Review: Pair Solitaire

By Kelsey Rinella 16 Dec 2014 0
Cards, yo. Simple, understated, classy--the standard 52-card deck is basically how I aim to dress.

Pair Solitaire is a fresh replacement for the Klondike most of us learned as children and now only play when counting flowers on the wall and watching Captain Kangaroo grows stale. The concept is remarkably simple: line up all 52 cards, and then you can remove a card which matches a card not adjacent, but two away from it, either in suit or rank. It requires careful planning to remove as many cards as possible.

The card designs are attractive and the interface handles portrait and landscape equally well, and, while I prefer most games on the iPad, PS works nicely at the smaller phone size. Even better, though unlocking the full version will run you a buck, this only unlocks different card faces and a daily challenge, and removes ads I hadn't even noticed in the gameplay-complete free version.

Now that I have satisfied Thumper's dad, that's everything good I can say about the game. It will find an audience among those who would otherwise be playing Klondike, but this is Pocket Tactics--if you're coming here at all, you can do better.

Still cards. In a line. There's also portrait mode! Look, it's hard to take exciting screenshots of a line of cards.

Part of the problem is the nature of most standard-deck solitaire games: they're shallow and random enough that, if you're in the mood for serious thought, they're unsatisfying -- but they're long enough and dependent enough on memory that they suffer under distracting conditions. The admonition that removing as many cards as possible requires careful planning is quite serious, which sounds appealing. The problem is that your plans are devoid of excitement either in theme or mechanics. Mostly, you have to remember a branching tree of possibilities--some skill at detecting relevant opportunities and dangers can ease the memory burden, but it's hard to escape the sensation that playing well involves doing nothing until you have a plan for the entire deck.

If this sounds to you like the video game equivalent of trying to memorize the names of everyone in a new significant other's extended family prior to a giant reunion, you have roughly the right idea. The developers have tried to ease the pain by only presenting one room full of strangers you have to pretend to like thirteen or so cards at a time, in a scrollable list which allows you to see the whole deck, but not all at once. That strongly conveys the impression that you shouldn't try to make plans with the whole deck in mind, and makes the game feel much more casual. Unfortunately, that also leaves you feeling like you really should have remembered that one cousin's name, but it's also sort of not your fault because the family has a Mike, a Mikey, a Michael, and a Michaela, and that's sort of an unreasonable handicap.

A loading screen, not very loaded. The gnomes and goblins keep fighting over how to shuffle the cards.

In a game this simple, little failures of polish take on extra importance. So, the fact that loading times are pretty noticeable seems unearned, a crash out of the app is a disappointment, the failure of achievements to trigger reliably ruins the already-anemic sense of inter-game progression, and the use of imperfectly scaled graphics denies the game the description "well-presented". Happily, none of these are significant, but together, they keep me from even wanting to recommend it as a safe alternative to weightier fare. Only for a player who can only tolerate simulated standard cards and no opponents would this seem ideal, and it pains me to imagine there are many such people. Probably that means it'll be a runaway success and bring joy to millions.

Pair Solitaire was played on an iPad Air for this review.

Review: Pair Solitaire

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