Solitaire Blitz (iOS) review

Solitaire Blitz is a new iOS release from PopCap. It’s a port of the company’s well-received Facebook game, which we reviewed here, and is available now as a free download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases of energy, in-game currency and powerups. The iOS version is currently featured as an Editor’s Choice app on the App Store front page.

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Solitaire Blitz, for the uninitiated, is a simple solitaire card game in which players must eliminate as many cards from the screen as possible against a strict time limit. To clear the screen, players must simply find cards that are one higher or lower than the current discard pile, with King wrapping around to Ace and vice-versa. If there are no available moves, the player may draw a new card from the draw deck, place it on top of the discard pile and continue. Certain cards have “keys” marked on them, which unlock second and third draw piles, allowing the player a greater chance of finding an appropriate match. When these extra piles have been unlocked, drawing new cards fills all three discard piles, so the draw deck will be exhausted more quickly.

A single round ends when the player’s time expires, when they run out of available moves and cards from the draw deck, or when the screen is completely cleared. At this stage, the player may receive various bonuses according to their performance — big bonuses are given for “winning streaks” of clearing the screen several times in succession — and treasures appear to be collected, each worth a different amount of in-game currency.

The in-game currency may be spent on various powerups before each round. These powerups vary from adding 30 seconds on to the game clock to guaranteeing a joker at the start of the game. Players may also acquire multi-packs of the various boosters via in-app purchase, though these are relatively expensive for what they are and do not always make it entirely clear what the user is paying for. There is a certain degree of “pay to win” about some of the powerups, also, which is a little problematic in a game that focuses on competition against friends. This is a lesson that should have been learned from PopCap’s own Bejeweled Blitz, which has become significantly less fair and fun over time due to the fact that the players who pay for the more expensive powerups and special gems will almost inevitably top the leaderboard every time. It’s not a fair competition if not all players are on a level playing field.

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The game also monetizes through a rather stingy energy system, which only allows the player to have five units on hand at any one time unless they pay for more. The energy system is a common complaint among App Store reviewers, many of whom note that they just want to play the game without having to wait or pay. Indeed, the game already features enough alternative avenues of monetization for the energy system to be rather unnecessary, particularly when games with similar mechanics such as Big Fish’s Fairway Solitaire or Subsoap’s Faerie Solitaire are available on the App Store without incorporating play-throttling mechanics like this.

This issue aside, which may not bother some gamers used to dealing with energy mechanics, Solitaire Blitz is a good fit for the iOS platform. The fast-paced gameplay works well on touchscreens, and PopCap has even implemented a handy gestural “swipe” control to draw new cards rather than requiring a tap on the draw deck. The gameplay is simple, addictive and fun even without the powerups — and players who are serious about competing against one another can always make an agreement not to make use of in-app purchases if they would like a fair competition. The fact that the iOS version syncs with the Facebook version is also very welcome — cross-platform play in competitive games like this is always a good means of keeping an audience interested over time.

The only real concern with Solitaire Blitz is, as previously mentioned, whether or not the monetization will unbalance the gameplay. At present, the booster items and in-app purchases do give players a noticeable advantage, but skilled players will be able to remain competitive. As we have seen from the way Bejeweled Blitz has become more complex and heavily-monetized over time, however, it is possible to take this a little too far. PopCap should focus on alternative angles of monetization such as vanity items to ensure the game remains fun and fair for all — and should also think carefully about whether the energy system is really necessary, as it’s proving a barrier to enjoyment for some players at present. Perhaps an “unlimited energy” in-app purchase option would satisfy these customers.

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All the above issues don’t make Solitaire Blitz a bad game, of course — as noted above, it’s an excellent fit for the mobile platform, and a solid, good-looking port of the Facebook game. On top of that, it’s likely to give the Facebook version — which still has reasonable user figures today, just not quite as strong as some of PopCap’s other titles — a new lease of life. In order to attract and, more importantly, retain players, however, PopCap will have to take care not to appear too keen to dip their hands into players’ pockets.

Solitaire Blitz is currently ranked at No. 11 in Top Free Apps, No. 7 in Top Free iPad Apps, No. 6 in Top Free Games and No. 5 in Top Free iPad Games. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.

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A good adaptation of a good Facebook game, but one that is walking a fine line with its monetization strategy.