I’ve been writing mobile software reviews for almost six years now, and I’ve seen a lot of games–everything from Bejeweled to some of the great puzzle and card games from PDA Mill. I’ve played just about all of them and reviewed a good portion of them too, so I’m somewhat jaded when it comes to something as simple as Solitaire. How exciting can it be, when we’ve played so much of it over the years–real cards back in the “good old days” to the default version installed on every Windows computer (unless your evil boss removed it from your work machine!), plus the various versions available for PDAs and mobile phones. Astraware has the answer for you, and it’s awesome.
Once I installed Astraware Solitaire on my Dell Axim X51v and started the game, I was presented with a welcome screen that allowed me to scroll through the various games. Helpful information about the length of play and chances of winning (based on skill or luck) was presented for each game. Since there were a few unfamiliar types of Solitaire included in this package, I was very glad to see that the rules were clearly presented, so that I could jump in and play after reading a minimal amount of text. Of course the ultimate test for any computerized Solitaire game is graphics and gameplay, and Astraware Solitaire definitely delivers on both fronts. The cards are very easy to distinguish from each other, and you can control the card back, card front (your choice of traditional or clear, until the trophy deck is unlocked), background, and overall color theme of the game. Your choices are somewhat limited at first, but start playing (and winning!) the various games included in this collection and you’ll start earning many more.
Of course if you don’t like the rules, you can customize them to suit your fancy, changing settings such as dealing one card or three, allowing unlimited redeals, highlighting useful moves, etc. You’ll even get a trophy for doing so–the “Fiddler” trophy is awarded for playing any one of the games with non-default settings. That’s one of the easiest ones to win, however, the hardest requires you to win 100 games! I had a lot of fun chasing down all of the Trophy cards, and enjoyed the little surprises I unlocked along the way. I didn’t need much incentive to keep playing, but it certainly adds to the fun. Especially since you can use the Trophy deck card front after you’ve won all of them.
In addition to the great little details they’ve thrown in, Astraware Solitaire runs perfectly. It hasn’t even thought about crashing, and I haven’t found any little glitches either, which is what I expect from games published by Astraware. But the best thing is that I can turn off my device at any moment, even soft reset it, sync, etc. and the next time I start up the game, I’m exactly where I left off. That’s a nice touch that makes this classic game into a true handheld treasure trove.
I don’t often say this, but I will this time: just buy it. If you have any interest at all in playing Solitaire on your handheld device, Astraware Solitaire is the version to purchase. If you don’t believe me, you can get a free trial, but I bet you’ll be registering your copy for $19.95 at the Astraware web site. If you also like Sudoku and classic board games like Chess and Checkers, check out the Astraware Classic Collection, where $39.95 will get you all three game collections–one of the best bargains around.
Plantastic is a hybrid arcade-strategy-puzzler kind of game, with a clever premise and engaging graphics. In some way it reminds me of Bejeweled, since the object is to make groups of three or more objects disappear. In this case it’s flowers, but instead of being presented with a full grid, you actually place the flowers yourself. In the beginning levels this is easy, and you can earn nice bonuses for clearing four or five flowers at once. The later levels throw in some tougher challenges, such as mushrooms that block you from planting flowers where you want, a pesky mole that has to be stomped when he shows up so he won’t eat your flowers, random “speed” rounds where you have to place flowers quickly so that the queue doesn’t fill up and end the game, etc. New colors of flowers keep popping up too, which ratchets up the difficulty and makes it more likely that you’ll box yourself in to a point where you can’t place any more flowers.
The sound effects are cute; I especially enjoyed the little “hooray” I received at the end of each level. And the gameplay is mixed up a bit by the various powerups that fall now and then. My favorite is the Super Trowel, which allows me to plant a flower anywhere, and not just adjacent to a flower I’ve already placed. That makes it easier to clear things out in a tight corner, if mushrooms are blocking my way and the color I need to clear out three or more flowers isn’t coming up like I think it should. There is also a nice tutorial that you play through the first time you start the game, so that the rules are explained.
