Review: Sweet Memories Blackjack (Nintendo 3DS)
by Mark B. on August 8, 2012

Sweet Memories Blackjack
Genre: Card Game
Developer: CIRCLE Entertainment
Publisher: CIRCLE Entertainment
Release Date: 07/12/12

Japanese games generally tend to have to be developed a certain way to make any headway in the American market. Gamers in the US don’t share a lot of the same tastes Japanese gamers do, so games that rely heavily on things like dating simulation mechanics or weird Japanese aesthetics generally don’t do well Stateside, if they even come out at all. The best or craziest games, like Chulip, Sakura Wars V and so on, often take on lives of their own beyond their (generally) less than profitable release periods, but no one’s going to release something like Michigan or Battle Construction Vehicles Stateside (though someone did port Power Shovel to the US) unless they’re insane. The point is, Sweet Memories Blackjack is unapologetically Japanese, to a level that is almost impenetrable to US gamers, because the sole purpose of the game is something that is basically foreign to our market. This is not to say that Sweet Memories Blackjack is a bad game, as it handles its blackjack well enough, and the characters are adorable in their own way. Rather, it is to say that it’s a game that’s going to be hard to really appreciate unless you’re of a certain mindset, as it’s… somewhat different.

There is a plot to the game, sort of: you’re playing as a young man who is basically trying to establish some sort of a relationship with the primary girl of the game, Kasumi. To do so, you have to do really well against her at Blackjack, which will, in turn, allow you to level up her affection so that you can eventually win her heart. There’s not a lot of plot to this concept, mind you, and most of this concept is largely inferred, but that’s basically the objective of the game. There are only two modes of play to the game: Normal Mode and Score Mode. Normal Mode retains a set of lifetime winnings/losses and allows you to play against any girl who might be available at the moment, though only Kasumi can have her heart won through this exercise. Score Mode allows you to play towards a set amount of points to win against whichever competitor you choose. Score Mode does not impact Normal Mode in any way, scoring-wise, but does unlock some characters and images as you beat the various girls that are available in this mode. Normal Mode is where you’ll likely spend the most time, overall, as you can unlock the majority of the available images through either mode, and only playing Normal Mode advances Kasumi’s opinion of you. Aside from the different opponents, who only add a mild difference to the experience from one to the next, there’s not a lot of variety to the play options, as it’s basically just Blackjack, only played against digital women, and only one of said digital women “matters” in the confines of the game.

Sweet Memories Blackjack looks cute, largely due to the characters you face off against. There are several different girls to play Blackjack against, and they’re all generally expressive and rendered such that they’re actually kind of adorable. Despite the sort of impression one might have about the game, it’s largely tasteful in its depictions of the characters, and as a result, the characters end up being charming, thanks to fairly expressive rendering and the game focusing more on conveying personality through simple action than anything. The characters also go through a few outfit and location changes as the day goes on, which lends variety to the experience. The music in the game is cute and generally works with the concept, and while it’s in no way memorable, it’s not all bad either; it just fits in and does its job fine. The sound effects imitate the sort you’d expect to hear playing some sort of video blackjack in a casino or online, and the arcade-style effects are generally adequate, if a little odd in context. The girls also have a small amount of voice work that they use when they win and lose hands, as well as when they’re deciding what to do at the moment, and while the dialogue is A.) in Japanese, and B.) fairly repetitive, it’s good enough that it works and isn’t annoying, except perhaps when you’re losing.

For the uninitiated, Sweet Memories Blackjack is, well, Blackjack at its core, which works as such: you’re given a hand of two cards, each of which is worth different values. Numbered cards are worth their stated value, Face Cards (King, Queen, Jack) are worth ten points, and Aces are worth either one point or eleven, depending on whether their being worth eleven would take you over twenty-one. Despite the name, Blackjack places no specific worth (outside of its point value) in any of the cards themselves; rather, the objective of the game is to build a hand that comes as close as possible to being worth twenty one points without going over, then hoping your opponent doesn’t end with a better number. Mechanically, it works like this: at the beginning of a round you place a bet, and then draw two cards, and make your choices until you or the girl you’re playing against wins or you draw. When you first draw your cards, you can either Surrender (lost half your bid to bow out), Buy Insurance (if your opponent is showing a possible instant Blackjack you can pay half the bid to check and either lose nothing if you’re right or the half of the bid you spent if you are), Double Down (double your bet and draw one more card), Hit (take a card) or Stand (stay with your hand). If you start with Blackjack, you immediately show your hand and win the bet; if your opponent had Blackjack, however, you won’t know until their turn comes, hence the Insurance option. After you make your choices (if applicable) your opponent will then take her turn, and once her actions are complete, you’ll compare cards. If you win, you win the bet. If she wins, she wins the bet. If you both have the same point value, the game declares this a “Push” and your bets return to you. There aren’t any specific novelties to this game beyond the standard rules of regular Blackjack, so you can pick up the basics in minutes, but the complexities, such as when to hit and when to stand, will take longer to learn.

