There are a few things about Battle Poker that you will notice as soon as you start playing the game, and one of them is that at no point do you actually play any poker.
Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not, but it does lead to a slightly schizophrenic experience.
Basically, Battle Poker is a collection of puzzle-based minigames (all but two of which are multiplayer) that use poker, in some way, as a core concept. But the relationship between actual poker and Battle Poker is akin to the relationship between actual boxing and Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! There's a great deal of fun to be had, but the more faithful you expect the game to remain to its subject, the more disappointed you will be.
The game features such a great deal of customization that it might seem intimidating. In practice, though, the options are logical, straight-forward, and grouped appropriately with the minigames they affect. There are a lot of options, but finding and using them is helpfully intuitive.
You can save up to four profiles (each of which retains the options you've selected during your last game), you can adjust (separately!) the volume of the music, sound effects and voices, and you can toggle the standard 52 card deck on or off (off resulting in more randomization, and less opportunity for "card counting," though, given the nature of these games, it's doubtful that that would ever become an issue). You can even--get this--adjust the speed at which the game's credits will scroll. Now that's control!
One theoretically-interesting feature is the "skins" option, which allows you to select from several different visual themes. These include the beach, the 1960s, jazz music, very funny caricatured mobsters, and--of course--dogs playing poker. Unfortunately the most noticeable change is the replacement of the wallpaper beneath your game, which you only see briefly when a round ends. It's not a huge deal, but it does feel like something of a missed opportunity.
The game itself, as mentioned earlier, is actually a collection of smaller games, but, throughout each of them, the central idea is the same: assemble a 5-card hand from the cards spread out on the table before you. While the different minigames make noble attempts at variation, this is pretty much what you will be doing the entire time. We will discuss each of the game modes in turn.
Single-player mode features a choice of two games: Shuffle Up 'n Deal With It, and Chain Reaction. The first game (we'll just call it "Shuffle" to save time, shall we?) is the real meat of the single-player mode. It's an excellent (and hugely challenging!) puzzle game that sees you rearranging a 5x5 grid of cards, so that each row and column adds up separately to a high-scoring hand. By default you are given five minutes (this can be adjusted) to solve the puzzle to your satisfaction, but a true devotee could spend half an hour with one puzzle, easily, arranging and rearranging until he's convinced he's got it perfect.
Its fun, it's challenging, and it's certainly addictive, but it's emphatically not poker. The score you receive is determined by the value of the hands you create (from single pairs all the way up to a royal flush), but that's really it. There's certainly strategy involved, but it's not at all the same type of strategy that would benefit you in actual poker.
The game makes the claim that you're playing against the CPU, which is misleading at best. Basically there's a minimum score that you must reach for the puzzle to be considered solved, and that's it; the CPU does not participate in any sense of the word, and you might as well be solving the same puzzle in a book.
The other game is Chain Reaction, which sees the player choosing a card from a grid, and then (in the spirit of Boggle) moving to adjacent cards, one by one, to assemble a 5-card hand. You can start wherever you like, but you need to be quick, because in this game the CPU actually does play against you, and you will need to beat its score. Overall this game is more fast-paced than Shuffle, but it's also much easier. At the very least, you can just watch the cards that the CPU selects, and then select the same group for the same amount of points. You have the advantage, because you can copy everything it does, but it has no interest in copying your moves. Kind of a cheap way to win, but it also makes it pretty difficult to lose. If the CPU finds a royal flush, why wouldn't you copy it?
Mutiplayer mode supports up to four players, which is certainly a nice feature, and you have three games to choose from: Classic, Wait Your Turn, and Mad Dash. Unfortunately, the latter two are meager variations on the first.
In Classic you will play with a grid of cards, once again, but this time they are face down. A card will flip over when any player's cursor hovers over it. Similar to Concentration, it's best to remember where the cards were, so that you won't have to flip everything over to find the card you need. Once again, your aim is to assemble the best 5-card hand you can, beating your opponents, and since everybody is grabbing cards at the same time, you'd better think fast about what you need. In order to make things interesting, and to justify the word "battle" in the game's title, power-ups will float by in bubbles. These can flip over all of the cards, stun your opponent's cursor, and remove a card from play entirely, and so on.
Then there are two variants of the same game. In Wait Your Turn each player takes turns choosing cards. This is more like a training-wheel version of Classic, probably best suited to kids or to somebody who needs to be slowly taught the rules of the game. Mad Dash is a 15-second burst of the Classic concept, except that all of the cards are face up, and each player grabs frantically for the best hand they can put together in a quarter of a minute.
It's somewhat disappointing that the multiplayer mode isn't more robust, because if your friends don't care for the core game, nothing about the variants will appeal to them either. Oddly enough, we'd have expected the replay value to be found in multiplayer, but, in reality, it's the single-player Shuffle game that's the most fun to return to. It combines the addictiveness of a Sudoku puzzle with the board-management of Bejeweled...but it's extremely challenging, not particularly exciting, and requires a great deal of thought and patience.
Ultimately, the experience of Battle Poker is a confusing one, if only because it's difficult to determine the game's audience. It's definitely not for poker aficionados, because there's no real "poker" to be found in this game at all. It's not for party-game fans, as the multiplayer mode has a pretty limited shelf life, and will only make you wish for a more varied experience. And while a certain subset of puzzle fans would really enjoy the Shuffle game, they aren't likely to gravitate toward a game called Battle Poker in the first place.
Puzzle Poker would have perhaps been a better name; it's a little more accurate, anyway. Maybe it wouldn't sell as many copies, but at least it would end up disappointing fewer people who downloaded it expecting something completely different.
Battle Poker is far from being a bad game, but it is hard to recommend it wholeheartedly. On one hand, its presentation is lovely, its interface is clear and intuitive, and its expansive customization is very much welcomed. But on the other hand, it's the type of game only one kind of gamer will really enjoy, and that kind of "gamer" is probably more comfortable with a pencil and a book of logic puzzles than a Wii Remote and the Wii Shop Channel. Those who are enticed by the above description of Shuffle mode will probably love this game. Everybody else is likely to come away appreciating the good intentions... but not much else. The bottom line is what is on offer here doesn’t represent good value for 800 Nintendo Points.