CASINO KID / Sofel / NES
 
 

I like the premise of Casino Kid. It pares the casino games down to just poker and blackjack, which are really the only two even worth playing. Then it adds a bit of a story to spice things up; you're the titular Casino Kid, looking to make a name for yourself by beating the best card players in the U.S. at some gathering at the world-famous Golden Crumbs. Adds a little extra point interest beyond just grinding numbers up at bad odds for hours on end.

It fumbles everything by being annoying as shit in nearly every aspect of execution EXCEPT for the card games, however. Casino Kid has to walk around the casino floor to locate his opponents; you can only play the opponents in a particular order, however, and it's not at all clear what order that is. So you have to wander about talking to everybody. This precipitates a bunch of cuts to pointless Golgo 13-esque conversations that just eat up time and annoy you; the irritating casino floor music also stops and restarts from the beginning every time you do this. And NPCs like to just totally block your way and refuse to move, to boot. Wandering around the casino is a nightmare.

A shame because the games on offer are actually semi-sophisticated, at least compared to what else is on offer on the NES. Blackjack is straightforward, but solid. Poker is where the game really shines. You see the opponent's face and they speak lines of dialouge, and you can use these as "tells" to help play your hand. The first guy is extremely obvious, but they get more devious as the matches go on (this is where the painful process of walking the floor talking to random NPCs can actually come in handy, as they sometimes give you tips on opponent tells.) The whole thing is marred a bit by poorly translated Engrish making things confusing sometimes, but I don't know of any other game from the 1988-ish time period that was going for anything this sophisticated yet. Hell, a lot of big-name modern casino game collections still don't bother trying this 25 years later. The game keeps track of the deck in blackjack, and apparently uses only one deck, so you can use rudimentary card-counting strategy to get ahead quickly here. Poker doesn't appear to be "cheating" in any way, the opponent gets realistically random hands and plays them with basic strategy pretty well. Periodically the opponent will also randomly challenge whoever has less money at the time to wager everything on the next hand; it's a nice way to bring a grindy match to a quick end, but you're also free to refuse these requests if they don't suit you.

So - poker and blackjack action here is actually basically competent and decent, and playing CPU opponents with tells (and who bluff) is a fairly novel twist for the time ... but it still gets almost completely jerked up by making the process of getting to and between the games about as big a pain in the balls as possible.
 
 
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