Since the late ‘90s, Yu-Gi-Oh! monster battles have been a part of manga stories, TV shows, physical card games and video games. And now the folks at Konami have released a new turn-based collectable video card game called Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel.
It’s available on all the major consoles. And it’s completely free.
But … is it?
If you’ve never played a Yu-Gi-Oh! video card game simulator, play is essentially made up of two parts. Firstly, players must build and balance out a deck of 40 to 60 cards. Those cards include: small and large monsters of different types and numerical strengths; a variety of spells that aid or attack; and a group of trap cards. (Choosing groups of monsters and spells of the same type can work to a player’s advantage since they often have built-in effects that support same-type monsters.)
The second part of play is to pit the deck you’ve strategically built against an opponent’s. In this case, opponents are randomly matched worldwide players online or friends that you can call into a special set-aside Duel room.
Turn by turn, the contestants draw from their randomly shuffled decks and then lay cards from their hand onto the play field. Smaller monsters can be placed on the play field right away, but the larger ones generally require some sort of “tribute” sacrifice or specialty spell to summon them. (In this game there’s also an “Extra Deck” of high powered “summon only” cards that can be drawn into play under the right conditions.)
The various dragons, zombies, water monsters, warriors, vampires (etc., etc) can then be placed in attack or defending positions until the battle phase ensues. The battle losers take point hits that are deducted from the player’s life points. Players lose a duel if their allotted life points run out or if they no longer have cards in their deck to keep playing with.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel offers players beginning decks that they can practice and learn with. But in truth, those decks are fairly underpowered and ineffective in actual duels. To buy better decks or packs of random cards (which bolster decks or build them from scratch) players need gems—the equivalent of in-game money.
Gems can be earned through the initial tutorial solo matches and through duel wins. Or, of course, players can use real-world money to buy as many gems as their real-world wallet can afford.
One big plus to Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is the fact that the competitive card matches are lots of fun, with an amazing amount of strategic deck possibilities and monsters to choose from. The clashing battles (involving fireballs, energy bursts, lightning strikes and claw slashes) are filled with dynamic visual flare while remaining mess-free.
And thanks to the informative solo-mode tutorial levels, players not only learn the games basics, but they also get to play with a variety of different decks and earn a sizable number of gems to start out with.
While the game might not be graphically messy, it comes with plenty of other concerns.
The monster ranks include dark magicians, hellish creatures, summonings and spells, for one thing. None of that otherworldly darkness is elaborated in any nasty detail—rather, it’s just used as a game mechanic—but the idea of making dark spirituality into playful fun might not sit well with some. (Monster cards can also depict some female curves and cleavage.)
In addition, players new to this game, and the genre, can find themselves easily confused by Master Duel’s mechanics. The tutorials are fun and lay out the basics of play, but the intricacies of using all the many, many spells, tributes and card effects are only learned by studying the card text, and through repeated failure and experimentation. And even in the beginning levels of online dueling, younger, inexperienced players will find themselves overwhelmed by the more seasoned gamers (players who’ve played other Yu-Gi-Oh! titles) in their ranks.
That jump-into-the-deep-end gameplay can then motivate players to buy gems (again, using real-world money) and thereby advance as quickly as possible. Master Duel promotes and encourages those in-game microtransactions.
Lastly, this game can be a time suck of monumental scale. The monster duels themselves aren’t necessarily long, but the strategic deck building and tweaking can involve hours and hours of gameplay. And time can easily slip away from young gamers not watching the clock.
As with any title of this stripe, discerning gamers need to weigh the plusses against the negatives when it comes to the hours they plan to invest. Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is indeed a well-made and fun card game simulator. And it’s free to download. But even free games can come at a cost.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.