You got poker in my RPG!
Instant Games is pretty confident you’ve never played anything quite like its new RPPG. You aren’t seeing double, either. That extra ‘P’ is for poker, and Poker Knight really is a Role Playing Poker Game. It’s time to put down the sword and pick up some cards, because that’s what you’ll need to survive this particular fantasy world on your iOS device.
The opening scenes of Poker Knight introduce you to Derek Foyle, a young, hotshot poker player looking to win a prestigious tournament. As he tries to settle his nerves in his Las Vegas hotel room, a mystical vortex transports him to another land. That’s the part you never see during ESPN’s poker coverage.
Conveniently, Derek’s clothes change to make him look like he belongs in this strange new world. Even more conveniently, battles are fought by playing poker, something he already knows inside out. Your job is to tap Derek’s skills to find nine magic amulets, hopefully fast enough to return home in time for the tournament.
Moving Derek around the game map is a simple matter of tapping on where you’d like him to go. When you find your path blocked by a skull symbol, you’ll have a fight on your hands. You’ll see fantasy staples like goblins, wizards, skeletons and ogres, plus comic book fans will appreciate how good Derek is at impersonating Remy LeBeau, charged up cards at the ready.
And yes, those cards really are the weapons in the turn-based battles. You start with two cards in your hand and eight cards on the table. In every round, you pick three of those eight cards to complete a five-card poker hand. The stronger your hand, the more damage the cards will do as they fly off the table and smash into your enemy.
Card values matter, as three aces hit harder than three jacks. If your hand requires less than three cards to make it work (say, a lowly pair of twos), you’ll keep two cards for the next round and any leftover cards will explode, damaging Derek. The monsters don’t attack you directly, but instead have a meter that fills up after each of your turns. A full meter allows the enemy to affect the card or the table in a way that’s detrimental to your health, giving you something else to consider as you make your hands.
Bosses at the end of each level flip the script a bit by having meters that fill up at a steady rate, forcing you to act with a little more urgency. Beating a boss will give you one of the amulets, each one having its own magic that you can use to your benefit – things like drawing an extra card and sending cards back from your hand to the table. You’ll also be awarded a score that goes toward a five-star system of mastery for each level, plus some treasure.
Unfortunately, that treasure is limited to health potions since there are no weapons or armor in Poker Knight. You’ll also find little opportunity to spend the poker chips you rack up with every combat victory, as you can only spend them on potions or charges for your amulets. A loot fest this isn’t. Experience earned in combat will eventually level Derek up, but all that gets him is a bigger health meter.
Losing in battle does at least carry real consequences, as you’ll have to start the level over with all enemies respawned. An extra bit of challenge comes from mysterious poker spirits who block certain portions of each level. The spirits can only be damaged by specific hands, and while your health isn’t in danger, you only have 99 seconds to defeat them. This can be a bit frustrating when the cards aren’t falling your way, but you can go back and try again if you are unsuccessful.
The dialogue between Derek and the NPCs isn’t going to win any awards, but there are some moments of cleverness and an overall sense that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously – probably a good idea when you consider the premise. It certainly helps break up the sameness that starts to set in once you get past the initial burst of creativity on display.
Considering the lack of precedents for an RPPG, some of the weaknesses of Poker Knight can be forgiven. It feels like it could use more of just about everything, but as a trailblazer in its own unique corner of the mobile gaming universe, it’s not a bad effort at mashing up two things most people would never dream of combining.