Every so often Game-Rave.com takes a step outside the variants and long boxes to explore games that never made it to public hands, or at least in American gamers’ hands. Join in as Game-Rave explores legends and tales never told.
If there was ever a game that had a true poker face, this is it. Deuce, a game that started under Midway and Point of View, was about a young playing card named Deuce, who lived in the Card Kingdom. Deuce himself is the Two of Hearts (Two Hearts? He’s a Time Lord?), and in this magical land, you are off to save the Royal Flush from the diabolical scheming of Jack of Spades.
All of that is the honest-to-good truth, and it is awesome. The Royal Flush is exactly what you think it is; the King, Queen, Jack, and Ace of Hearts. In the original gameplay design, Deuce would essentially level up throughout the game, becoming the 3 of Hearts, 4 of Hearts, all the way up to the 10 of Hearts. Once there, he becomes the missing final card for the complete Flush. He wouldn’t have been alone in this quest – apparently, he was to have a warrior and wizard companion along for the ride. Within the prototype, you can knock on the Wizard’s door, but he is away at a convention. Jack of Spades, the arch nemesis (or would that be Wild Card?), would have had a pet dragon alongside him.
The gameplay is essentially a platformer but with a sort of weird not-quite-Zelda exploration vibe to it. There are item quests, like finding keys or in-game spells and weapons, as well as object collecting. From what was playable in the beta, it’s possible to gain at least 1 key, and 1 Sword, and through the level selection tool, see the acquiring of extra health hearts and abilities. Deuce learns how to double jump, climb walls, perform a charge move, and cast a sort of Ice Ball spell. His charge move is completely Zelda-ish; you swing the sword in a circle, and it shatters the shield of an enemy so you can attack normally.
What’s peculiar is how Midway / Point of View was trying to keep the variety alive in any way possible. At the beginning of the game, you must find a key by playing ‘chicken’ with incoming catapulted rocks. If done correctly, they miss you and shatter open barrels; some have health, and one eventually has the key you need. Once inside, you eventually run into Jack – but the fight is not yours to have. Realizing you’re a child at this point, Jack challenges you to do battle via Rock, Paper, Scissors. If you win, he leaps into a portal and leaves you to your shenanigans. One of the later stages has you collecting 40 coins to summon someone, who I’m assuming was the warrior character.
Level Playing Field
The level design is hard to judge due to the game’s incompleteness, but what I was able to traverse and peek around in, it would have been nice. Most areas are small, manageable locales with obvious cues as to where to go and what to do. Some rooms are dedicated to simple jumping routines, while others would have you item hunting. About 1/4th of the beta is playable with interactive characters and elements, while the rest were simply set pieces that were in concept, rough alpha, or in dire need of being finished. Some levels were just merely missing a few textures, whereas others were devoid of any detail at all – just simple place-holder graphics with arrow notations. Locations had nice variations to them, with a Church, villages, swamps, castles, arenas, and a forest or two for good measure.
Sound effects are few and far between, and there is no music, so you simply explore in an eerie quiet calm. Let it be known that I’m one of those people who can suspend their disbelief enough to try and be the character in a game – I can lose myself in whatever it is I’m playing and be engrossed. Having never played a true beta like this before, that silence is truly, truly creepy. Walking around abandoned, soulless, barely animated locales with nothing but black surrounding you (i.e. no background graphics had been in place) gives the canceled aura a whole new vibe. It’s weird to say, but it’s like the video game equivalent of limbo; you’re just lost in a place that doesn’t exist. It’s a stark comparison to what the final product would have been.
From the playable first areas, however, the game was coming along nicely. The few characters you can see are adorable, the game was fairly forgiving in the jumping areas, and the graphics, especially for the PlayStation, were well-detailed, varying, and brought out the personality of the game. Originally canceled in 2000, the game was never heard from again.
This is sad; with the 3DS or the PS Vita, there’s a real potential to push the game’s concept well into the present-day format. Imagine if as you played the platformer, you could unlock actual card games to play with others online. The touch screens could provide a wonderful touch (pun intended) to the spell casting as well. Based on the cancellation date, they might have tried moving it to the PlayStation 2, but to no avail.
Deuce was a game that truly should have been given a chance at life. It had just the right balance of charm, inspiration, originality, and gameplay going for it.
Sadly, it just wasn’t in the cards.