Card of Darkness has been my go-to phone game for about a week. It’s a tricky little card game, where you pick up cards from a board to fight monsters and traverse through dungeons. While I love the game, what also keeps me coming back are memories of Adventure Time.
Card of Darkness was made in part by Pendleton Ward, the creator of Adventure Time, which is a beloved Cartoon Network show that had its finale in September of last year. I remember when I first saw the animated short for Adventure Time that aired on Nicktoons Network prior to the series getting picked up for Cartoon Network. I was in high school, at my neighbor’s house, and she had incredibly slow internet. She kept gassing me up about how funny it was while the video loaded, and I was skeptical. I was soon proven wrong. This short was irreverent and funny, and at the time, it felt wholly original. It appealed to the part of me that liked “random” jokes, but it also had an actual logic underpinning the story. It depicted a vibrant, happy world. When I later learned it had been turned into a show two years later, I was overjoyed.
Adventure Time ran for ten seasons, and like any show that runs for as long as that, it got increasingly convoluted. Its world expanded so much that its heroes eventually saw things like distant future of the universe as they went on increasingly epic quests. Eventually, the timeline of the show encompassed several thousands of years. As the show got more complicated, my interest waned. I yearned for the simplicity of the show’s beginnings.
While Card of Darkness can become complex to play, its trappings remind me of that initial Adventure Time short that I loved. It’s a simple story of a warrior destined to hold the “cards of darkness,” which are slots you can buy with in-game currency that allow you to equip special powers. The simplicity of the story frees up brainspace for understanding the complicated gameplay.
When it comes to the “cards of darkness” that you equip, some make potions that heal you more, others make it less likely for you to be poisoned; there are dozens I haven’t unlocked yet. Using these skills, you traverse dungeons to eventually defeat an ancient evil. While you’re in dungeons, you also pick up weapon cards to defeat enemy cards. The board you play on is a grid, and on each grid is a stack of cards. In that stack can be enemies, weapons or potions. If you grab a card from a stack, you have to remove every other card from that stack as well. Enemies that have an odd or even power level can only be damaged by weapons that are odd or even, respectively. Otherwise, your weapon breaks. There are dozens of other parameters that affect your ability to succeed; you’ll eventually run into enemies that have special abilities that shuffle them around the board or make their power level higher or lower. It’s a lot to keep track of. I’m just glad I don’t have to open a fan wiki or watch over two hundred episodes of a show to get it.
Beyond that, it’s just nice to see Pendleton Ward’s art again. Your adventurer wears a jaunty pot on his head, which bounces pleasantly as an idle animation in dungeons. When he’s defeated, he flips around and the bottom of his pajamas snap open, revealing his bare buttocks. I missed this particular brand of irreverence, and I’m glad I can now access it when I need to remember the much simpler times of 2008.