It seems that cards are everywhere in play. Steam is packed with excellent CCGs, and even action games like Back 4 Blood have discovered that cards are an ideal way to deal with overlapping fountains of perks and buffs. At night with screens off I could play a game of Exploding Kittens or Bandido on the kitchen table. I’m never far away from maps.
But one of the biggest things about cards is rarely seen. That’s what makes the return of the Apple Arcade launch charger, Where Cards Fall, on Switch and PC such a pleasant thing. Where Cards Fall is a puzzle game, like hundreds of other card games. But it is also a platform game. A platform game where the platforms are made of cards.
Cards are everywhere in the Where Cards Fall. They line up, Monolith-like, as the starting line and target for each of the 3D puzzle spaces you fall into. But they also gather and flock to the ground. You can pick up individual decks and then expand them to fill a specific space and – snap! – they jump upwards to form a house of cards that you can use to help you get from A to B. A platform to fill a gap. A roof with spikes so you can climb higher. As a jigsaw puzzle platformer, it’s extremely smart stuff – and even with the slightly cumbersome controls on the Switch that can make moving between decks a bit awkward, it’s still a tactile pleasure.
All that is wonderful. But what I love is the pleasure of cards as physical objects – flat surfaces that can surprise when they form rigid structures or collapse to spread in the wind. When you see a great magician at work, it can feel like you’re really seeing an animator. The cards dance and bend and seem to change physical properties – sounds one minute, running water the next. And then, the biggest part of any magic trick when the cards are finally back in your hands – they’re just cards. They are inert, flat. Life has been removed.
Where Cards Fall is then triple smart. It uses house of cards to hint at the shaky nature of human memory in a plot that sees a character review their past experiences and struggles. It uses maps to transform the landscape and make hard-to-reach places easily accessible. And it’s a reminder of the difficult physical magic of a set of cards – paper that seems to come to life.
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