! And if this is a spoiler, I apologize, but really, the damn thing is so friggin’ predictable anyway. There’s no twists or turns to speak of.

To make a long story short, your “quest” is just a flimsy, paper-thin thing floating around just to mask that all you do is play a card game. Really.

Story: 3/10


GRAPHICS

For the most part, the graphics in this game are…well, bland. Bland, and kinda ugly to boot. Wait, hold on. Bland, kinda ugly, and repetitive. At least in the main worlds you run around in.

Every time you walk into a town, you’re going to see the same things. A few houses, a Trade House, and a Dueling Arena. In fact, ALL of these buildings look the same in each town, only placed differently to increase variety. I swear, each town looks like it was mixed and matched from about twenty building and road sprites. And the people you see…MAN, did they cut corners here. There are about 5 different character models you encounter. Yes. FIVE. They come in different, palette-swapped colors, but there are only five models to choose from. You have your Angry Male, Bald Male, Male with Cap, Woman who Winks at you, and Woman who Flips her hair. You end up dueling these SAME five people over and over again, only with different hats, shirts, and hair dyes.

Luckily, most of the good graphics appear while you’re actually playing the card game. Instead of the field looking completely like your typical card game tabletop (ala Yu-Gi-Oh!), but is an actual “field” where shields and creatures appear and disappear. Of course your Mana Zone and your hand are shown as they would in other card game adaptations, but the added bonus of actually SEEING your creature armies being built up is a definite plus.

As far as creatures themselves, they have been represented rather well. Each creature has been faithfully reproduced for the game, and they even contain a few frames of attack animations apiece. This also provides a nice touch when you’re battling. But only when you’re BATTLING. The rest of the game looks…just…ugh.

Graphics: 5/10


SOUND

Here’s another thing that has been nearly looked over in this game: sound. Being based on a card game, I realize that it’s pretty hard to work sound into otherwise a soundless environment. But still, the developers can’t use that excuse for the job they did here.

The music is utterly atrocious. First off, there’s not that much to listen to. Secondly, the quality of music is just as bland as the graphics! There’s only ONE piece of music you here when you duel, and it’s this slow, depressing song that will drag you down even if you’re winning. And the music in towns and the map really don’t help either. All of it is average quality, and once again seems forced in with your surroundings.

Sound effects are minimal at best, and only really shine during a duel (surprise, surprise). You have the sounds of monsters attacking each other, which add to the graphical animations, but that’s all you get. Sounds outside the duels are relegated simply to the menus.

Long story short, whoever was in charge of the sound development should be drug out into the street and shot.

Sound: 2/10


CONTROL

Again, the game is based on the card game, and you end up playing it quite a bit. Describing all the rules of the game would tack on about 17 pages to the review and bore you all to tears. So, here’s the condensed version: each duelist has five “shields”, which represent facedown cards. Using creature and spell cards, duelists must find ways to “break” their opponent’s shields in order to attack them directly. When one’s shields are gone, and attack goes through to them, that person loses. You can find more detailed rules here at the official Duel Masters website. Plus, the game has a halfway-decent basic tutorial that will put you on the right page.

Being a card game, the actual controls are simplistic, as you only use them to navigate a series of menus in order to play your cards and attack with your monsters. Personally, I found the navigation to be a little “sticky” when trying to maneuver through the menus quickly. I needed to slow down my pace in order for the game to keep up. Otherwise, the controls are serviceable and do the job they’re meant to do.

Controls: 7/10


REPLAY VALUE

Now, I just spent quite a bit of time ripping on the game’s faults in the story, graphics, and sound, and believe me, there is QUITE a bit wrong from the get go. There seems to be no earthly way ANYONE would want to play the game, is there?

So why do I find myself facing random duelists over and over again like it IS worth replaying?

Believe it or not, the game DOES have salvage value if you are a fan of the card game as I am. So far, it’s the only game out there that can give some simulation of what an actual duel can be like. It also gives you access to every card in the Base Set and its one expansion: Evo-Crushinators Of Doom. (Yes, I agree the name sounds stupid.) So you can build yourself one super-powerful deck and test it against the computer A.I. without spending ungodly amounts on expansion packs and single cards.

However, this is the ONLY redeeming factor I can see in this game, and it can ONLY be appreciated by fans of the card game. Otherwise, people who pick this up will immediately look past the flimsy story and horrible exteriors and return the game to the store the same day.

