Before I pass my opinion on Yomi, one of the newer contenders in the recent explosion of tablet-based trading card games, you should know that I’m completely out of my element. I have a hazy recollection of a few Magic: The Gathering duels in middle school, and there was a brief stint where I collected Pokémon cards (I never bothered to read the text underneath my holographic Gyarados), but I know next to nothing about deck building or energy pools. It even took several days and the dogged insistence of a few friends before I came close to understanding why Hearthstone’s balance is thoroughly busted.
While the unfamiliar, technical nature of card games usually pushes me away, Yomi’s determination to mimic games like Street Fighter or BlazBlue put things in a perspective that I could actually comprehend. Both center their action on deception and prediction; you’re asked to read the other player’s movements and counter their attacks, while you avoid falling into your own easily discernable patterns by varying your movements. Cards are certainly slower than any virtual kick, but when the stars align, this iPad game mimics the same rush of adrenaline borne from finding the right opening and unleashing a gratifying wave of destruction.
In their most basic forms, battles play out like a game of rock, paper, scissors. Attacks beat Throws, Throws beat Blocks and Dodges, Dodges and Blocks beat Attacks… you get the picture. Each card has two moves, but only the action rotated to the top of the card is activated. Successfully catching your foe off guard with a properly timed Dodge, Throw or Attack can quickly turn the tide of the match, with combo chains that burn through a quarter of a health bar.
With special attacks, character-based modifiers and other circumstantial rules introduced on the fly, there’s depth to Yomi that it’s a little too hesitant to reveal. The tutorials are competent at teaching the absolute basics, but even after several hours fighting AI and humans alike, I was still utterly lost. Why did I just lose that attack when my card had higher speed and suit ratings? I’m being prompted to counter, but why are the cards it highlights incapable of actually countering? Is it really advantageous to play a card that will help my thrown foe get back up, or trade in a few low-level cards for the Ace-level attack I already played and discarded? My general lack of knowledge has made it all but impossible to stand a chance online, and the one match I conquered felt more like a lucky break than any demonstration of skill.
At the very least, each round is made slightly less confusing by an interface that pushes you to use every trick at your disposal. Turns are broken into individual steps, and Yomi will inform you if your character’s bonus is ready while pointing out cards that are playable at that specific moment. Tapping, swiping and holding cards lends a satisfying physicality to an otherwise virtual game, and while the fighters don’t exactly animate in the traditional sense, their action poses and quick close ups leave enough wiggle room for the imagination to work its magic.
Yomi had the fortune of launching with an already-established player base; the iPad app also finds matches from an almost identical browser-based version of the game, and contestants from either platform can easily take each other on. It’s easiest to learn how to play when facing another live opponent, but if you’re nervous about fighting a real person or the servers are particularly barren, you can practice with bots who are serviceable in intelligence but easy to predict after studying their relatively simplistic patterns.
The pairing is certainly odd, but Yomi proves that the split-second nature of fighting games can be translated to the card world with a few clever adjustments. The art is a bit weak, and the game does an awful job of explaining itself, though there’s just something alluring about this particular battle of wits that drew me in again and again. Even slowing a well-timed fireball down to the comparatively glacial speed of cards can’t rob the punch of its brutality and satisfaction.
Yomi is $10 on the iOS App Store. A review code was provided by Sirlin Games.