Review: Astraware Solitaire

Yesterday, Astraware released a new game on which they’ve been working for some time now. It was featured on their Preview page and blog posts were made here and here. In the past I’ve reviewed another Astraware game (Chuzzle), and played many others. But also I reviewed Gamebox Solitaire II from PDAMill, so while this current review will be more about looking into Astraware Solitaire than about comparison, I do have some other games to compare this new one with.

Read on after the break to see how this new released game looks like!

Astraware Solitaire is not one game, it’s a game pack. Those are pretty popular lately, taking the release of brain training games such as Mastersoft Brain School into account, as well as other kind of “games” that contain various different games or game variations. This Solitaire game contains the following 12 games, from which some will sound familiar, and some probably not: Klondike, Pyramid, Spider, Clock, Yukon, Canfield, Four Seasons, Sultan’s Harem, Idiot’s Delight, Golf, Calculation, and Freecell. Each game comes with customization options so you can play the game the way you’re used to play it, and try various alternative forms of gameplay.

Installation, trial, and registration

Nothing special about installation.  There is a .exe installer for on the PC, and a .cab file to install directly from the device. Installation can be done on the device or, as I always prefer for games, on storage card.

The trial is limited to 20 new games, which can be a combination of any of the 12 available games. Also, anything you might unlock during the trial, will only be available after registering. Check more about the “Unlockables” later on in the review!

Registering after a purchase is done by going to Menu – About – Register, and pressing the “Enter code” button. The registration key (based on your Owner Name) comes in an e-mail with lots of info such as download, installation, and registration guides.

First startup, main screen

After starting up for the first time, you will need to insert your player name. 10 characters are allowed. Various other users can be created later, so you will be able to play and compete against friends by going to the Menu – Users screen from the main screen.

On this main screen, you can select the game. This screen is based on a rotating circle with 12 icons, each representing one of the 12 included games. You can tap on one of the 4 visible but non-selected icons to make that the selected game, or use the D-Pad or on-screen arrows for that. Tapping the selected game starts a new game, just like pressing the D-Pad action button does.

The main screen displays the name of the currently selected game, along with your user name. You can also see a preview of the lay-out of the cards, which can be a quick help if you’re not too good at remembering your favourite game just by it’s name. Then there is also a box displaying the games difficulty, your win chance, the time to play, and what is required to win (luck, skill, or a combination). I see this as a very cool addition for people who are not too familiar with different solitaire games, because they can now easily determine which game will fit best for that moment (if you’re in the bus with lots of noice, you might enjoy a quick luck-based game better than a Freecell or Calculation game).

“Soft-key” buttons, game settings, etc.

The two buttons on the left of the main screen look a lot like soft-key buttons that we all know from WM5. They can even be opened by using the soft-key hardware buttons!

The Customize key is different for every game, and calls for a popup that lets you tweak settings for that specific game. Some settings are just related to the lay-out, but some can really affect the gameplay by limiting re-deals, activating easy-mode, or changing the amount of cards to deal.

The Menu “soft-key” opens a menu, with quite some cool stuff. There are statistics screens for every single game, including Total play time, Average game time, Number of games, Total amount of wins, Total losses, Longest winning streak, longest losing streak (auch! :P), and the current streak. Also available is an “Overall” page, for combined statistics, as well as a button to reset your statistics.

The “Trophy Room” shows you a set of all 52 playing card, each representing a trophy that can be awarded after achieving a certain goal. Also, after achieving certain trophies on this page, you are awarded cool extra’s for in the game! While I only mention the Trophies and Unlockables here in a short way, this really adds a lot to the game. Not only will you want to complete all games several times in order to unlock new card backs or game backgrounds, but there are also some other goals to achieve, such as playing an hour without winning, or winning a game with settings that are not the default settings. Not every card you unlock is awarded with an extra, but there are 23 unlockables to obtain so that’s quite a few. For a full overview of the cards/trophies and what they can unlock, please check the Astraware Solitaire Awards page.

As said before, you can add new users to the game. This way, everyone can have his own statistics, and using the “Choose Seed” feature you can even compare your skills in the exact same deal in one of the games.

The “Choose Game” command pops up a screen where you can quickly pick any of the games from a 4×3 grid, instead of needing to ‘scroll’ through the circle of 12 games. The games are represented by just an icon, so you will need to tap that icon before you will be sure that this is the game you want to play. After that, the “Done” button takes you to the game.

The “Settings” submenu offers cool customization options. The Sound settings only allow you to tweak the sound effects volume. There is no background music (which I find a waste of storage space anyway since I never have the sound on), so just setting the sound effects is enough. Language can also be set, currently English and Spanish are supported. I don’t remember ever seeing language options in Astraware games, so this might be something promising for the future! Now, the display settings, they are really cool. Noticed that everything was green in the previous screens? Well, you can change that! To the right, you see
the screen where you can pick the Card Back, with a red color scheme. The Card Backs displayed here are the Standard backs, but more Astraware themed backs can be unlocked.
Also, more backgrounds can be unlocked along the way, as well as a third Card Front, in addition to the two available card fronts. This screen displays how a locked item (the rightmost card front) looks like.

