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3D Solitaire: All Aces or a Big Joker?

Solitaire games are a dime a dozen.  To pass this title by on the eShop isn’t just understood; but expected.

The term “Solitaire” with relation to card games goes back to the mid-18th century. In other countries, this “solo card experience” is known by other names; Patience, Success, Kabal – in early origins, the outcome of a game of Solitaire has roots into fortune telling.

Currently, there are more than 100 distinct Solitaire variations; but the most popular one (thanks to its inclusion on every Windows computer since 3.1) is known as Klondike.

In Klondike Solitaire, the player attempts to sort a 52 card deck by suit and in order into four piles of cards known as foundations. Cards can be moved between the columns, or to the foundations. The cards in the columns must be built down (from King to Ace) alternating color. When the player gets stuck he can click on the deck in the top left of the game screen.

Klondike comes in it’s own variations; often known as Flip 1 or Flip 3; that is, when your stack of cards is in an unplayable and you turn from the deck – you turn 1 or 3 cards at a time. If you can play the card facing up, you can play the card below it – and continue this until you’re “stuck” again – then you flip over more cards. Once the pile “runs out”, you flip the discard pile back over and do it again. In some variations, when the deck has been fully expended, the game is over if you cannot play.

In Zen’s 3D Solitaire for the Nintendo 3DS, you have both variations of Klondike; Flip 1 and Flip 3.

So what makes 3D Solitaire worth your time? Isn’t it JUST another standard Solitaire game? How can you bring anything new to the table (so to speak)?

Many of you probably know the name Zen from their excellent cross-platform Zen Pinball package. If you do, then you know that Zen’s products are top notch. If you don’t, let me explain what I mean by “top notch production values”.

If you have a mobile device like a smart phone or tablet, go download some no name Solitaire package and play it. There are dozens to choose from regardless of your chosen platform. Or, fire up the Windows’s version. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It’s … Solitaire. Lowest common denominator. Enough to get you by. Sure sure, maybe you can change the back of the cards, maybe add some music … whatever. But – is it both functional AND beautiful? Just how functional is it? Will it auto-place an Ace for you if you select it? Will the game give you a hint if you’re stuck? Can you undo your last move?

There are premium Solitaire games out there for all systems too. Some are beautiful and functional – but they will often set up back $4.99 and up (Hardwood Solitaire comes to mind).

But none of them are in 3D 🙂

Zen’s 3D Solitaire is a fully-realized Solitaire game. All the “little features” (like the above mentioned) are there in spades (pun intended). The game gives you the option to play in 3D with the control pad/buttons – or use the traditional drag and drop of the touch screen (in 2D of course). As you play, you get points for your actions – basic points for basic actions as well as points for “awards” or achievements – such as fast flipping cards, etc. It adds the element of chase – both score and awards.

The game features three full 3D environments to play in – the first one, Lost City, comes pre-unlocked. The other two (plus the ability to play with your own 3D photo) are unlocked later – not through vicious, pricey in app purchases – but by earning points playing the game.

These aren’t simple “backdrop” or card back changes like on other Solitaire games. These are like changing tables in pinball; the core of the game is the same, but everything around it changes. The 3D backdrop (which is loaded with little appreciated details and animations) is simply incredible and has to be SEEN in real 3D to be appreciated.

Part of top notch production values; attention to detail. Not just with the graphics but everything. The entire EXPERIENCE with 3D Solitaire is smooth and silky. Cards animate smoothly – transitions are like butter. Even the way your pointer (when playing 3D) moves hasn’t been left to chance. Sure, they could have cheapened out – but it flows with silky animation – giving the entire experience a floating, almost surreal feel that only 3D games on the 3DS seem to be able to provide. No cheap 3D gimmicks here (unless you count the logo flying into your face when the game loads up). I didn’t understand how Solitaire could be “enhanced” by 3D, but I get it now. I played for a couple hours and suffered no eye strain or discomfort playing.

