PopCap back on form as Solitaire Blitz officially launches on Facebook
EA PopCap’s newest Facebook game, Solitaire Blitz, has been gradually expanding its closed beta audience for some time now, but the company has finally decided it’s time to throw open the doors and allow all of Facebook’s worldwide userbase to access the game. Like the other entries in PopCap’s Blitz series, Solitaire Blitz is a fast-paced, competitive game designed to be played alongside friends in short bursts. This time, though, instead of matching colored gems or rolling balls against the clock, players instead find themselves sorting playing cards in an underwater-themed setting.
The basic mechanic used in Solitaire Blitz is simple. Players must remove cards from stacks on the game board according to whether they are either one higher or lower in value than between one and three piles of cards at the top of the screen. Kings “wrap around” to Aces and vice versa, and suits are completely irrelevant. If there are no cards to match to the pile(s), the player refreshes them from a draw deck. When this deck is exhausted, the hand is over. The mechanic isn’t a new one — it’s been used by Big Fish Games’ Fairway Solitaire, which originally released back in 2007 and recently saw an iOS-based remake, and the mechanic is also implemented in the standalone PC game Faerie Solitaire by Subsoap, available via digital distribution service Steam.
Each of the games which makes use of this formula offers its own twist, however — Faerie Solitaire features a story and a pet-raising meta-game, Fairway Solitaire scores players in the style of golf according to how many cards are left on the board when they run out of possible moves, and Solitaire Blitz challenges players to score as many points as possible against a time limit so tight it’s unlikely that the entire board will be cleared on the majority of attempts.
Players start with a single pile to which they can match cards, but playing cards with a key marked on them unlock a second and third pile for use, making things a little easier. Meanwhile, reducing the stacks on the board below a marked line provides the player with time bonuses, allowing their game to continue a little longer. Playing cards in rapid succession without having to draw new ones to stock the piles builds up a combo, and the bigger the combo, the bigger the score multiplier the player gains. Acquiring a score multiplier also rewards the player with fish, which act as the game’s experience point system. Upon leveling up, players are able to select from several different card designs that are available that month. When the player has acquired all the available designs for a particular month, future level ups are rewarded with virtual currency.
At the end of a hand, regardless of whether or not the board was cleared, the player has the opportunity to recover treasures from beneath any completely cleared stacks. These treasures contain random amounts of virtual currency and occasionally provide the player with a rare item which is worth considerably more. Players have the opportunity to brag about the acquisition of these items along with new high scores, win streaks and other such achievements. Players also receive large score bonuses for win streaks — subsequent games in which they manage to clear the entire board before the time expires or the draw deck is exhausted.
The currency acquired from treasures may be used before a new hand to purchase powerups. The lineup of available powerups changes each week and varies from extra time to starting the game with a score multiplier already in place. Facebook Credits may be spent on more powerful powerups if the player so desires. Facebook Credits may also be used to acquire additional energy for more play sessions without waiting, to procure additional virtual currency for powerups, or on a variety of alternative card deck designs. Prices for purchases range from around $4 right up to nearly $200 in a single transaction.
As with most of PopCap’s games, however, there’s no need for players to spend any money to have an enjoyable experience with Solitaire Blitz. Presentation is slick and polished and the game performs well on most computers. The game has a distinctive visual character, though it’s doubtful whether a hand of cards will ever be as iconic as the instantly-recognizable Bejeweled board. As an attempt to infuse the dry subject matter with a touch of additional personality, a number of quirky cartoon characters put in an appearance throughout the course of the game, but these largely serve as a distraction more than anything else. As has always been the case with PopCap’s best titles, however, the gameplay is the true star here, and the simple, addictive nature of the card-matching mechanics coupled with the frustratingly tight time limit and the competitive leaderboard-chasing element makes for a social game that will keep players (and their friends) coming back time and time again. It’s good to see the developer back on form after the disappointment that was Lucky Gem Casino.
A welcome return to form for PopCap, and a game likely to enjoy widespread success with a broad audience.