iPhone Gems: Every Solitaire Game, Reviewed
Only a month has passed since the App Store opened, and thanks to 12 separate developers, there are literally 19 different Solitaire card games to choose from today for the iPhone and iPod touch - you’d have to spend $75 to try them all. So that’s what we’ve done, canvassing the entire collection of titles to help you decide which one or two will be best for you.
There’s good news for players on a budget: there are some good free Solitaire titles, so you don’t need to shell out for the more expensive options if you just want to play a basic card game. Our top paid picks are Mondo Solitaire and Solitaire Forever, with the best free picks going to Cookie Bonus Solitaire - Free and Sol Free Solitaire. Skip right to them if you only want the best of the bunch; otherwise read straight through for all the gory details.
Acid Solitaire Collection
Acid Solitaire Collection ($10) by Red Mercury is amongst the most interesting Solitaire titles we’ve reviewed, and though we wouldn’t say it’s worth the price relative to some of our top picks, it’s a nicely developed piece of software. Unlike some of the games here, it shifts cleanly between horizontal and vertical presentation modes, and though the audio portion consists merely of infrequent sound effects, the gameplay is what shines.
While there are only three games to choose from—Spider, Klondike Solitaire, and Freecell—and you get one piece of background art per game, the art’s nice, and Red Mercury’s card dragging and auto-complete interface is pretty good. Acid Solitaire has millions of pre-set games to play, most in Freecell, and tracks progress in multiple games at once. It also has a good hint, redo, and undo system. We’d consider it worthy of a general recommendation if it wasn’t so expensive relative to what you get; our top picks offer many more games to choose from, as well as greater interface customization. iLounge Rating: B-.
Cookie Bonus Solitaire
Cookie Bonus Solitaire ($3) and Cookie Bonus Solitaire - Free (Free) by Amplified Games are cartoony, enhanced versions of Klondike with one major difference: the free version has in-game advertising from JCPenney’s, while the paid version doesn’t. In our view, it’s not worth the $3 to skip the ad, and frankly, we wouldn’t be hugely bothered to see a simple thing like that pop up in the future if it can effectively remove an app’s cost to consumers.
While Cookie Bonus Solitaire’s cutesy interface may not make sense at first, the game has been designed to make classic Klondike a little more fun. Certain cards are marked with bonus points or cookie rewards that help you complete the game more quickly, and there’s a sidebar with cheats to ease the gameplay. One will show you all the face down cards, another reshuffles the deck, and so on. The emphasis in this game is fun, rather than sophistication. Our only knocks on it are the scattered touch interface, which makes you drag rather than using easy tapping to complete certain motions, though it toes auto-complete under certain conditions; similarly, there’s no music, just plain sound effects.
There’s also an online mode that lets users chat with other users, and get score updates while they’re playing. The feature worked after registration when we visited, and we found the rooms full of players, but there was some adult language on display; it’s not a great idea for younger players to visit until Amplified puts some more protection in place. Other than these little issues, the free version of Cookie Bonus Solitaire is definitely worth checking out; we’d pass on the paid version unless you really can’t stand small ads. iLounge Rating - Cookie Bonus Solitaire - Free: B+. iLounge Rating - Cookie Bonus Solitaire: B-.
Demon Solitaire and Las Vegas Solitaire
It’s hard to feel enthusiastic about either Demon Solitaire ($1) or Las Vegas Solitaire ($3) from Cliff Maier. These are both extremely plain, one rule set games that have fine card animations but little else going for them.
With a red background, Demon Solitaire is a relatively hard Solitaire variant that’s presented solely in vertical mode, with no real frills to speak of; it’s silent. Las Vegas Solitaire starts in vertical mode, but can also rotate onto its side, albeit with an awful-looking grainy background. The latter title provides four so-so looking card backs to choose from, while Demon doesn’t offer any sort of visual customization; the only extra here is a second screen to show you the rules.
It would be easy to guess that the developer spent more time creating interesting iPhone menu icons for these titles than it did on actual game development. As a concept, the name “Las Vegas Solitaire” is almost funny in that there’s nothing Las Vegas about the experience except for a dollar tally on the screen; there isn’t a sophisticated gambling system, real background art, or anything else here to compare with the Vegas-style graphics and music in Platinum Solitaire. Given how good some of the iPhone’s free card games are, we wouldn’t spend a dollar on either of these. iLounge Ratings: D.