Sweet Memories Blackjack offers two modes of play, as mentioned previously: Normal Mode and Score Mode. Both modes start off the same, allowing you to choose a girl to play against, but each has notably different objectives. In Normal Mode, you simply play forever, more or less, with the objective being to improve your ranking with Kasumi by achieving unspecified goals that will impress her (earning a set amount of money, winning a set amount of games, and so on) over the course of many, many games. Score Mode is much more straightforward: you pick a girl and aim to earn a set score before she does. Normal Mode bets with standard Blackjack chips in varying amounts, while Score Mode allows you to make a one-time high bet but otherwise allows you to bet in one hundred point increments. Score Mode also allows you the choice to play a Plus or Minus game; Plus games award the winner points, while Minus games take points from the loser, so if your opponent is out ahead by a wide margin a Minus game or two might turn the tide. The rules in both modes are identical otherwise, however, so aside from the betting and the fact that Score Mode has a final win condition, there’s not much difference.

You can see the basics of Sweet Memories Blackjack in a few hands, but actually completing the game will likely take you several hours, if not days, to accomplish, due in large part to the effort involved in winning Kasumi’s affections. You can also unlock new girls to play against by beating girls in Score Mode, and pictures of the girls in the Gallery by performing various actions in the game. With action requirements that are as simple as “win X amount of games” and as hard as “Win a Score Mode game perfect” and beyond, that will also potentially add some time to the experience if you want to unlock everything the game has to offer, though most of the unlockable pictures will likely unlock through normal play. If you enjoy playing Blackjack, Sweet Memories Blackjack is certainly a fine game of it that works, mechanically, in the way players would expect, and if you like games based around cute girls, one would expect that there’s enough content based around that to appease the player.

That said, at the end of the day, this is a game based around dating/unlocking pictures of school-aged girls, and while the game is by no means offensive or gratuitous about its content, it’s still, off the bat, only going to appeal to a niche audience. That said, even if you like the “cute” aesthetic, the game is a grindfest of the highest order. I honestly have no idea what the requirements are to please Kasumi enough to level up, but I’ve seen comments indicating that the player would have to, on average, earn anywhere from fifty to eighty thousand points to do so in Normal Mode. Even assuming you win every hand possible that’s up to two hundred and sixty seven hands you’d have to win to go up one level with this girl. If you assume one hand per minute that’s four and a half hours you’d have to spend just on normal mode to, and I cannot stress this enough, increase your rank one level with this girl. Grinding five hours in a game that essentially never noticeably changes in any way is a bit excessive, especially when the Score Mode doesn’t count toward the progress you’d make in Normal Mode, and largely is only in the game to unlock other things that, again, don’t advance you toward the main goal. Content is nice, to be certain, but content that appreciably changes next to nothing in a game is not. Also, as a game of Blackjack, the game is okay enough, but the absence of the option to Split (drawing two cards of the same value and building two hands from that) or the option to play with some more obscure rules would have done wonders for the longevity of this game. Further, the CPU will often go all over the place with its play style, sometimes drawing the exact card it needs to beat your hand of twenty and other times holding at fifteen, and it’s honestly hard to know if the CPU has any idea what it’s even doing.

For four dollars, Sweet Memories Blackjack is a cute enough game of Blackjack with a decent amount of unlockable content for those who want to play against anime-styled girls, but outside of that demographic, there’s really nothing to the game that invites recommending it to anyone else. The game looks and sounds perfectly fine, the mechanics are simple to understand, Blackjack isn’t a hard game to learn in general, and there’s certainly a solid amount of content to the game if what it does is something you’re interested in. However, the game’s appeal comes from playing Blackjack against young-looking, anime-styled girls, and even if that’s something you’ll find appealing, the game requires an extensive amount of grinding at the game in order to improve Kasumi’s opinion of you, let alone to unlock all the illustrations the game offers, and those are the only motivators to move forward. The actual mechanics of Blackjack are okay, but are fairly bare-bones and lacking in options that would make things interesting, and the CPU is inconsistent at the game to a level where it feels like the CPU beats you with luck when it happens. Sweet Memories Blackjack is basically a game for a small niche audience, as those who don’t find the concept appealing won’t find there to be much to the Blackjack, and the end result is a game that’s meant for a small audience and no one else.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: POOR
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: BAD
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: BAD
Appeal: BAD
Miscellaneous: BAD

FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Sweet Memories Blackjack is a Blackjack game for people who want to play against cute anime girls exclusively, and while it will appease that audience, everyone else will find it unexciting. The game and the girls certainly look and sound fine enough, the game mechanics work as expected, and Blackjack isn’t a hard game to understand even if you’re coming into it brand new. However, the game is very limited in what it offers, appealing exclusively to the idea of “playing against anime girls” over all else, and even then, the game requires so much grinding to earn things that it’s hard to justify the effort. The actual Blackjack itself is adequate, but there are no options to give the game any more variety than it offers in its first five minutes, and the CPU generally plays inconsistently at the best of times. Sweet Memories Blackjack is a game that knows its audience and only seeks to appeal to them, so if you’re in that audience, you’ll likely find the game to be worth your four dollars. If you’re not, however, there’s no reason to waste your money or storage space on this, as it’s not going to hold your interest very long, if at all.



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