By Dwayne Jenkins,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Cheat your way to riches in tense card-based deception game.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
The undercurrent of the game focuses on lying, cheating, gambling, and thievery to obtain riches. While there's a minor subplot highlighting a sort of Robin Hood-esque crusade where you're able to donate money to a camp of thieves for a noble cause, the source of your income is always by cheating during card games and deliberately taking what doesn't belong to you.
Positive Role Models
While a few characters use their ill-gotten wealth to help the unfortunate or unable, the game still romanticizes the lifestyles of gamblers and tricksters. The mentor that guides you through most of the tricks you'll utilize to con others is a proud cheater who manipulates others to further his own goals -- though he does claim to have a just reason for doing what he does. Many of the other characters are fellow cheaters and manipulators, actively conning one another for various selfish purposes.
Set in 18th century France, the game contains a fair amount of regional nuance when it comes to the locations you'll come across. While the majority of the cast is white, there are a few prominent PoC characters featured in the main questline.
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Ease of Play
Players will learn 28 different gambling techniques, some of which can get rather complex and complicated. The game offers practice rounds and tutorials to help players wrap their heads around the techniques, but in the heat of a tense game, it can be overwhelming as the game has little allowance for mistakes or errors.
Violence & Scariness
There's no blood, gore, or explicit harsh violence on display -- as the game's visuals do a lot to make certain scenes as "tame" as they can possibly be considering how some situations are staged. That being said, players do witness a suicide as a character stabs themselves with a sword. Guns are also involved at certain points, and a few characters are shown being shot at and killed. Another character dies by drinking poison. Later text implies that certain characters may be executed.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There are a few mild sexual references throughout the game made between characters, but it's very infrequent.
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There are no present-day instances of profanity, but characters can get a little colorful here and there when insulting one another during sharply worded confrontations.
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Products & Purchases
Based on real-world tricks actual card sharks use to cheat others, it's entirely possible for people to play this game and develop an interest in trying to become something of a trickster themselves -- or even a gambler.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Many mentions are made to different types of alcohol, and some characters talk about how much they enjoy a good drink. One of the tricks in your arsenal sees your character pouring a glass of wine in order to sneak a peek at a rival's cards. Some characters can also be seen smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Card Shark is a downloadable single player adventure game available for Nintendo Switch, Windows, and Mac. In the wake of a tragic shooting after a card game gone wrong, players will take on the nameless protagonist who's whisked away by the mysterious Comte de Saint-Germain into a decadent world of gambling, lies, and deception. At the core of the game is gambling, lying, and cheating, and though the pitfalls of embodying a deceptive thief are mildly touched upon, the game seems to somewhat glorify the lifestyle. If characters aren't seated around a table dealing cards and using whatever tricks they can to get ahead, they're using one another to get what they want. The unique graphical style allows for some of the more violent moments to be much less severe than they would've been otherwise, but players will witness a character take their own life by stabbing themselves with a sword, as well as be a part of swordfights that might result in the end of someone's life. A character gets poisoned later in the game, and some characters will also get shot at, sometimes dying in the aftermath. Though the game offers many tutorials and practice rounds to introduce the many sleight-of-hand maneuvers players will take advantage of, the game can be a little unforgiving when it comes to even the slightest of errors when it matters the most.
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What’s It About?
In CARD SHARK, the nameless protagonist is tending to the tavern he's known for his entire life, never venturing much further into the world beyond. One day, an enigmatic gentleman known as the Comte de Saint-Germain finds his way into the tavern and swindles someone he really shouldn't have. A gun is drawn, a struggle ensures, a shot rings out, and the protagonist's life is changed forever. The Comte whisks the young man away, throwing him headfirst into a world of cards, cads, and con artists. Soon, the young man learns of the Twelve Bottles of Milk from the Comte -- a royal conspiracy that is said to go further up France's hierarchy than anyone would ever think possible. But, of course, to even be humored by those who might know a little something more than they let on, coin must be involved. Twenty-eight ways to deceive your opponents, yet no time to sit and rest as important people want you dead. Will you ascend the ranks and learn the truth, becoming a master manipulator and card shark that would even surprise the mentor that took you under his wing? Or will you yourself become trapped in the very same massive web of deception and lies you've decided to use for your own means?
Is It Any Good?
This deception game presents a bright, colorful, intriguing world that will sooner eat you alive than see you succeed. All the characters in Card Shark are beautifully animated, in visual flair and personality. Even though the time you spend with these characters is short-lived, the game's paced perfectly when it comes to keeping players engaged before they lose interest. It's easy to lose yourself as the challenge ramps up, the classical music kicks in, and the chatter of nearby patrons is drowned out by the pounding of your heart as you try to apply your skills of deception and sleight-of-hand without getting caught. Along the course of your adventure, you'll slowly be taught techniques needed to get the best of the other players at the table looking to take your money.
The best part is that players won't need a pre-existing knowledge of card games to play Card Shark. The techniques are distinct enough where jumping between them on the fly never becomes tedious. You'll shuffle decks knowing exactly where certain cards are at all times, disappear into back rooms where you'll mark cards in a way only you can understand, and pour wine for your foes with the full intent of looking at the hand they're working with. There's an indescribable thrill to the execution of these tricks that never loses its momentum. While the gameplay keeps the tension going, even introducing swordplay at a point as a fun diversion from the high-stakes tables, the plot speeds by in the blink of an eye. Certain subplots, minor characters, and resolutions to game moments are glossed over or wrapped up way too soon. Minor nitpicks aside, the fun and strategy of the gameplay combined with an overall package that leaves a lasting impression make Card Shark a gamble that's almost certain to win, one that even the greatest con artists can't steal away.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about gambling and risks, essential components of Card Shark. Knowing that gambling can bring about cheaters and others who will stop at nothing to swindle unsuspecting people out of their money, is there ever a reason to gamble -- even once? How can you best protect yourself (or others) if you make the choice to gamble? What seemingly innocent practices or activities could lead to future potential gambling addictions?
Can games about thieves, cheaters, and other unsavory kinds of people be strictly for fun and not meaningfully affect a person's development, or should such games be avoided for risk of accidentally glorifying those kinds of people and lifestyles and making them enticing for younger audiences? How can parents best get in front of nuanced issues such as gambling and addiction, and can games be a good way to easily explain the differences between what's real and what isn't?
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac
- Pricing structure: Paid ($19.99)
- Available online?: Available online
- Publisher: Devolver Digital
- Release date: June 2, 2022
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, History
- ESRB rating: E10+ for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Use of Tobacco
- Last updated: June 1, 2022
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