Review: Solitaire (WiiWare)

Loners rejoice!

It would be proper to regard any WiiWare program consisting of a game that's already pre-installed on every Windows PC in the universe as a complete waste of everyone's time. It would be about as pointless as releasing a poker game with rules for only one version of poker. The only way you could possibly justify putting out a virtual solitaire card game for the Wii would be to make it an impressive collection of solitaire games. Well that's exactly what publisher GameOn has done and it's certainly the most worthwhile card game collection on the Wii.

There are a full 18 games included in Solitaire including the immediately recognisable klondike, as well as canfield (this reviewer's personal favourite), yukon, spider, freecell (just for gran), golf and even pyramid. The interface for looking through the games is quite nice with each game being described on a virtual card: one side shows the game tableau and indicates its name and what family (type) of game it is. If you click the Stats button the card will flip over showing you how long a game it tends to be, the amount of skill involved and the odds of beating it via an icon rating system. The description cards can be flipped through by clicking on a slider and dragging it back and forth, clicking the arrows on either end or simply pressing left or right on the (DPAD). You can also sort the games according to any of the ratings or which games you've played the most and there's a tutorial on how the controls work generally. Each game has a "how to play" screen to read and many of the games allow you to change certain parameters to match your own preference, e.g., whether to have 1, 3 or unlimited redeals of the stock in a game of klondike, amongst many others.

Since the Wii pointer is a near-perfect analogue for a computer mouse, if you can play solitaire on your computer you'll be able to handle this. Use the remote to control an on-screen cursor, click (A) to select cards, hold (A) to grab them and move them (where applicable); double click (A) to make an automatic play where only one option is available, e.g. playing an ace on a foundation in klondike.

Flexibility in navigation is this collection's biggest strength. As noted above you can navigate through the game list in several ways and after starting a game you can access information and options in many ways as well. In addition to undo/redo arrows, you'll find an icon to call up the in-game menu and you can jump to specific submenus or information pages by clicking other icons on the playfield. If that wasn't enough you can also call up the in-game menu by pressing (2) and in every case flip through the options pages using the (DPAD) or clicking on-screen arrows with the pointer.

There are a wide variety of backgrounds and card backs to choose from. You can have pictures or textures for background with 17 choices each and one of 12 card backs. Music consists of 13 tracks that sound like electric jazz played by a Casio keyboard and a drum machine, but it's actually quite catchy. You can choose to play specific tracks, have them play randomly or even create a playlist of your favourites. Visually the game is quite crisp with large symbols for the suits on the card faces and everything is quite readable. Pressing + will zoom in the screen and allow you to pan about the playfield using the pointer if you really need to, but we didn't have any use for that. If a build has gotten too large to display at once the middle cards will get hidden, but you can move your cursor over them to uncompress the stack and flip through the cards if you need to see what's there.

Finally if your game is dragging on a bit you can choose to save and come back to it later. Four different profiles can be created to keep your solitaire stats separate from the rest of your household and each player will have their total wins and losses tracked against the number of games played.

There's very little to fault here. Sorting the game list keeps your relative position in the list rather than putting you at the beginning of it (so if you flipped to the fourth or fifth game before sorting against skill, you'll be looking at the fourth or fifth-ranked game according to skill after sorting the list) and if you lose a game there's no announcement of such, it just quietly records the loss in the background and then you need to make that realisation yourself and quit or start a new game. There's a hint system where some games will give you up to three hints by clicking the lightbulb icon in the lower right, but the barely noticeable purple flash that comes over a hinted card play is so subtle that you'll have to look hard to see it or assume there's no hints available! None of these problems takes away from the fact that this is a fine collection of card games for only 500 points that any fan of solo card games will enjoy.

Conclusion

It would be a mistake to dismiss Solitaire on the basis of it being a virtual card game alone. By creating a substantial collection of card games for solo play with solid controls; backed by an extensive navigation system, GameOn have managed to deliver a really terrific WiiWare offering that fans of patience and solitaire games should consider a must have.

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