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Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 4
Score: 86%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Ad-Hoc)
Genre: Card Games/ Strategy/ Board Games

Graphics & Sound:
After a long absence from the Yu-Gi-Oh! series, I was presently surprised to see just how much the series' presentation had changed over the years. The usually drab duels, which usually resembled little more than the playing surface of the physical card game, have all the flash of a duel in the TV show. The playing surface is still around, but now card abilities and casts are accompanied by all the theatrics of casting a card on the show. Of course, this may not be a new thing for long-time followers of the series, but coming from a set of fresh eyes, it looks great.

The added theatrics do, however, come with a few unintended issues. It's great seeing characters thrust cards with all the flair and finesse of a flamenco dancer, but then you see a not-so-grand text box pop up, nearly killing the overly-dramatic flourishes. I understand this is likely a physical memory issue, but part of me almost wishes something else could have been dropped just to free up space for vocals.

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 4 features a full-fledged Story Mode, complete with a few minor RPG elements. Having never seen an episode of the new series, I really can't say much about the story's presentation, or at least how it dovetails with the show's story. To be perfectly honest, it really didn't hinder my enjoyment since it really just felt like a bit of window dressing to move you from one duel to another.

The only time I really got "into" the story was when I had to make friends in order to unlock new duels. Most of the RPG elements revolve around recruiting tag-team partners using a "Trust" system. In each location, you'll encounter a character from the show to recruit by building their trust. This involves playing through short communication mini-games, offering gifts and winning duels. The communication games are probably the quickest way to gain trust when you first meet someone, though as a non-viewer, I do feel I was at a bit of a disadvantage.

Characters are introduced with little introduction or fanfare, making it hard to figure out the "correct" response to their questions. Rather than offering a set of test responses, you are instead given three emotions (Happy, Cry, Angry). There's no indication as to what the "correct" response would be (some want a "Angry" response), so every choice is a shot in the dark. The same goes for a "Response Tree," though at least here you're given some indication of what the character is looking for. Most of the time, I just stuck to chatting characters up about cards until they accepted me and let my dueling speak for me.

Winning duels is the best way to advance Trust, which is incredibly important to advancing the story. It's also the only way to earn Duel Points and Duelist Experience points. Duel Points act as in-game currency while Duelist Experience advance your rank, unlocking the ability to purchase new card sets. I wasn't a big fan of the story-based advancement (thankfully, there's a Free Duel option), but loved the basic flow of the Experience system. It helps emphasize the importance of learning how to use every card given to you and keeps things fun.

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 4 also includes an Ad-Hoc LAN mode for dueling with friends. I wasn't able to experiment much with the mode (I couldn't find anyone with the game), though it does offer the ability for up to four-player duels and card trades.

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 4 makes the assumption that anyone playing already knows the basics of playing the game. As I said, it's been a while since I last played a game, but I had an easy time jumping back into the game's mechanics. While the game assumes you know what's going on already, it does offer plenty of help through in-game help files. Reading blocks of text isn't the most thrilling way to learn to play, though the text is a quick read and offers enough assistance to get new players up to speed. The downside, however, is that you'll likely lose most of your early matches while you discover the ins-and-outs of the play mechanics.

Getting to know the mechanics may, however, frustrate some players. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 4 doesn't pull any punches during duels so there's a good chance you'll likely lose a few early on. The intro deck is better than the usual random assortment given in CCGs, but until you learn the deck, you're in for a rough time.

Game Mechanics:
The game's story places a lot of emphasis on there being no "bad" cards and I was happy to see the gameplay follow through. When it comes to card games, there's usually a few dominant decks calling for a few cards, effectively limiting your playable pool from a couple of hundred to maybe a third. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 4 is really good about giving you cards, almost forcing you to explore what cards can do rather than simply trying to rebuild a dominant tournament deck. Experienced players will, no doubt, attempt to recreate their real-life decks, but as a casual return player, I had a blast experimenting.

One of the bigger hurdles in bringing a card game like Yu-Gi-Oh! to game consoles (the sole exception being the DS, but that presents other issues) is the interface. As simple as the physical interface is, its tricky to replicate with buttons. For the most part, the interface works, but without some adjustment. For example, the D-pad is used to navigate the play surface, while the analog nub scrolls through card text. The setup sounds incredible basic, but proved a minor brain bender in my first few games. Most aspects of the actual card game, like activating abilities, are handled with simple menus, streamlining play and offering a nice breather for players who may not know what's going on.

One of the interface's few downsides is deck building. Although you can sort cards out through numerous categories, digging through lists is still a counter-intuitive way to build decks. However, I can't really fault Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 4's attempts, only because I've yet to find a method that really works outside of a touchscreen-based system.

It's been a while since my last Yu-Gi-Oh! game, but my return was a pleasant one. Outside finding some nit-picky details only an entrenched player would find, fans of the card game and show will enjoy what Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 4 has to offer. However, I also encourage CCG players looking for a new PSP game to give it a try.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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