Review: Electronic Arts Royal Solitaire
By targeting solitaire players with its latest iPod game Royal Solitaire ($5), rather than developing an action or shooting title, Electronic Arts has underscored a fact that's basically irrefutable: though they're not sexy, single-player card games are popular. In fact, before Apple unveiled the fifth-generation iPod and its much-enhanced gaming functionality, iLounge's editors spent more than our fair share of time playing Solitaire, the free card game that's been shipped with all screened iPods for years now. So when Royal Solitaire debuted, we were open-minded to the possibility that it could be great.
The appeal here is obvious: five bucks, ten card games, a little music, and slightly better graphics than the ones Apple’s been providing in Solitaire. Based on those details alone - and the specific games you can choose from, namely Aces Up, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, FreeCell, Golf, Klondike, Peaks, Pyramid, Scorpion, and Yukon - there’s a lot to like in EA’s latest package. Bored of one card game? Try another; Royal Solitaire includes scrollable single-page help screens for each one to help you learn how to play. Navigating and selecting the table’s cards is simple - move your finger on the Click Wheel and hit the center Action button to select something; undo a move by holding down the Action button for 2 seconds.
If you enjoyed Apple’s Solitaire and any of that sounds good to you, stop reading now - Royal Solitaire’s going to be fine for you, no matter what. But if you’re curious why a title like this wouldn’t score our highest level of recommendation on value alone, the answer’s this: the theme. To EA’s credit, rather than just presenting a bunch of card games in the boring style of the iPod’s pack-ins, it clearly employed some real talent - good graphic and music designers - to develop a look and sound to wrap around its card games. True to the “Royal Solitaire” name, all the games feature instructions, option screens, and royal cards depicting cartoony kings, queens, and jacks. The music’s equal parts medieval and funk. And a black glove is used as the cursor to select cards.
Yes, it’s all professional-grade stuff, but it’s also a bit weird - a sharp contrast to the neutral though low-budget graphics in Apple’s earlier downloadable card game Texas Hold’em, which at least changed from table to table, and humorously so if you found the hidden Dogs Playing Poker (Terra Canis) stage. As with Texas Hold’em, we found ourselves wanting to turn Royal Solitaire’s music off altogether, and despite the small amount of animated cartoony art on the menus between them, the monotony of the various tables and their card designs was unfortunately predictable. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: user-selectable art - or, at least, art that changes from stage to stage - and at least a little new music are the features that will make pretty good iPod games great.
Overall, Royal Solitaire is the sort of game that does more than enough to satisfy much of its target audience - the number of solitaire variations alone justify the $5 asking price, and our standard recommendation - but it doesn’t go far enough to win over those of us who are looking to enjoy the iPod’s audiovisual hardware, too. As impressive as its title and options screens may look, we’d rather have seen EA put its design efforts into the parts of the game we’re supposed to be actually playing. Anyone can produce a card game, but few can produce one worth remembering two years later.