MobilityWare Freecell, Pyramid, and Solitaire
As with the above titles from Cliff Maier, MobilityWare obviously thought that it could make more money from the App Store by selling individual card games separately than bundling them together. The pitfall, unfortunately, is that none of these three titles - Freecell ($2), Pyramid ($1), or Solitaire ($2) - would be worth buying individually or together. All of them are pretty mediocre, limited versions of their respective games.
The presentation is as boring as these titles get; they’re played vertically only, with no screen rotation, and the graphics are as forgettable as they come: bland green backgrounds, bland simple cards. There’s no board customization except in Solitaire, which lets you switch between oversized, more readable cards and the “classic” ones. You’re given simple sound effects with no music.
As we’ve noted in other Solitaire reviews, there are better games out there for free than these titles judged either individually or collectively; there were, in fact, equally unimpressive web-based Solitaire titles for the iPhone before applications were even available for sale. We’d pass on them; they’re demo-quality, and not worth spending money on. iLounge Ratings: D.
Though it’s comparatively expensive, Mondo Solitaire ($10) by Ambrosia Software is definitely one of the best options in this bunch. Unlike so many of the other games here, it’s obvious from the title screen to the options and variety of built-in card games that Mondo Solitaire was professionally developed.
The most important feature for serious card players is Mondo’s inclusion of just over one hundred different types of solitaire games, each with on-screen rules, internal links to related games, and interesting ways of tracking statistics. This isn’t just Klondike, Spider, and Freecell; you get tons of different board layouts to choose from, providing a nearly infinite amount of replayability and opportunities to learn different rules.
We were also impressed to find that Mondo includes seven backgrounds or your choice of background photos, plus eight types of card backs. While we’d have really liked the ability to customize the cards further, the interface is extremely clean, and makes very nice use of the iPhone’s display. There’s a well-done combination dragging and auto-complete interface with some cool touches, including a magnifying glass to see too-small cards and a neat dotted line to indicate where certain cards are being moved; the only issue with the interface is a confusing paperclip interface that’s supposed to help you pick multiple cards to move at once, but in our experience was unintuitively implemented.
While we really don’t think Solitaire games are worthy of $10 asking prices relative to the highly sophisticated 3-D titles that are appearing on the iPhone at that level, Mondo Solitaire comes pretty close to being worthy of some premium. If you’re looking for a very cleanly designed Solitaire title with plenty of depth, this should be one of the first titles you check out. iLounge Rating: B+.
We’ve generally been pretty big fans of Gameloft as an iPod and iPhone developer, but we weren’t quite as taken with Platinum Solitaire ($4). On the positive side, it feels the most like a completely developed “game” of all of the titles in this roundup—good artwork, some music, and a casino quest mode provide different things to see, hear, and do within the title. But the interface and depth are only so-so by contrast with its best competitors.
Gameloft has again used animated on-screen characters to guide you through the game, employing cartoony tutors and casino hosts to help break the visuals up from monotonous tables and cards. This is also the rare iPhone Solitaire game to include a gambling mode; it actually has a structured stage play system with five locked casinos and one unlocked in different world settings. While not quite the rival of Apple’s Texas Hold’em in number or detail of the casino worlds, at least Gameloft has tried.
Similarly, this is one of very few iPhone card games to include some music, and it’s casino-style no less, but it’s short-lived and limited; Gameloft lets you turn it off in favor of your iPod library. The included sound effects are very simple.
Our view of this title is influenced by competing considerations: first, while it’s limited in depth by comparison with the best titles out there, featuring only six different games (Klondike, Golf, Pyramid, Freecell, Yukon, Spiders) to choose from, it sells for only $4, which seems reasonable given the quantity and quality of what’s inside. Additionally, while the game offers better than typical tutorials, guiding you through your first game of a given ruleset, the interface is a little kludgy, and doesn’t feel as if it’s been totally optimized for the iPhone OS. We’d call Platinum Solitare a flat B overall for the price; it’s worth checking out if having a bit more structure in gameplay appeals to you. iLounge Rating: B.
Relatively simple in execution, Pyramid Solitaire ($5) and Pyramid Solitaire Lite (Free) by Seahorse Software are virtually the same game, separated by $5 in cash and a few settings. Seahorse presents the classic Pyramid solitaire game with an interesting mosaic background and Egyptian-styled cards, offering a single pyramid deck in the free version and either one or two pyramids at once in the $5 version. That’s the single biggest change between them; both are based on the concept of starting at the bottom and eliminating sets of cards totaling 13 in value.
