Review by threetimes

Reviewed: 05/27/08

Doctor Who tantalises and entertains in this card game: time and time again.

This is why I love Doctor Who, the classic BBC television sci-fi series. It's imaginative, creative, and fun to watch; episodes are short; it explores different worlds; you never know what to expect, and yet it has a certain degree of predictability. The Doctor and his companions may change over the years, but certain things stay the same: the Cybermen and Daleks have a long and glorious history, the TARDIS was there from start, and the series compensates for the lack of large budgets with oodles of originality and terrifying monsters. (Even a recent not so scary Ood.)

It's the same with this game which is why, much to my surprise, Top Trumps is such a good choice for this long-awaited new Doctor Who game. The cheap and cheerful has always been a hallmark of the series and it seems a very British and very BBC sort of thing to do. However, the lack of cash for flashy special effects has never stopped the series from being fun, and it's same here. The game is simple, yet addictive, and well-designed despite the complete lack of animation or voices aside from the de rigeur EXTERMINATE! Somehow, just the glowing green mouth of the Cyberman which opens with a grin, when he wins a round, is enough to thrill. Okay, granted , you might not have expected him to know how to play cards, but the rules of the Doctor's world were always tough to fathom.

The premise of Top Trumps is a simple one: your aim is to win all your opponent's cards and to do this you select one category from five that are displayed. If your selection is higher, you win their card, if not you lose yours. You go first so long as you keep winning, as indeed does your opponent. However, what is so good about this version of Top Trumps, is that all the cards (38 in total) represent the protagonists and antagonists from the latest series. The Doctor, Martha Jones, the Dalek, Cybermen, Cassandra, the Ood, they are all featured, and so if you have followed the episodes you will be familiar with the characters. What's more, the five categories from which you select, are based on the actual appearance and qualities of all the characters. So, for example, The Doctor has the highest courage and intelligence stat in the game, and the Emperor Dalek is the tallest.

Other categories are monster rating and darkness, and of course The Doctor scores low for these, which gives you a chance against his card when you use a card with a high darkness stat. There are additional features that make this more challenging than a simple comparison though. Every major card has a boost when played which increases all its stats making it hard to beat, and you also have Ability Cards which give a range of skills to assist in winning, though your opponent also has these. The ability cards are unlocked one by one as you play more matches, and you can choose three to take into a battle. This is a great addition as it allows you to see some of your enemy's stats, or to randomly boost your own, for example. You also gain additional ability cards if you manage a run of wins. A further clever aspect of the gameplay is that all the major characters have a special ability which is related to their actual skills in the series. The Doctor has a time warp skill (of course!) and this means that he can see the next three cards of the opponent, though only for a split second each, and the Dalek can EXTERMINATE which means that he cuts all stats in half, literally half killing the opponent's card.

As well as these features there are 4 mini-games to play and bonus rounds after every match which allow you to steal cards from the next opponent. This is very useful because as the game progresses you start with less and less cards and your opponent has more. All these things mean that the gameplay is never simply a dull number comparison. `

As befits a card game, design is colourful and clear and the controls work as smooth as silk with never a glitch or bump, (unlike the dear old Tardis). Interesting for me, is that you play with the DS turned on its side so the screen fits the size of the cards, and the only button used is the start button, otherwise all interaction is via the stylus. Now, as someone not too keen on the stylus, this proved an eye-opener. It was simple and easy to use and very quickly became second nature.

The graphics and sound effects add to the pleasure. One other wonderfully recognisable feature is the music, first composed for the programme back in the 1960s and created by the BBC Radiophonics Workshops. As soon as you hear that evocative duh duh duh daa, and the eerie whining notes, you are instantly transported out of this world and into the universe of Gallifrey and Time Lords. Unfortunately you don't actually get to see much of the five worlds featured in the game, as the background to the card on screen is just a narrow edging, and although the main part of the game is called "Adventure Mode" you really don't do much adventuring. In fact it took a few matches before I even noticed that the background had changed. None the less the game is nicely designed, and the fact that the character portraits which appear at the top of both screens react to wins and losses is a charming feature.

Doctor Who has had long lasting appeal to both young and old and I can see no reason why this game shouldn't appeal to fans of the series as well as those who enjoy a hand held card challenge. Yes, it is not the 3 D action adventure puzzler that some of us hoped for, but maybe that's no bad thing. Some of the mystery has to remain and Doctor Who retains his ability to tantalise as well as entertain.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Top Trumps: Doctor Who (EU, 05/16/08)

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