Reviewed: June 14, 2007
Released: May 18, 2007
In Microsoft’s attempt to win over more nontraditional gamers (parents, grandparents, spouses) to their Xbox 360 console, they have unleashed Soltrio Solitaire onto the Xbox Live Arcade masses.
Why Solitaire? Because the game is universal, it can be quite challenging, but it can be played entirely at the gamers’ pace – there is no enemy AI to defend against, no timers to beat, and no dungeons to navigate. It is the perfect “noob” game.
In fact, it was Microsoft’s brilliant decision nearly a decade ago to bundle Solitaire into their early Windows packages that is probably the single biggest reason for the current popularity of the home computers and their Windows platform. Solitaire taught my parents how to use a mouse, how to navigate windows, how to make shortcuts, etc.. – and it probably taught your parents, too.
With no AI to speak of, the only real gameplay comes from the number of games variants offered. Soltrio Solitaire dishes up 16 variations on the popular Solitaire game; ranging from the traditional games like Klondike, FreeCell, and Spider to the more complex games like Grandfather Clock, Aces Up and 3 Shuffles and a Draw. A text-based help menu is available at all times to cover the rules of each particular game – which are all surprisingly different.
There is an slim attempt at a career mode – called “Voyage” – but this is little more than simply giving a semblance of structure to the overall proceedings by adding a map and requiring the gamer to clear three games at each map location. With no restrictions placed on the choices, Voyage lets you pick whichever of the 16 games you want at whatever time you want, so it is way too easy to progress using two or three “favorites” games, bypassing most of the true cranium-twisters.
While most seasoned gamers will find the pace of Solitaire a bit slow for their consoles, the sluggish nature of the game will definitely help acclimate the non-gaming target audience.
Gaming vets will also be shocked to find that there are hands dealt out that just cannot be won, no matter how long or how hard they try – in many game types, the outcome all depends on how the cards fell in the initial deal. This obviously violates a gazillion rules of traditional video game design, where traditionally every level can in fact be won if it is played correctly. But Solitaire is not a videogame, and the rules don’t apply the same.
Really, the only intrinsic gameplay downfall of this otherwise serviceable game of Solitaire is the troublesome control scheme. Solitaire games are better suited for the rapid point-and-click action of the mouse – not an Xbox 360 controller. And while the developers did try to ease up some of the clicking for the Xbox 360 controller – by automatically selecting grouped cards, and including a quick move button – the constant stepping from column to column really slowed down any action the game might have had. In one moment of desperation, I grabbed the USB mouse off my PC and prayed it would work on my Xbox 360 – no dice.
Soltrio Solitaire does offer a multiplayer mode via Xbox Live, allowing gamers to either compete head-to-head, or work cooperatively, to fill up their Foundation (Ace) Piles. The overall results are a bit weak, but the attempt is admirable.
Visually, the game looks impressive for a card game – especially in HD with full 720p, widescreen support. But then again, it’s just a card game – so that’s not saying much.
The static background screens are highly detailed and colorful shots from the various Voyage locations, fitting whatever particular theme each game is trying to achieve. Asian-influenced games might have pagodas backgrounds, while Klondike will usually have a frosty Arctic scene. They look nice, despite the lack of action.
The cards are also quite detailed and animate nicely – with cool sparkle effects thrown around to highlight high-scoring cards, or good moves.
The game might have a handful of really neat-sounding swooshy effects to accompany each movement, but the thirty seconds of looping background music is enough to send even the calmest of players to the loony bin. I’m not kidding here folks, for something that sounds so orchestral and beautiful at the outset – it gets really grating, really quick.
There is one 30-second sound snippet, and it plays the same loop over, and over, and over for the entirety of the game. And as if through some weird subliminal conditioning, this constant repetition somehow triggers those “I have been waiting on hold with the phone company for an hour and all I hear is this darn Muzak” frustrations that reside deep down in your gut. It took me an hour or so to realize what the source of this anxiety was, but once I turned off the music I found I could actually relax and concentrate on the game at hand.
All I can say is thank heavens Microsoft allows gamers to play their own tunes on the Xbox 360.
Soltrio Solitaire dishes out 16 games of Solitaire for around $10 – that’s roughly 63 cents per game. Considering the fact that most gamers will only comprehend a handful of the 16 offered games, and that most of these 16 games can already be found for free on your PC, Soltrio Solitaire does not equate to being that great of a deal.
The gameplay and graphics are solid, but the controls are terribly frustrating. And nobody – I mean NOBODY – should have to pay for the Chinese-water torture that is the background music.
There are 12 Achievements to obtain for a total of 200 points, but some like “Agoraphobia” –which requires playing winning 1000 games for 30 Achievement Points – are hardly worth the investment. Still, there are some really nifty Achievements like “The Mingler” – which requires playing online against another gamer who already has achieved “Mingler” status – netting a whopping zero (0) points!
Part of me wants to recommend Soltrio Solitaire because it does offer 16 unique variations of the popular game, makes an attempt at online play, and comes with 200 built-in Achievement Points. But the shoddy controls, irritating music, and dull gameplay are sure to turn off a majority of seasoned gamers.
Your parents will probably love it, but do you really want to argue with them about whose turn it is to play the 360?