Having played the title just this afternoon, I immediately went through the very first level to get a quick grasp of the story and basic play mechanics. The game plays out on an S-RPG type of battle grid with the enemy card wielder on one side and the hero Galahad on the other. The objective of all Neverland battles is to obviously defeat your opponent, and to do so you'll have a 30-card deck at your disposal. At the beginning of each battle you'll have a full hand of five cards (see where the TCG is starting to kick in?), and to use these cards you'll have to draw mana. Drawing mana is done by increasing one's "territory" on the battle grid. As you move your character (and later on summoned creatures) across the playing field, they'll turn each square they touch into your team's color -- this represents your territory. Each square equals one mana and dictates your overall summoning strength, so it's crucial to take command over the battlefield in order to win.
Gallery: Neverland Card Battles
When summoning structures or creatures, you'll need to keep watch over your mana. While mana replenishes at the beginning of each turn, those cards will take up a set amount of mana each turn as well. For example, if you summon a creature with a cost of three, then throughout the duration while in play it will take up three mana; so if you have 27 mana, you'll only have 24 mana points to spare so long as that creature is in play. This is something you'll have to keep an eye out for as you'll be trying to balance out the maintenance of a large territory and at the same time fielding an army.
After the initial tutorial stage, we decided to ramp things up a bit and decided to go on an all out assault on the final boss in a custom match. We got destroyed, in case anyone was wondering. The good thing about this however was that seeing some later parts of the game revealed some of the game's other tactical aspects. One such thing was the inclusion of elemental squares. Specific squares in the battlefield will have a colored border placed around them; this signifies that a creature of elemental affinity can be spawned in that locale. Usually, you can only summon creatures in adjacent spots near your units. This adds a whole new level of strategy as you can literally sneak up behind an enemy or surround them.
Unit battles and unit skills are also something special. Battles go into these little one-on-one duels and basically each unit has HP for their stamina and AP (attack power) for the amount of damage they can dish out. These are the main stats, but there's also a defense stat that factors in. If your character has the "fierce attack" skill, then they can bypass this and attack for full damage. Speaking of skills, we've seen a few in action. One unit we summoned could snipe enemies from afar, another one that we found very appealing was the "assassinate" skill which can be done by the Midnight Assassin card. Basically, he can kill any unit card in one hit (except for the card wielder of course).
So that's pretty much it for the battling aspects. If you can manage to take out the enemy leader, you'll be pretty much done with the battle -- there's no need to really take out their minions unless they get too powerful or take over the board. We didn't get to play with the adhoc mode, though we were told that not only can gamers go head-to-head, they'll also be able to trade decks. The game also seems to incorporate a quick save option for proper on-the-go gaming. Last thing we'd like to mention is that you'll unlock new cards at the end of each battle, even if you lose. So basically your effort and time are still rewarded even if you end up losing the battle.
Anyway, the title looks pretty good; it is a PS2 port after all. The PS2 game had never been released outside of Japan, so Neverland Card Battles is actually going to be a refreshing new experience for North Americans when the game comes out in late October. Make sure you check out our gallery; we've got tons of new artwork images up there for you to look at.