Pokertini and Fairway Solitaire for iPhone and iPad
Playing cards date back to the ninth century, so you can imagine that bringing something new to the card game genre can be a pretty tricky task. I recently spent some time with a pair of iOS games that are look to put their own unique spin on well-known card games. One app was up to the task, while the other was a few cards short of a winning hand.
Let’s start with the latter app first. Pokertini: Video Poker With a Twist spells out its mission right in the title—the free Smappsoft offering wants to liven up the game of video poker with a few iOS-centric touches. The twists are certainly there, but they really don’t add much spark to what turns out to be a very run-of-the-mill game.
Pokertini has the same basics you’d find on any video poker machine in a bar or casino. You’re dealt three hands of five-card draw poker, and it’s up to you to form the best hands possible. You tap the cards you want to keep, then tap draw. When the new cards appear, you either collect your winnings or lament what might have been.
Your bet is evenly split among the three hands you’re dealt, though you have the option of moving around your coins to wager more money on a better hand. Still, the payouts in Pokertini are pretty stingy. For example, both pairs (jacks and better) and two pairs feature the exact same 1X payout, meaning you essentially recoup your bet. Problematically, that means two of your three hands can be winners—a pair of aces in one hand, pairs of nines and sevens in the other—and you’ll come out a loser because that third hand didn’t pay out. You only seem to win bets in Pokertini when you score a particularly rare hand like a full house or four of a kind, and that leads to some pretty dull gameplay.
I found I collected my biggest winnings from a bonus game that appears after every five deals or so. Again, you’re dealt three hands of poker, only this time you have ten seconds to drag the cards around to form the three best hands you can. The action’s a little more fun here, but the design is flawed. When you drag a card to its new slot, the card it replaces bounces to the old hand—because you’re rushing to beat the clock, the visual effect of the bounce makes it seem like you’ve failed to put the card in the hand you wanted. It’s a very distracting approach that really needs to be smoothed out.
As for the twists in Pokertini’s title, those are power-ups you can buy to manipulate the cards you’re dealt. The Shakeup twist, for example, randomly rearranges all of the unheld cards on the board, while the Block Suit twist lets you prevent a specific suit of cards from appearing when you draw cards to bolster your hands. The trouble with the twists: They cost a lot of coins—so much so in some cases that you potentially erase all of your winnings in a hand. You begin the game with three twists and unlock more as you progress through different Pokertini levels, though, honestly, I can’t imagine players sticking it out all that long.
On the bright side, Pokertini is free, and the game starts you off with a generous 1000-coin bankroll. You have the option of adding more coins via in-app purchase. ($1 gets you 1000 more coins while $20 nets you 100,000.) Buying coins also gets rid of the banner ads that pop up during the game.
It’s possible that video poker enthusiasts will embrace the game’s twist concept, and the ’60s casino cool look of Pokertini is certainly visually appealing. But the twists failed to capture my imagination, and watching bets continually cancel each other out struck me as unrewarding. After just a little time playing Pokertini, I was ready to fold.
Fairway Solitaire—and its iPad-optimized counterpart, Fairway Solitaire HD—also tries to put a new spin on an old card game, this time with much greater success. The card game in question here is the variation on solitaire known as golf, where you try to wind up with the lowest score possible. Developer Big Fish Games takes the golf concept quite literally in Fairway Solitaire. The game takes place over a series of golf courses, power-ups in the form of clubs can help bail you out of trouble, and—attention, Caddyshack fans—there’s a troublesome gopher who pops up every now and again to cause trouble.
The golf motif serves Fairway Solitaire well. Without it, you’ve got an easily forgettable card game, but using golf imagery and terminology really livens up the gameplay. Cards in the rough, for example, take two cards to remove. Wedges act as wildcards, helping you out when you’re stuck on a hole. And mini-games that pop-up whenever that bothersome gopher appears add to the fun.
Fairway Solitaire even has a trio of announcers, speaking in pitch-perfect hushed voices. You’ll either find their patter amusing or tiresome, though you can turn off the play-by-play in the game’s settings. Silencing the announcers won’t affect the other sound effects, and that’s a good thing—the sound of a club swinging every time you play a card or birds chirping along the course really adds to the atmosphere in Fairway Solitaire.
Some iOS gamers may take issue with Fairway Solitaire’s free-to-play model. The game ships with a set number of unlocked courses—six on the iPhone, nine on the iPad—but to play beyond those courses, you’ve got to make an in-app purchase. On the iPhone, $1 buys you 54 additional courses, along with six more you unlock using the golf bucks in-game currency. (Golf bucks are pretty easy to earn, if you play the game enough.) The $3 in-app purchase for Fairway Solitaire HD opens 45 courses, plus nine more you unlock with golf bucks. I’ve heard from some iOS gamers who wish that developers would just charge an amount upfront rather than ding them with in-app purchases after they’ve already committed to a game. I can appreciate that sentiment, but I don’t think it applies to Fairway Solitaire—by using the free-to-play model, the developer lets you sample a good portion of the game before you have to put up any money. It’s a much cleaner way of doing things than offering a separate, feature-crippled lite version in my opinion. I do find it tiresome, though, that every time I launch Fairway Solitaire, I’m treated to an ad exhorting me to download more Big Fish apps.
Still, that shouldn’t obscure the fact that Fairway Solitaire is an ideal casual game, particularly if you find solitaire a relaxing way to pass the time. It’s the sort of game you can play when you have a few spare moments, put down when you need to move on to other things, and pick up where you left off without any fuss. The little touches in Fairway Solitaire prove that there’s plenty of opportunity to add new life into old, familiar games.
[Philip Michaels is the editor of Macworld.com.]