I like this game, and have had fun with it, but it doesn’t blow me away like the other two games reviewed for this article. I can’t quite put my finger on the problem, but I think that some of my frustration is based on the fact that the game is relatively slow moving, and a single wrong move can instantly end a game that I’ve played through twenty levels. I know that’s true in lots of games, but I find it particularly frustrating because I know that there are unlockable game modes that I can’t reach until I complete level twenty, and every time I play, I seem to lose on that level. I’m not all that motivated to keep trying though, unlike the scenario in Astraware Solitaire, where I really enjoyed chasing all the cards in the Trophy Deck.
A free trial is available, and the best thing to do is check it out for yourself–you may decide that Plantastic is one of your favorite games. If you end up loving it, you can get your own copy for $19;95; Palm OS and Windows Mobile versions are available. You can get it at the Astraware online store.
Hidden Expedition: Titanic
This game is something of a departure from the typical Astraware game. Most of the ones I’ve played so far have been quick arcade-style games, but Titanic is a slower paced “Where’s Waldo” kind of adventure. I was drawn in from the beginning, when the opening screen set up the story very quickly, in the form of a letter inviting me to take part in an expedition to the Titanic. I would be looking for certain items, but any gems I found during each dive were mine to keep. That certainly sounded interesting, so I clicked through and was presented with a choice of where to start my adventure. I decided to start on the Deck area, and after a couple of hint windows that explained the controls, I was off on my deep sea adventure.
The premise is quite simple: find the items (and only those items) on the list at the bottom of the screen. When you find the dice or the harpoon or the baseball, tap on the object and it will be sent to the surface. Sounds easy enough, but the objects are hidden quite cleverly in plain sight. A few will be obvious, but most of the objects blend into the background and can be very hard to see if your perceptions aren’t focused clearly enough. You can ask for hints, which highlight a specific item on your list (you can’t choose one; it’s random) but if you do, your oxygen level goes down substantially. The better course is to spend your time carefully looking for the items on your list; you’re penalized just a few seconds for tapping on the wrong spot if you think you see something and turn out to be wrong, or if the item isn’t on your list.
There are various gems scattered throughout the stages, as well as oxygen tanks that can extend the time you have to look for all of the items on your list. Manage your time wisely, because there are actually three parts to each “dive”–two areas to explore, plus a bonus stage. The bonus stage can be either a photo restoration project or another item hunt that is a little easier since you are shown the actual outlines of each object you must find. The photo restoration project is definitely my favorite–you get the very faint outline of an old picture, and your job is to place the pieces in right spot so that it can be “restored” and you can get a better look at the photo. Thankfully you can place each piece individually–this isn’t one of those horribly frustrating “slider puzzles” that I can never seem to solve.
The mood for the game is set quite nicely with unobtrusive background music. The graphics are simply lovely–they have to be for a “seek and find” game of this type–but I was really impressed with the color saturation and artful presentation. Factoids about the sinking of the Titanic introduce each level, and I’ve already learned several interesting tidbits during my exploration of the first two levels. Replay value is also much higher than I expected, because each of the levels offers different things to find when they are played again. That’s important, because if you run out of “air” during your “dive” you’ll have to start the game over again. I found this to be fun rather than frustrating, because I could also compete with myself to find things more quickly the second (or third) time around.
If you’re looking for something different when it comes to portable gaming, check out Hidden Expedition Titanic. This is the sort of game that is fun for adults and kids, and can be played together as a distraction when waiting for food at a restaurant, etc.I’m really enjoying it so far and am looking forward to the chance to continue exploring the Titanic–there’s no telling what I’ll find. . .
If you agree, you can pick up your own copy of the game for Palm OS, Windows Mobile, or Windows Mobile Smartphone for $19.95 at the Astraware web site. Highly recommended, and a lot of fun!