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April 8, 2012
Urban Rivals Review

By Jason Van Horn

I used to play some Magic: The Gathering with my brother a few years back (nothing serious) and I used to love watching the old Yu-Gi-Oh anime and playing a game or two, but card battle games have always been too complex for me. Tap this and tap that. Recently, however, collectible card battle games have been making their way to the free-to-play browser-based world and they've been pretty solid all-around. The thing I like the best about them is that while there is depth and secondary powers and stuff to take into consideration, generally speaking the battling system is easier to grasp and get into for newcomers to the genre. So the games suck you in with their ease of use, but then keep you around as you delve into alternate abilities, powers, and then that compulsion to collect them all and build the ultimate deck. One such game is Urban Rivals, which has me hooked, even if I'm cursing the single-player mode.

Urban Rivals is a manga influenced collectible card battling game built around a deck of eight character cards. Once you go into a match, four of the eight cards will be picked at random and placed on the board for your use. Battles are always one-on-one and players take turns picking their character to battle with for that round. The game can end early if one player manages to completely deplete the other player's life, but every game will end after four quick rounds in which the player with the most life left remaining wins.

Each character card has two primary stats - Power and Damage. Power is the primary stat when it comes to winning character match-ups as there are no defensive stats; the winner of any battle is whoever has the highest Power number. Power numbers can be tweaked with a multiplier system called Pillz, which is where a bulk of the strategy comes in. Each character uses at least one Pillz in order to fight, but more can be added to tweak a character and improve their odds of winning. If your opponent threw out a 4 Power character and only used one Pillz, with no other abilities or anything being used they would beat your card if you threw out one with 3 Power and only one Pillz. It's a simple game of math. You can still win against the 4 with your 3, however, by using one extra Pillz from your supply, which would bump your character up to 6 Power points and trumping their 4 points.

Once a character card has won their Power battle, their Damage stat then comes into play, as it dictates how much damage will be done to the other player's health pool. A character with a Damage number of 3, for instance, would do 3 points of damage to the other player. A player can up their character's Damage number by 2 extra points, however, by choosing to expend two Pillz in order to put their character into a Fury state. The extra Fury damage can be just what you need in order to scrape by a win, but if you lose the match-up you just wasted two Pillz for nothing and can find yourself on the losing end of a battle rather quickly. Pillz are the deciding factor in this game and how well you can anticipate your opponent and bluff them are key things you'll need to learn in order to master the game.

Abilities and special skills also play a part in the game, as they can affect battles in a number of ways. You'll find Leader cards that have special abilities like giving every character two extra Damage points, abilities that reduce the Power rating of a card, diminish how much Damage can be applied, cards that have abilities that can only be activated if used first, cards that have abilities that can only be used if someone on their team lost the battle before they were played, cards that can poison the health meter of the other player, cards that can add health to your pool based on how much damage they do, and many other abilities as well. So finding high Power and Damage cards, utilizing Pillz properly, knowing how to bluff an opponent, and accurately calculating the strengths and weakness of abilities all come into play in determining whether you'll win or lose a battle.

Another new interesting twist to the collectible card dynamic is the idea of character cards that you level-up by playing or putting stored experience points into. Besides getting new artwork for each card upgrade as well as a tweak to their Power and Damage numbers, most abilities can only be reached once a certain card level is reached, such as Star level five. As someone who loves RPGs and leveling characters up, I find it fun just getting a new card - whether it's trash or not - and playing with it long enough to at least level it up to its full potential.

Urban Rivals is broken down into single-player and multiplayer components. The first handful of single-player missions are mostly to get you used to the game and help level your initial starting cards level up, but it doesn't take long until you start having to look at strategy and deck building in order to win. You'll earn player levels in order to qualify for multiplayer, money you can spend in the Market to buy cards off other players, credits that usually have to be bought using real world money, and some tickets you can use on a slot machine to try and earn extra in-game money. While the single-player mode starts off as a training mode more than anything else, eventually you'll work your way to the game's various challenges, which task you with beating teams with certain deck formats.

The deck format system applies to various multiplayer matches too, as there are Training NoPillz decks, Training decks, Type 1 decks, Type 2 decks, and ELO decks. A lot of these boil down to things like having no double cards, a team of eight whose star count doesn't exceed 25, etc. At the deck creation screen, however, you can easily put together a team and the game will automatically tell you which deck qualifications it meets and then you can save it and load it up whenever you need that specific kind of deck.

As for the multiplayer modes you have Training (60 life points instead of 12 and you earn experience faster in order to level cards up), Deathmatch (16 players fighting it out to see who can earn the most points in 20-minutes), Survivor (win as many matches as you can in a row), Tournaments (several a day with in-game money being rewarded out based on how well you do), ELO (must be level 15 - can win Collector and Rare cards as well as credits and in-game money), and then regular one-on-one battles.

Perhaps it's a credit to the addictive quality of the game and that Pokemon (got to catch them all) mentality, but with there being so many cards in the game, it takes a while before you can actually get any new ones (or at least ones of worth). You can buy some cards off the Market from other players at around 100 or so of the in-game money, but the better a card is the more expensive it will be. So you can use your earned money to buy cards off other people, but it's a long process. The easiest way to earn new cards is by buying them using real-world money, which is fine if you have the money and want to spend it, but the system is like that of buying a normal, real world collectible card game. There are three theme decks you can buy (six actually but three are just all the cards of the normal deck but maxed out) for 60 credits and that will net you nine different cards, and then there are three different types of packs you can buy for 20 credits (three character cards and no doubles), one pack you can buy for 25 credits, a full deck of eight cards and one Rare card guaranteed that's 50 credits, and then there's the Titanium pack, which is 295 credits for 30 different cards and four guaranteed rare cards.

Each pack has different restrictions too: Rainbow (3 cards chosen from all possible characters), New Blood (3 characters chosen from last 35 new characters), Classic (can choose for 3 cards to randomly be picked from six card clans), Elite (3 cards randomly picked from four clans of your choosing), Full Deck (eight cards randomly pulled from all the clans), and Titanium (30 cards randomly pulled from four clans you choose). So if you buy two packs of Elite and choose different clans, of course you'll get different cards. If you choose to buy two packs of Elite and choose the same clans both times, however, you could theoretically end up buying the exact same cards twice in a row and wasting your money. You can always sell any leftovers, but if it's not a card many people want, you might not get but a few hundred for it.

Given Urban Rivals is a card game, there's not much beyond looking at pictures and menus, but Urban Rivals features some very nice manga-inspired artwork for its characters, easy to navigate and understand menus, the cards themselves are nice to look at, and some of the little graphical details like the virtual opening of a pack of cards, seeing a card deal damage using things like surfboards or either a card doing a special finishing blow are always cool to see, as are the different animated backgrounds that you play against. The sound effects and music is just average, but I'm happy whenever a browser-based game has any sound at all.

I stumbled upon Urban Rivals accidentally when visiting some site and seeing an ad for the game out of the corner of my eye. Free-to-play games are always worth a shot since there isn't anything to lose by simply trying them out and I was surprised to find a solid and fun collectible card game that's easy to get into and yet difficult to master. I honestly didn't expect to enjoy the game as much as I did, but I've been very impressed and will definitely continue to play outside of my time for this review.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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