When playing in 2D (on the bottom screen) with the stylus, the top screen is almost like a 3D screen saver – showing you your score floating there along with other notices while you play. While it seems logical to play a game like this in 2D with a touch screen – I found myself almost immediately changing back to 3D play – using the D-Pad and buttons were a little odd at first, but within a few minutes, I was flying through the UI; completely comfortable.

The hint system is even top notch. When you get stuck, tapping the HINT button will cause all available cards that can be played to sway, ever so slightly. It is representative of the entire game experience. No corners cut on this game.

The high score system seems crazy here; after all, it is Solitaire. But you’ll want to keep track – since scoring has been cleverly inserted into the game mechanics. There are no online leaderboards – so no score attacks with your friends, but that’s ok. Solitaire is kinda a personal score attack sort of game anyway.

The audio is pleasant and never grating on your ears. Both music and SFX levels can be independantly controlled (THANK YOU, Zen!) so you can get the mix you want.

When you find yourself on the losing end (which if you play Klondike Flip 3, is a lot) – there is a hot button to get you into a new game quickly. Another nice feature they could have left out and no one would have been the wiser. Proof that Zen understands the games they make and their users, too.

If you get the impression I’m truly digging this game, they you are reading this review correctly. But, you all know that no game is perfect and I feel responsible to report back issues with the titles I review; even the favorable ones.

There are times when you’re SO CLOSE to the end of the game, you get stuck – having made a critical error just a few moves back. 3D Solitaire has an undo system, but it is only a single move. Rarely does the Solitaire player catch his mistake in one move – making the undo system less useful than it could have been. If I could knock this game for ANY reason – call something “lazy” about it – it would be the lack of multiple undo. Maybe Zen can give us an update? It doesn’t have to be a full game’s worth – maybe five levels of undo? Penalize us points for it? Something …

Klondike AGA (Amiga)

Not so much an issue, but an omission that could have pushed this game through the roof. In the old Amiga computer days, there was an INCREDIBLE shareware Solitaire game called KlondikeAGA. Not only was it a fine game of Solitaire, but it also allowed gamers to create their OWN card backs and graphics for the game. This spawned a HUGE community rallying around to ensure their “pet” content was represented. Naturally, 90% of it was porn (nothing says Solitaire like nude women on the backs of the cards), but the other 10% had some incredible content; from TV shows like Dr. Who to movies to video games – you name it, there was a card set for it. Had Zen offered this up (maybe they didn’t want to deal with the porn), it could have given this game a cult status that would have made them a ton of cash. I’ve seen it happen and Solitaire is a TIMELESS game – the community would grow over time.

Another omission that would have made this game even BETTER would be to allow us to stream music from the SD card while we play. Most of us use Solitaire to relax and being able to stream some of our own tunes (it really makes a difference; see Wii’s ExciteTruck) would be great. You already let us use our own picture .. how about our own music?

I mentioned the lack of online leaderboards earlier. I totally get why this would be omitted in a $3 title – but if you add a community of card theme traders in a future update, a leaderboard with friends would make sense to add as well.

I would have ZERO problem recommending this title at $4.99, $5.99 .. even $7.99 if I could have community features I mentioned above. Just steal fizzy lifting drinks from KlondikeAGA, throw on leaderboards – and we’re good 🙂

A top notch title from a top notch publisher that is 100% worthy of the paulty $3 asking price. Very little is left to chance in this title and those with a casual fancy for Solitaire will be in heaven – while the score chasing clan will have a little something extra. “Budget gaming” isn’t about $.99 cr’apps on mobile stores; it’s about little slices of quality with long lasting appeal and extreme attention to detail. Zen Studios has given us a very nice, portable-friendly high quality title – and we should all reward them by owning this title.

Zen Studios
Nintendo 3DSWare eShop

This is much better if you watch it in 3D on the 3DS from the eShop.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

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