Solitaire Pop
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-08-03 PC Casual E (Everyone) Say Design, Inc. / Playfirst

Seeing as how solitaire is one of the most widely known and appreciated card games known to man, it's only logical that developers would want to expand on everyone?s love of the game by adding new twists and challenges to the familiar gameplay. Solitaire Pop is one such game.

From the makers of Poker Pop World Tour, Solitaire Pop is a sort of spiritual sequel to its poker companion that challenges players to make their way through five archaeological dig sites (Delphi, Petra, Xi'an, Tikar, and Birka) with the main goal being to collect pieces of ancient artifacts in the hopes of putting them back together again.

Gameplay is achieved through a grid like system displaying random cards from a standard deck of 52, ace through king in each of the four suits, with aces being allowed to play as either high or low cards. Players must click on cards in numerical order in order to make a hand of two or more, with bonus points being offered for sticking to the traditional "red card then black card" formula from the original table-top solitaire gameplay.

This layout is standard over the game's two gameplay modes, but what changes is the overall goal of each level. In expedition mode, you play through each dig sight's ten levels by removing all 52 cards from the deck. Small symbols for all of the cards are displayed by suit on the left side of the screen. As you make a hand, let's say ace of hearts, two of diamonds, and three of spades, those three cards are then removed from the display at the left, and you move on to your next hand until you've removed them all.

Your score will grow after each hand depending on how many cards you manage to use in a single sequence (all the way up a hand of 13 cards, ace through king), and depending on how many of those cards were still actually needed to complete the level versus simply acting as placeholders.

Seeing as how the grid space itself is made up of less than 52 spaces, it is understandable that some cards may need to be played more than once in order to get all 52 to pop into the grid, and while you are not stopped from doing so, your score will also not improve afterwards.

In the second gameplay mode, challenge mode, the goal instead becomes to create the deck of 52 cards in sequential order on the left side of the screen. That is, you must play the ace of one suit before playing the two and so on. This continues until you have reached the king of all four suits. Other elements found in each mode are a goal card number (meaning that you are shooting to complete the level by only using X amount of cards in total) and the addition of multiple hazards and power-ups.

Hazards range from smoking cards that will end your game if they reach the bottom of the playing field to those that will prohibit the use of not only that individual card, but also all others with the same rank. Other hazards include ice covered cards and burning cards that will turn nearby cards into smokers if not eliminated from the board.

As for power-ups, they also come in many forms, ranging from those that shuffle the order of cards on the board to those that stop your card usage number from rising for three hands, with many others in between.

No matter what the game mode, each level ends by unearthing a small shard or sometimes a larger fragment of a lost treasure specific to the location in which you are digging. For instance, in Delphi, your completed treasure is a ceramic vase that displays a picture of the Oracle of Delphi.

Each piece comes with information about how the completed object found its significance within the archaeological community. And while these stories are easily skipped, they also offer a lot of educational content not often found in video games. Likewise, each level also offers a real life postcard view of the supposed dig site, offering even more information about the geography and history of the region.

For those that are impatient and simply want to get to the next level, there is also a museum in the game that serves as a gallery of sorts, where you can go back and read any information that you might have skipped along the way.

On the more technical side of things, the graphics themselves are nothing extraordinary, even if vibrantly colored. Most of the real life postcard shots are a bit blurry, but otherwise everything looks nice enough, in terms of your average puzzle game on the PC. Being that the game is based on more of a mental challenge than anything too visual, this lack of outstanding graphical detail can be looked past.

The sound department, however, fairs much better, as it is filled with not only power-up and hazard specific sound effects, but also a lovely soundtrack of culturally themed music that plays throughout each level. This soundtrack may be instrumental, but it is definitely better than your average elevator music tends to be.

All in all, Solitaire Pop offers more of a challenge than what might initially be assumed, and is an even more enjoyable experience because of this challenge. Where the original version of solitaire can be played with little thought, Solitaire Pop instead presents an amount of logic based gameplay that some might not enjoy. However, for those that were a fan of Poker Pop or are fans of more mentally challenging puzzle games, Solitaire Pop definitely does the trick.