The NES had a modest selection of casino simulations, seeking to put the player in the place of high-stakes Las Vegas gaming. One of these titles was Casino Kid, Sofel’s effort from 1989, which followed one Kid’s effort to become a card shark legend on the cutthroat poker-and-blackjack scene.
Unlike some other 8-bit casino games, which go straight to the card gaming or maybe use a menu display to switch between variants, Casino Kid actually has the player control an on-screen protagonist in a topdown view, much like an adventure/RPG, as he explores the casino environment. Pressing the A button to talk to other casino-goers he encounters, the Kid will be encouraged by many, confounded by a few, and only occasionally pointed in the right direction.
See, at any given time, there is one particular person that Kid is supposed to play a game of cards with, either five card draw poker or a round of blackjack. Each time, the stakes increase, with the ante rising in increments of $10, and the player’s purse enlarging $1,000 at a time, with maximum bets growing as well.
This presents an unequal dichotomy between aesthetics and appeal: While some may appreciate the immersion offered by actually exploring the casino floor setting, such pleasure is far outweighed by the needless tedium of having to walk around for minutes at a time just to find the next opponent. Yes, some helpful standers-by will try to explain to the player where to go, but this will usually go hand-in-hand with several incorrect guesses before landing on the right foe. The idea is that the opponents are progressively harder (or, at least, more difficult to read), until the Casino Kid bests the final opposition and can retire on top.
Those with the patience to persevere through such hunts are, at least, rewarded by very solid gameplay. The card interaction is intuitive; which is crucial, seeing as how manipulating on-screen cards can be a clunky endeavor on a console. Whereas some titles can confused whether selected cards are either held or discarded, Casino Kid makes this very clear, which a “HELD” marker placed above cards that are to be kept in-hand during poker games. In either case, holding some or going for a whole new hand, pressing the B button abandons that portion, which is fairly intuitive. Manipulating bet amounts is similar, with the B button folding in that menu, while choosing the amount will destermine whether to call or raise.
Blackjack is a bit more complex of a beast, with options to split, take insurance, double down, etc. Those familiar with the game will appreciate these conventions, although newcomers can stick to the basics of hitting and standing if they would like.
Casino Kid certainly tries to have as much personality as possible. Since the player is playing against different opponents, even if the two games remain the same, the opposition actually changes in appearance and disposition. This is accomplished by showing both a face and corresponding speech text. For example, an early opponent may have a very animated face, with very obvious “tells” resulting in their lines of dialogue. Harder opponents will be those that keep a straight face (a “poker face,” of course), and offer no tips through their words as to the quality of their hand. Savvy players will have to learn how to play the odds, when to be aggressive, etc. – just like any poker pro, right?
Casino Kid does not quite go the extra mile in terms of visual acuity, but aims for the bullseye and puts forth a decent shot. For a casino sim that focuses so much on personality and characterization, it was important to establish their facial expressions and appearance on the floor; which is fine, but then why the stark, one-hue backgrounds during the card games themselves? Perhaps it is not a major issue, but under fine-toothed examination, Casino Kid is not a graphical powerhouse, just decent.
See above. But seriously: The strength of Casino Kid’s soundtrack is its willingness to explore, to take risks. For example, the tracks seem to utilize redundant layering more than usual – that is, using multiple NES hardware sound channels to put extra “oomph” on the same note, offering a richer sound, even at the cost of sounding a bit more staccato and less complex than a standard 8-bit arrangement. There is no consistent drums/bass/treble mixing here, no beautiful orchestrals. The sound effects are fine, just some beeps in menu selections. The main theme, used while walking around the casino, is a pleasant, low-pressure ditty with an almost old-timey feel. Neat.
Is Casino Kid the only gambling/poker/Las Vegas simulator? Nope. But it treads into that territory with distinction. In doing so, though, it only puts a bigger lens on the crux problem of simulators, especially in that era: If you truly love poker, you will not enjoy it in a video game. And if you really like poker in video games, Casino Kid’s emphasis on A.I. personalities may not be your thing. The rare player with the right mix of preferences to love this game may be out there, but more will probably hate it, honestly. Nonetheless, it was developed at a high technical standard, and manages to have a fun go, even if becoming a bit tedious.
Overall rating: 3/5 stars.