You also get the ability to pick the winning criteria—eliminate all cards or the pyramid only—in the paid version, while the free version doesn’t give you the choice; similarly, you can pick the number of redeals, the direction of the deck draw, and overlap matching in the $5 version. Both Pyramid Solitaire and Pyramid Solitaire Light are silent and otherwise plain. Neither floated our boat, but the Light version is a fine introduction to this particular Solitaire variant given that you can’t (yet) find Pyramid for free elsewhere. We wouldn’t pay $5 for the full version, but give Light a shot if you’re intrigued by the idea of point-matching Solitaire. iLounge Rating - Pyramid Solitaire Lite: C+. iLounge Rating - Pyramid Solitaire: D+.
Sol Free, Solebon, and Wee Spider Solitaire
Perhaps because the price tags were so high for the paid versions of these apps, we were expecting quite a bit from Smallware’s Solebon Solitare ($10) and Wee Spider Solitaire ($5). However, we came away with the impression that both of these titles were overpriced for what they offered, and wound up liking the company’s Sol Free Solitaire (Free) much more.
Sol Free has three rule-limited versions of card games that are also offered elsewhere: the traditional Klondike, here restricted to the popular, easier 3-card deal rule, plus Baker’s Game and Demon versions of Solitaire. All of these games are offered on a relatively plain board that’s presented solely in vertical orientation. While Smallware’s presentation of these titles isn’t quite up to snuff with Apple’s latest iPod nano and classic version of Klondike, as it’s missing customization features, and the interface is tap only rather than drag-based, it’s very nice for a free game; this would be the one we’d grab right away to play Solitaire on the iPhone or iPod touch without shelling out for a more expensive version of the title. iLounge rating: B.
Solebon is supposed to be Smallware’s flagship title, offering a selection of 20 games on top of the same interface found in Sol Free. There aren’t any rule adjustments here, so one of the 20 games is the Klondike Deal 3 found in the free title, and another is the Deal 1 version. Again, the games are presented plainly on a brown background with no choice of art or cards, and there’s no audio to speak of apart from the sound of a shuffling deck. It just doesn’t seem like it’s worth paying $10 for the added titles; that sort of ransom would be far better spent on Mondo Solitaire or Solitaire City, less on Solitaire Forever. iLounge rating: C-.
Finally, Wee Spider Solitaire presents seven Solitaire games, though the number’s again a little misleading: Smallware includes three versions of Spider in that number. Unlike Sol Free and Solebon, these games are presented within a horizontal orientation only, and while you get very readable cards and a clean interface, there are again no settings here, no customization, and no dragging—just tapping. Wee Spider could and should really be blended into Solebon, then enhanced with a better overall interface. iLounge rating: C-.
Though we don’t like to harp on how much demo-quality software there is in the App Store at this point, Solitaire CAO ($5) by Mike Orr is a poster child for this problem; it looks like something you’d see on a Windows shareware site. To its credit, it presents Klondike in vertical mode, allowing you to choose from several backgrounds and types of cards, changing both their fronts and backs.
While it plays a fine game of Klondike, the art, especially in the backgrounds, is really rough and amateurish. There are four mediocre backgrounds, 12 so-so card backs, and a large card icon graphic mode so you can see cards better. As with some of the other so-so Solitaire titles we’ve seen, the interface doesn’t involve dragging or other gestures, and instead relies only on tapping, which isn’t great. Once again, our objection to demo-quality games like this isn’t so much that they exist in the App Store, but that people are trying to charge $5 for them; you can do better for free. iLounge Rating: D.
Another of the actually impressive titles in this collection is Solitaire City ($10) by Digital Smoke, though what’s good here is more under the hood than on the surface. Unlike most of the other games in this roundup, Solitaire City actually includes an online leaderboard, as well as in-game tracking of your best performances, preventing you from putting scores online unless they’ve been achieved under strict competition timing conditions. As Digital Smoke realized that online score tracking can consume a lot of data when you’re on the cellular network, the online leaderboard is now opt-in; in other words, it can be turned on or off.
