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Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 5
Score: 88%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Ad Hoc)
Genre: Card Games/ Strategy/ Board Games

Graphics & Sound:
After five iterations of the Tagforce series, Konami has more than nailed everything involved in making a fun, digital version of the Yu-Gi-Oh! CCG. It may not seem like muh, though when you consider the run of failed CCG's to try and make the digital leap, it's an impressive feat.

The absolute neatest thing about Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 5 is how well it manages to capture the gameplay, but mimic the look of the show. The normally drab play surface looks good and features a few scrolling background objects to add some sense of "movement," but the real treat comes when casting cards. Opponents cast cards with all the dramatic flair found in cartoon. Characters are fully animated and match the show's hand-drawn look as closely as possible. It's impressive. Rest assured, however, you can skip through the drama with a button press.

Sound is still an issue to completely nailing TV-styled duels. It's great watching characters pose on screen, but the minute the text boxes pop up, the illusion is ruined. I'm sure it's a memory issue, but considering the amount of repeated dialogue, there has to be some way to squeeze a few voices into the game.

As with previous releases, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 5 offers a lengthy Story Mode as well as a Free Duel Mode packed with numerous play options.

Story Mode is nearly identical to the one found in Tagforce 4, though following a new plot that takes place during the reconstruction of Domino City, which is still reeling from the Dark Signers attack. You play as a nameless duelist who enters a new tournament eventually leading to a deeper plot involving a duelist named ghost and his group of drifters.

Similar to Tagforce 4, I'm sure the plot would mean more if I followed the show, but it didn't hurt my enjoyment. The fun comes from building decks and participating in matches; the plot is just to add some sort of direction. The only aspect of the story I got involved in was recruiting a partner for the 5D's tournament - and it was minimal involvement at best. The idea is to find someone you "click" with and duel alongside them, though I imagine most players will just choose their favorite character and go with them.

Finding the right person is, again, based on a "Trust" system, which is represented by a heart under a character's portrait. There's a couple of ways to earn Trust, either by talking to them via a series of mini-games, or by dueling. The communication games are an easy way to get some quick Trust Points, though you'll earn more by defeating characters in duels. Once you fill up a character's Trust Gauge, they'll ask you to do a favor. If you can complete four, they'll partner with you.

The system is about as basic as they come, and honestly, a bit dry and repetitive. The only thing that makes the system worth chugging through is earning new cards. Even if you lose a duel, you'll earn a few points to spend on new cards. It's a steep climb to a powerful deck, but it's a fun time if you like the CCG and don't mind losing your first few matches.

Eventually, you'll get to the point where you can start taking on Challenges. These are in-match challenges where you are asked to go above and beyond normal duel requirements. Advanced players are going to love figuring out ways to complete Challenges. They're tricky and require some special dueling skills to pull complete.

Free Duel is loaded with ways to customize matches, and easily my favorite play mode. Free Duel drops the story and lets you jump right into matches with other players. Setup options are similar to multiplayer shooters and offer all sorts of ways to adjust match parameters. You can add time limits, alter player health... the list is impressive. These options also bleed over into Ad Hoc multiplayer duels.

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 5 assumes most players are Veterans, but newcomers (or players in need of a refresher) can access a number of in-game manuals. The layouts are nice, so it's easy to find the info you're looking for, provided it's a general enough question. It won't tell you how to build a great deck, but it does explain how to get new cards and progress through the game.

Veteran players may be wily enough to scrape together a win or two with the Starter Decks, but for newcomers, it's probably best to start in Free Duel Mode. It's a fantastic proving ground, giving you an opportunity to learn the game and what your deck can do. Besides, Free Duel matches aren't as stacked in the A.I.'s favor as the ones found in Story.

Speaking of the A.I., it's pretty ruthless during competition, but nearly useless when in a Tag Duel. It's hard to pull off any sort of team-based combos, even when they're incredibly obvious. More than once I saw a Combo that could have won the game, but the A.I. wouldn't pull it.

Game Mechanics:
You're given two Starter Decks at the beginning of the game, but don't plan on getting very far with them. They're "okay," but compared to other decks you'll face, the Starter Decks will be pummeled into submission nearly every time. After my third or fourth straight loss, I ended up blowing both decks up and building something new from the remains. They weren't the best of decks, but they held up until I was able to acquire new cards.

Building new decks is fun, and fairly easy. As someone who has played CCG's in the past, I've always had a problem with deck building interfaces in games. They're generally clunky and it is hard to figure out exactly what you have. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 5 does as good a job as any game in offering a clean interface for creating your winning decks. It's not the same as spreading cards all over the table and piecing a deck together like a jigsaw puzzle, but barring a touch-based interface and big screen, that sort of freedom isn't likely any time soon. As it stands, the menus are simple, clutter free and easy to navigate.

In fact, Interface has been the one massively noticeable improvement in the entire Yu-Gi-Oh! videogame series. It's incredibly easy to scroll through cards and abilities. Even without a tutorial, the system feels right and is easy to pick up. You can bring up any options to might want, including checking out cards or skipping to another game phase with a button press or two. It's incredibly streamlined and removes a massive hassle from past games.

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tagforce 5 is the CCG equivalent of a Madden release. It's basically the same game from last year, but with a new set of cards and a few new tweaks under the hood. Newcomers can jump right in without any problems while Veterans will need to decide if a chance to check out the new Star Strike Series is worth the purchase of a new game.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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