Since the introduction of Windows, most PC owners have had the ability play Solitaire for free. A simple, addictive game of strategy and luck, there's a reason it continues to be available for free in various forms, so releasing a paid version of the game is an uphill battle from the beginning. Jose Varela Games' Solitaire Dungeon Escape attempts to mix up the formula with new rules and a more video game-like context, but this mobile port is poorly optimized on the Wii U and doesn't present anything that hasn't been done better for free.
In Solitaire Dungeon Escape you are tasked with saving a princess who is locked deep within a castle, and is naturally being guarded by a dragon; to get to her you need to collect 16 puzzle pieces by solving solitaire puzzles. The solitaire found in this game is simpler than a general game - several cards are laid out, and you simply select a card that is either one number above or below the card from your deck and continue until you clear the screen; colours and suits don't matter. The game is played solely with the GamePad, which works fine since there are no real "controls" other than clicking on cards.
While most stages simply require that you clear the screen of cards, other objectives will occasionally pop up. You may have to complete a sequence of a set number of cards that includes a special yellow card, or you'll find a locked card that only unlocks when you find the card that holds the key. Other times you'll only be given a small amount of time, such as 55 seconds, to complete a stage. Early in the game you'll be given a special wildcard that can be used once per level for any sequence, which is very helpful, especially in the more challenging stages.
There's not much else to Solitaire Dungeon Escape. The only reason to replay any of the stages would be to top your high score, which multiplies with higher sequences. But this isn't a very difficult game, and even players who don't know how to play traditional solitaire will likely breeze through the majority of the 160 stages.
At its core, this is a serviceable little card game, but its technical shortcomings are unfortunately very noticeable. There's slowdown before and after every stage when the game attempts to add some flourish with dealing the cards. The Wii U may not be a graphical powerhouse, but it should certainly be able to handle a simple game of solitaire built in the Unity engine.
The background visuals, which consist mainly of dank, dark castle passageways, recall early '90s 3D shareware titles and certainly don't justify an unstable frame rate. There were also instances where a stage would start, experience a hiccup, and place our deck in the wrong spot, confusing us and forcing us to restart. The music, meanwhile, is on an annoying loop and may as well just be turned down.
When it comes to a game like Solitaire, a developer needs to go out of its way to justify why a gamer wouldn't just boot up their PC's free software or download a free phone app. And while Solitaire Dungeon Escape attempts to add some flavour with the "save the princess" setting and features simple and functional gameplay, its technical shortcomings are baffling and do enough to sour the whole experience.