Friday, May 1, 2009

Scarab Solitaire. ($1.99, version 1.0)

iTunes Link.

Card games. There's a thousand and one variations out there. When most people think "Solitaire" they are actually thinking of one of the countless versions of Solitaire named Klondike. I first came upon the Tri-peak variation on the Nintendo DS and have been looking for a good version on the Touch. I have a few of the Solitaire compilations and those that include it don't have a version I can truly enjoy like the one in the DS. I have finally found the app to fill my Tri-peak void: Scarab Solitaire.

In this version of Solitaire, you have a card arrangement that looks like three pyramids. You start with 10 cards face up. Then you 9 cards behind them (one in-between each of the 10 cards). Then you have six cards behind them (two cards in-between, then an empty space, two cards in-between, then an empty space, then two more cards in-between). You finally have three cards, one in-between each of the three pairs of cards in the row before. There's two variations. The bottom row is always face-up. One variation has the rest of the pyramid cards face up and the other variation has them face-down. I would say it's more common to have them face down as this game does.

The rest of the cards are placed in a pile to the bottom left. You flip up the top most card and the game begins. Your goal is remove all cards from the pyramids. You can only remove a card if it's face up, i.e. no card on top of it. You remove it by either going one up or one down the face-up card at the bottom. I.e. if the card that is face up at the bottom is a four, you can select a three or a five. One such combination would be 4-5-4-3-2-3-4-5-4. You can keep going up and down until you cannot make any more matches. Kings wrap over to Aces and Aces wrap back to Kings.

The game saves your progress to the card, which is great with this type of game. You have a timer that counts down and is reset as soon as you make any move. I never ran out of time, as it gives you ample time to think. I would prefer a per-level time scheme like the DS version, and the time available keeps shrinking as the stages progress.

My biggest complaint about the game is that there's only five levels. I would like unlimited levels that you go through with decreasing available time (again, like the DS version). I've reached level 5 a few times so far. It's not a piece of cake, but it's not extremely hard either.

There's an element of luck to this Solitaire variant but there's also a lot of strategy involved. You have a 4, and have a 5 and a 3 in the pyramids. Did you already turn up all the sixes or the twos? This move could decide whether you win the game or not.

The graphics are very polished and the cards very readable, specially since there's so many cards in the game screen at a time. The sound is great, with some belly-dancing music. I sometimes let the game run just to hear the music. Controls are simple and spot-on, and you simply touch a card to select it. It's extremely precise. There's some good card-flipping sound effects. At the top of the screen you can see your current score, the current level, and your high score. The move timer is to the bottom right, and there's some graphics in the background that give the impression that you're in some sort of ancient ruins adventure. On the top right there's an arrow that takes you back to the main menu. From here you can play a new game, resume your current game, get instructions on how to play the game and the scoring, and you can view the credits. The instructions are in-game, which is how card game instructions should be handled. One should not have to go to Wikipedia to learn how to play the game.

As it is right now, it is the best Tri-peaks game in the store that I have tried. It would be the ultimate perfect Tri-peaks game if there were unlimited levels with decreasing level time. Why pay for one version of Solitaire where you can get compilations with a whole lot more? Polish and perfection. If a developer focuses on just one variant they can create a much better game than if they're just cramming variants into a compilation game, as can be witnessed with this game. At $2 this is a no-brainer. It helps if you like the variant, of course. I would suggest reading up on it and maybe trying to find an online flash game or playing it with real cards to get a feeling for the variant. If you like it, this game cannot come with any higher recommendation. This is a keeper.

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