Developer: Nerial, Nerial Limited
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Also Available For: PC
What’s the best part of playing cards? Is it the thrill of high stakes? The formulation of strategy? The balance between luck and skill? While all of these are key elements to the game, Card Shark will tell you upfront: winning is the best part of playing cards.
Set to the backdrop of 18th century France, Card Shark follows a mute young man who falls under the wing of Comte de Saint-Germain (who is based on a real-life count) after events at the beginning of the game. The count takes you around France as he teaches you various cheating techniques to use at the card table, from simple hand signals to complex sleight-of-hand and shuffling. As you gain more money and rise through the ranks of French society, you dodge those who would do you harm and attempt to uncover the mysterious-yet-silly-sounding conspiracy known as the “Twelve Bottles of Milk”.
Card Shark has no shortage of cheats to teach the player. There are 28 different tricks to learn, and as you advance through the story your tactics to win the hand will get more difficult to pull off. Eventually, you’ll have to take several different tricks you’ve learned and use them in succession in order to claim victory. On top of that, you’ll need to have deft hands. The longer and messier your cheats, the more suspicious your opponents will become. Mess up too many times, and you’ll get caught in the act.
The game has an elegant art style, courtesy of Nicolai Troshinsky, that feels like a painting come to life more than a video game. When your character is sitting at the table looking at his hand, the room lit only by candlelight, the pressure to perform your trick becomes palpable.
Card Shark is broken up into several short levels where each area you visit contains a new opponent. This makes it a game perfect to pick up and play in short bursts. In that sense, the game is well-suited for the Switch or PC (or even the Steam Deck, I’d imagine). Wherever you choose to play it, Card Shark is an enjoyable, thrilling game that may not improve your real-life card abilities, but will definitely give you a new appreciation for the shadier side of gambling.
Card Shark is best enjoyed in small chunks, which is why it's right at home on the Switch.