In Office Space parlance, Solitaire City has just enough visual flair to meet our threshold for doing more than the bare minimum. The game has a nice particle effect system for glossing up the card piles, as well as seven backgrounds and three similar but slightly different card sets, a number that has increased from the original release. There’s no music, but there are card sound effects, and some nice dragging and dealing animations to keep the game interesting.
Other little touches are also nice. You get 13 popular Solitaire games to choose from, each with multiple rule options; all are presented vertically or horizontally. While Digital Smoke’s menuing and option selection interfaces could use a little bit of streamlining, the number of options is certainly appreciated. Solitaire City also offers a tutorial before any game you haven’t played before.
If there’s anything that keeps this title from being an absolute top option, it’s the high price, which at this point has us expecting more games, simpler options, and a bit more glitz. But our feeling is that Digital Smoke’s road to improving this game’s appeal is more straightforward than many of its competitors: drop the price or add a lot more content within the current engine. As-is, it’s worthy of our general recommendation. iLounge Rating: B.
We can hear the comments from competing developers already—Solitaire Forever ($6) may just be too flashy for its own good. But in our view, Mike Sedore has produced the single slickest and most reasonably priced version of Solitaire on the iPhone, offering enough depth and cosmetic appeal to keep us very interested for a long time. Some users may find its default vertical view—with angled cards—to be overly busy, but we enjoyed the game in either vertical or its flatter horizontal orientation, which offers some of the largest and most readable cards we’ve seen in these titles.
Solitaire Forever uses a fairly sophisticated 3-D engine to present and animate the cards on top of a grid-like board; you can also zoom in on parts of board, not that it’s necessary. Sedore gives you a choice of two card fronts, one with larger, easier to read icons, and a meager selection of three card backs, with zero background options. These missing customization features are, in our view, the game’s only significant omission, though users without significant iPod music libraries may also mind the lack of music and very simple sound effects. As with other games in this Solitaire category, we don’t deduct much for the missing audio here.
Besides the cool graphics, a major reason to like Solitaire Forever is its inclusion of over 150 different Solitaire rulesets to choose from, all organized by name and accessible with a custom on-screen keyboard. Not all are different games—some are just second or third titles for other ones—but if there’s a version of the game you know, you’re more likely to find it here than in any other Solitaire title we’ve seen. The game also offers offers redo and undo features, plus a button to help you see playable cards.
While the visual presentation may strike some as a little gimmicky, and there are other little issues—there should be more backgrounds, the animation could stand to be smoother, and there could be online leaderboarding—this is an example of a title that really tries to push the iPhone OS visually, and generally succeeds. Whereas a more conventionally presented 2-D title such as Mondo Solitaire would appeal to older players, this one will appeal a lot to younger players looking for a bit more to be happening on screen. We’re especially taken by the game’s pricing, which strikes us as very fair considering what’s inside; it is the primary reason that this is our only highly recommended iPhone Solitaire title. We hope that the developer will keep on working to improve it further. iLounge Rating: A-.
Solitaire Top 3
As the final game in today’s Solitaire roundup, PosiMotion’s Solitaire Top 3 ($4) is one of the most oddly developed Solitaire titles for the iPhone. While it includes three games, Klondike, Freecell, and Spider, it does something we haven’t yet seen in another iPhone title: it actually boots up in vertical mode with a partial view of the cards, presenting you with a screen that makes you think that part of the table isn’t there.
If you want a full vertical view of the cards, you need to manually adjust the zoom level with an on-screen zoom slider—apparently, PosiMotion hasn’t heard of the pinch gesture. Turning the device on its side into widescreen mode works to adjust the orientation, but forces you to manually re-adjust the zoom again. Every other title we’ve tested with orientation adjustment handles this automatically, and generally properly, but PosiMotion’s zoomed vertical screen runs out of background art, leaving part of the screen black. It’s just bizarre. There are three background textures and two types of card fronts, featuring large or small icons; there’s no audio, and the game seems to be unfinished.
Not surprisingly, the three Solitaire games here are simple, and while not badly presented aren’t worth paying for either. There’s a straightforward drag and drop interface, which we prefer to tons of tapping, but the game doesn’t feel fun or inspired enough to continue playing relative to the other options out there. The idea of paying $4 for this weak game strikes us as implausible; it merits our D- rating for being so bold as to charge for something so clearly underdeveloped. Far from “Top 3,” we’d think of it as our bottom pick of this bunch. iLounge Rating: D-.
Earlier iPhone Gems can be found here.
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