ARC STYLE: Solitaire Review
Posted by Philip J Reed
If you've ever had a) a computer, b) a deck of cards, or c) a grandmother, then the odds are good that you've had some exposure to Solitaire. At a relatively low-price point, ARC STYLE: Solitaire aims to bring that hot solo card-arranging action to the 3DS eShop. We would have thought that such a simple game in combination with a touch screen would be an instant inductee into Club Diamond. Instead, it's a spade through the heart.
ARC STYLE: Solitaire is a decidedly no-frills package. It features two versions of the classic card game, and a small handful of rule options for each, but that's it. The title aims to provide a quick, inexpensive round of Solitaire on the go, and that's a good thing. Anyone looking for a downloadable Solitaire game would probably be turned off or confused by an over-complicated experience. After all, it's a game that's enduring precisely because it's so easy to learn.
The version of the game that most players will recognise is Klondike Solitaire. In this version you draw from the deck and arrange, ultimately, all of the cards in ascending order by suit. Along the way you will need to arrange and rearrange the cards you draw in the playing area in descending order, alternating by colour.
It sounds more complicated than it really is. If you have a red queen to place, it will need to go on a black king; if you have a black three, you will need to place it on a red four. It's that simple, and once you've unearthed the almighty aces, you can cover it up with the suit-relevant two, three, four, five and so on.
The rule variations here are going to be familiar to long-term Windows users, as the game served as a pack-in for many versions of the OS. You can draw three cards at a time, draw one, or implement a rule that only allows you to cycle through the deck five times before the game ends.
The other version of the game is Monte Carlo Solitaire, and that's more of a matching game, as you will need to match a certain number of cards with other cards of the same value — colour and suit notwithstanding. The cards need to be adjacent to each other to be matched, something the hint feature included with the game seems to keep forgetting, because it regularly suggests matches that the game won't actually let you make.
The rule variations here simply specify how many cards need to be matched before you win, so there's not much variety.
In both games you can unlock different patterns for the backs of the cards (oooooh) and different colours of baize for the table (ahhhhh). That does it for the unlockables but, again, that's okay. As long as the game plays well, that's more than enough.
Unfortunately, for a game that revolves around the simple act of placing cards with other cards, it controls terribly.
Most players will be intuitively drawn to the touch controls, and rightly so; it's quite likely that their main experience with Solitaire took place with a mouse in their hand, and even if that's not the case, a click-and-drag game like this seems like a perfect fit for a touch screen. Inexcusably, the control scheme is so unrefined that it sometimes simply refuses to work.
There were many times per game that a legal move was not allowed. We'd drag a red five onto a black six only to see it snap back into the deck. Once we confirmed that we hadn't misidentified a card we'd try the exact some placement again, and this time it would work. There was no rhyme or reason to the times that the game prevented us from making a perfectly acceptable move; it just seemed that once out of every 25 times or so, it would do it for kicks.
Even selecting the cards is handled poorly, as sometimes you will have to hold the stylus in place for a second before the game recognizes that you're trying to move something. Other times you will struggle to select the card you want, because there isn't enough space between them. On top of all that, sometimes you will select the card you want, but the game will deselect it while you're in the process of moving it, and you'll have to pick it up again.
It's worth noting that we played this game for review on a 3DS XL. We'd imagine these issues are compounded even further on the smaller screen of the classic 3DS, to the point that the simple concept of mere "playability" may come into question.
The Monte Carlo mode suffers from the same control issues, as well as the aforementioned bug that allows the hint system to suggest illegal moves. On the bright side, however, this mode does not require dragging of any kind, so you'll only have to fight it to recognise one kind of input rather than two.
In fairness, the game does offer button controls, but they feel unnatural to the point that reminders of what button performs which action are on screen at all times. A game like Solitaire should be tactile and intuitive; there's a reason nobody played it with a keyboard, and it's the same reason players will want to use a stylus here. While ARC STYLE: Solitaire has an easier time recognising the button controls, it's something that you can wrestle with for hours and still not feel comfortable with.
The 3D effect is both overpowering and completely unnecessary. It's only used to display the game's title and a clock on the upper screen, but leaving it on while playing was downright headache-inducing. Otherwise the game's visuals are decent, though it can be difficult to tell diamonds from hearts and clubs from spades at times. Again, on a smaller screen this may be even more of an issue, but at least there's no punishment for misidentification.
There's also no celebratory sequence or message if you do successfully complete a game; you're simply asked if you'd like to play again. While that's not a problem in and of itself, the fact is that there are folks who will play over and over again just to see what happens when you finally win. Well, we'll save you the heartache: nothing happens. At all.
There are two choices for background music, but neither is particularly memorable and they both have plenty of time to become annoying due to the short loops and relatively long length of a game.
Ultimately, though, the problem here is the control scheme. We don't need more unlockables, we're fine without celebrations of our wins, we're okay with the fact that the 3D effect is both pointless and painful, and we don't even care that the game can't remember its own rules. The biggest problem is one that can't be overlooked: it's far too difficult to move cards around. There's no excuse for such poor controls in a simple game of Solitaire, and that takes what should have been a fairly average release and lowers its value substantially.
ARC STYLE: Solitaire is about as bare-bones as it's possible to get and still have bones, but that's not really what lets the title down. What lets it down is a puzzlingly clunky control scheme. Considering that click-and-drag versions of Solitaire have been around almost as long as computer mice, there's no excuse for such poor execution this far down the line. If you've decided that your game is only going to do one thing, you need to make sure that it does that one thing well. For ARC STYLE: Solitaire, doing that one thing well just wasn't in the cards.