Replay Value: 6/10


BALANCE

As stated above, there are five categories of cards to choose from. Red emphasizes creature and mana destruction, Green emphasizes on creatures and early mana advantage, Black goes for card destruction, Blue goes for card advantage, and Yellow seems to strike a balance in between spells and defense. When played correctly, the colors will effectively equal each other out, providing a good balance between decks.

As far as the balance of the duels you fight? Well, um…eight out of every ten battles I faced were met with extremely swift wins. One out of ten were good, even matches, and the last one out of ten were met with a quick defeat. And I was playing a VERY defensive deck with only a few creatures that could do significant damage to my opponent. So you can see the “ease” of the learning curve I had to deal with.

Lastly, I noticed that from the beginning of the game, nearly EVERY deck I went up against had at least 3-4 super rare cards in it. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t “super rare” cards supposed to be “super rare”? It seemed like everyone and their brother’s decks were packed with them while mine suffered from a severe lack. Talk about fair in the early goings.

Balance: 5/10


ORIGINALITY

This is a tough one to call. The game is original in the sense it’s the first of its kind to replicate the Duel Masters card game. Yet it is not original because every card included is a replication of the first two Duel Masters sets. There aren’t any “exclusive” digital cards to collect and round out your collection with, unfortunately. Add to the fact that the game is an offshoot of Magic The Gathering, and this score drops even further.

Those points aside, there really isn’t that much in the game that I would consider “original” to begin with. There’s the RPG mode, but it’s so flimsy and thrown together that its obvious the developers didn’t take the time to make anything “stand out” as original. Most of the characters within are random no names with palette-swapped colors. Even the TOWNS you visit are copies of each other, with all the buildings in randomized locations. I’m sorry, but 85% of this game is bland as bland can be.

Originality: 3/10


ADDICTIVENESS

Despite all this game’s problems, I still find myself playing it. I keep asking myself WHY I still have it, considering that I can’t stand most of it. Its the simple fact that a Duel Masters fan can pop the game in, infinitely customize two separate decks of cards, and test it out on random wannabes to see how well it works. And when you get caught up in the duels themselves, they DO turn out to be fun. It’s just the all the other things surrounding the duels that make me cringe.

Addictiveness: 7/10


APPEAL FACTOR

You will have ONE category of gamers who will buy this outright, no matter how bad it is, no questions asked: the Duel Masters fan base. They enjoy the game, and they’ll enjoy this incarnation of it, guaranteed. Even I enjoy it most of the time. But everyone else who picks this up will probably either (A) put it down again, or (B) return it for a full refund. I mean if you’re NOT a card game fan, the game is garbage. And no steps were taken to make sure it WASN’T garbage to the untrained eye.

Appeal Factor: 4/10


MISCELLANEOUS

As an added bonus to Duel Masters fans who purchase the game, they’ll receive five collectable “promo” cards for the TCG; one of each color. While they’re cool looking with Atari’s name stamped on them and all, there are only two or three cards in there that are of any real use, and one of them comes free with the Duel Masters starter set. Still, if you can find uses for them in your decks, they’re a nice extra.

However, something irked me after playing the game a while: within the next six months, ANOTHER GBA game will be released: Duel Masters: Kaijudo Showdown. In fact, it was already announced and dated BEFORE THE FIRST GAME WAS RELEASED. I’m going to assume that the next game will contain cards from the next two booster sets coming out this year, which leads to more deck possibilities. Of course this begs the question: Why release a game NOW when a new, more complete version will be available at the end of the year? The easy answer is to suck money out of your wallet, and I can’t really think of a more complicated answer than that.

So, if you were tricked into spending $30 for the cart, prepared to have it become a paperweight in a few months when the next game arrives.

Miscellaneous: 5/10


THE SCORES

Story: 3/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 2/10
Controls: 7/10
Replay Value: 6/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal Factor: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10
TOTAL: 47/100

The 411: Damn, this game could have turned out a lot better. I mean WOW. This little chocolate nugget has a nice creamy center, but the chocolate surrounding it is so congealed and rotted that no one dare come near it. Then you find out that the chocolate really isn’t chocolate. Meaning, there IS fun to be had here, but it’s tucked away so far in there that it’s not worth the time finding. Those who don’t play Duel Masters should stay AWAY. Those who DO should wait a few months until the next title hits the market. Maybe the game will be better, but I’m not hedging my bets just yet.