I’m really bad at videogames. Which is a shame, because being good at them looks like it would be a lot of fun. There’s just one big thing holding me back. I’m a moron. A buffoon. A smooth-brained nincompoop who is fundamentally unable and unwilling to engage intellectually with game mechanics at their deepest level.
I have never pressed a block button in my entire life. I have never countered a move because I am not a member of MENSA. I can barely even bring myself to factor in grenades in multiplayer shooters. So thank you, Marvel Snap, for making me feel like a genius.
Marvel’s new digital card game has been expertly calibrated to appeal to people like me – chumps with miniscule attention spans who are easily distracted by pretty shapes and colours. Really, really pretty colours. Marvel Snap might be a fundamentally simple game but it’s been realised with a preposterous amount of slick animations and effects and satisfying sounds – all meticulously designed to light up the baby-like joy receptors of a gamer brain. It’s like playing with a Bop It. The cards themselves really pop out of the screen if played on mobile, high-res screens capable of deep rich colours rendering these little rectangles of Marvel art so sharply you could cut your thumb on them.
A big hook beyond playing the game itself is the drive to upgrade the appearance of all these cards and see them organised like they were in a big ring binder. The resources needed to do so aren’t locked behind victory, so getting started wasn’t as daunting a prospect as it usually is with these things. Butting your head against something and not having anything to show for it unless you win is always frustrating, but this being a free mobile game it’s designed to make you feel special.
While I was initially just entertained by the aesthetics of the thing, remembering how shiny Pokémon cards were the single most exciting object to me when I was nine, something strange started happening. I realised I hadn’t lost a match. In 50 games. I passed it off as beginner’s luck, or as a sign that I was being matched with AI or bots for an extended period of time. That 50-win streak turned into 100. When I finally lost a match it was because I got distracted by cuddling my hot girlfriend who exists and I got timed out. I set about figuring out exactly what was going on here.
The first – albeit least believable – possibility was that I was simply good at Marvel Snap. That I had somehow, through repeatedly playing a game, internalised information about the rules. That I had developed some sort of intuitive understanding of card synergy and galaxy-brained tactics. Maybe I had somehow assembled some sort of mathematically unbeatable deck just by picking cards based on what they look like. As I played into the evening and started paying more attention to what I was doing, I finally started losing. I couldn’t put my finger on what was happening, so I went to bed.
The next morning I launched into another undisputed streak of decisive victories and I finally realised what was happening. Children. I was beating children. I just described the game as a ‘flashy toy’, and yet I was still taken aback. This is a game for babies. I’m a freelance games journalist, which basically means I’m unemployed. I can watch daytime TV and play mobile games to my heart’s content. In the middle of the day, I had been playing against kids at school, peering at a phone under their desks. I ran with this theory and made a note to try again after 6pm.
I got obliterated. Forensically taken apart by adults with fully formed brains who were coming home from their real jobs. These are people who watch University Challenge and talk about books with their friends. People who block in games and know what frame cancelling means. I could picture them, sitting in their exquisite homes with their feet up on a luxurious ottoman, chortling away and sipping port as they easily trounce me and my pathetic, nonsensical set of cards.
The dream of actually being good at video games is over, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped playing. I still get to pretend that I know what I’m doing between the hours of 8am and 4pm, when 90% of the playerbase are snot-nosed 10-year-olds who just like tapping on pictures of Iron Man (why are you doubling a space that you only have 3 power on – do your homework).
I’ve finally got a glimpse at what it must feel like to be able to think properly, to feel the thrill of victory over an opponent. I never got to do that in Splatoon 3 – I bought that on launch day and already the skill ceiling was forever out of reach. Kids are worryingly good at aiming firearms, but apparently they’re not very good at counting.
Marvel Snap, then, is the perfect game if you’re bad at games and would like to feel what it’s like to be good at them. You can spend 10 minutes reading the card descriptions and set up a deck that mostly just makes all the numbers go up whenever you do anything and coast easy wins against people a third your age during the Bargain Hunt hours of the week.
Will you feel good about it? That’s up to you really. The way I see it I’m long overdue a break after trying to get into Apex Legends and finding myself unable to even see what was killing me. Children can get over these things easily, but I’m a depressed adult going through a second puberty and I’ll take whatever I can get.