The “Choose Seed” feature allows you to pick a starting game, so that you and your friends can work on the exact same game and see who beats it in the least amount of time.


Finally, there are Game Settings and Customize options. The Settings are the same for each game, but can be toggled for each game individually. So for example, you can enable “auto flip cards” for Spider, but disable is for Kondike. The highlighting feature is cool for new players, it highlights possible moves. While this can be really useful, it can also be annoying if you have a free spot and you can move all stacks there (depending on settings). Then all stacks will be highlighted (since they can all be moved to the empty spot), and the Highlight feature looses it’s use. But that’s inevitable, it’s cool that Astraware included this in addition to the Hint feature that’s inside the game!
The Customize options is the same as the lef soft-key in the main screen, it opens a popup screen that allows you to change the rules for the various games.

Finally, there’s the About screen, with the usual Registration page, About, Credits, and Support information.

Finally, the gameplay!

When your first game, you’ll be presented with a tutorial. This explains the screen elements, and it’s really cool because it saves you time! Normally you’d have to find out what each button is by trial and error, while the times keeps counting. Here, the tutorial explains everything. A quick roundup, from left to right: a battery meter, the current time (clock), game instructions, the Hint button, New Game, Restart, Redo, Undo, timer for the game, and Exit. The Exit button closes Astraware Solitaire entirely, but you can also return to the Main screen through the Menu in the bottom right.

After the Tutorial, the game is explained in an Instructions popup. You can close it with one tap, or browse through the pages, informing you about the “Aim of the Game”, “Starting Layout”, How to play (“Playing!”), and “Game Ending”.

On the bottom of the screen, you will again see two soft-keys. The left soft-key is for Undo, so there’s not much to tell about it (just that it is available!). The right Menu soft-key opens a big menu. All items are covered or speak for themself, so there’s not much additional explaining to do.

Gameplay. Like the rest of the game, a lot of attention was put in gameplay. You can move cards with the styles, but also the entire game works great with D-Pad control. So if you’re in the bus, put that stylus away and just use those buttons. You will lose some time (stylus is faster), but you’ll regain that time by not accidentaly tapping on the wrong cards every time there’s a bump in the road.

You can just drag cards or columns and move them to other places. If you place a column on a new spot, you’ll see the cards sliding in an animation. This is cool when there are only some cards, but if you find yourself moving large columns often, you will probably want to disable animations (just for that game!) because the animation takes longer if the column is bigger. Also, if you move a card over a position where it can be placed, that position is highlighted. So even if you can’t figure out which move to make, you might be able to figure it out this way, before using a hint. Hints will mark a possible move, but of course completing a game without using hints (or undo’s) is way cooler, if you can!

I think this is pretty much all I can say about the gameplay, because all different games are just too much to review in depth. So just read the conclusion, and then quickly download the trial to actually feel the gameplay for yourself.

Conclusion

Astraware has a reputation for making good games, so you will expect nothing but the best. Also, for $19.95, a game has to be really good. While I don’t always think that a game is worth $19.95, there is a different sitation when we’re talking about game packs. Because right now, you get 12 games, which is $1.66 per game. And then you will have all customization options, and the Trophy room that adds the Unlockables element! And, if you decide quickly, you can get it for just $9.95 before the end of June.

Comparing it to PDAMill Gamebox Solitaire, this game is more expensive, but has two more games, various backgrounds, card backs, card fronts, and of course the Trophy Room. So in my view, this justifies the extra bucks. The graphic styles in both games is very different, Gamebox Solitaire uses a realistic approach, while Astraware Solitaire has the colourful style that we’re used from Astraware. “Classic Astraware”, as Doug from JAMM calls it. Yes, another review of the game, click the link!

I can only be positive about this game. It features 12 cool games and many unlockables that will keep you busy for a long time. Astraware Solitaire is a flagship game that shows you how much care Astraware puts in their games. Gameplay, graphics, settings, unlockables, everything is well taken care of!

Astraware Solitaire is available for PocketPC, Smartphone and Palm.
The main product page can be found here.
The dedicated PocketPC product page is here, and a PPC trial can be downloaded here.

For PPC, all OS’es from PPC 2002 to WM 6 are supported, and Astraware Solitaire will work on square screens, and also on QVGA and VGA screens, both portrait and landscape orientation.

And as said, Astraware will cost $ 19.95 but for the rest of this month (June 2007) you can get it for half price ($9.95) from the Astraware website.

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