Saturday, May 19, 2007

XBLA review: Soltrio Solitaire (4/10)

Well, Silver Creek is back with another card game (or to be more precise, collection of card games). Based on the quality of their other offerings, you'd probably guess that this is another mediocre game, and you'd be right.

Solitaire's a no-brainer, right? Throw together some common variants, maybe add some special tricks, keep a bunch of stats, and you've got yourself a quality offering. So, let's see how they did. To be fair, Quantum Quality Productions released the quintessential solitaire game, Solitaire's Journey, 15 years ago, so the best Silver Creek could hope to do is approach it in quality. (A wide variety of game, different modes of play, rich statistics ... it's one of the few DOS games I still play, and I fear the day when it no longer runs in Windows, a la Eight Ball Deluxe.)

Common variants? Well, they have 16 games (two variants of Freecell and two variants of Klondike, what most novices refer to as "solitaire"), and I do recognize some of them. However, Spider is one suit only (stupid), and some of the other games, like Aces Up, depend heavily on the order in which cards are dealt. Grade: D.

Special tricks? In Voyage mode, by playing cards to foundations, you can earn points to pull cards from the tableau to the stock, shuffle tableau columns, and other helpful tricks. Of course, it lowers your overall score, so there are compromises to be had. Grade: A.


Hello? Stats?

Well, per their usual, there's ... um ... leaderboards that show your high score by game, the number of chests you've unlocked in Voyage Mode, and, if you look carefully, the number of games you win. Mind you, none of this is available directly. Why? Because Silver Creek sucks when it comes to stats.

What's your average score per game? Number of games played? Number of wins per game? Winning percentage? At which games have you won? No idea. Why? You got me. Grade: F.

Instead, they have ... online play. For solitaire.

No, really.

Why is that? Because they didn't know how to make a good solitaire game. Solitaire's Journey had two additional modes besides single-game: Tournament, where you played a set of games for a cumulative score (you could play a predefined tournament or create your own), and Journey, where you traveled from one city to another, playing one of three games in each city where you stopped, winning money to offset your travel costs or even travel for free. For each game, it kept number of games played for each player, number of wins, average score, and number of games over their "average", as well as high and average scores for tournaments and journeys.

Soltrio has Voyage Mode, where for every three games you win, you get a random card background, foreground, or border, which you use to build your own card backs. (Voyage is the mode with the tricks: in Classic mode, you must play by the book.) That's it.

Some of the achievements are pretty neat, but there are two online achievements. (One, The Mingler, is similar to other games: basically, you'll get it by playing someone who's got it already.)

Another major flaw in the game is autoplay. It's more like Otto-play, where Otto is a guy behind the scenes who plays cards for you. He's pretty dumb. He'll make illegal moves (I lost a game of Matrimony when he played a card onto a foundation that was already complete - the game let him do it and I had no idea until all 104 cards were on foundations and I didn't win). He won't finish the game automatically if there are cards in the tableau not in order (in Freecell, if there's a red six on a red seven, even though the cards are in descending order, he can't figure out that you can play both of them to foundations in turn). He'll always move a card to the foundation if possible, even if it's a better move to put it on the tableau. The last one I can live with; the first one is incomprehensibly stupid.

Also, just for the record, colossus has one l and a double s. Hear me, Silver Creek?

This isn't a bad game, but the problem is that once you get past the outer layer, there's really no depth to it. If you like mindless hours of Freecell, this is maybe a step better. If you want a quality solitaire game, go back in time.

zlionsfan's rating: four clubs out of 10.

Updated 24 June 2007: I tried out Game Pack 1, which has some decent games like Clock and Miss Milligan. Unfortunately, the new games continue to highlight Silver Creek's mistakes. The autoplay features is hopelessly lost on some of the games: in Miss Milligan, it will put a card onto the reserve instead of onto another tableau pile, and in Whitehead, given a choice of two piles, matching-suit and matching-color, it sometimes picks the matching-color pile, even though the obvious play is matching-suit. Also, while it says "accurately" that you may select any card in the reserve pile playing Miss Milligan, it doesn't give you a way to select any card, just cards in sequence.

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