Before we booted up Solitaire 3D, we tried to imagine what a Solitaire-based game would have to do to warrant a £19.99 price tag. This is a game that most PCs are born with, after all, as are Minesweeper and Paint. It’s like charging pay-per-view for watching me get out of bed.
We decided to write a list of what a £19.99 Solitaire game would probably have to include: narrated by Morgan Freeman; Hololens compatible; pumps out the smell of a grandma’s living room; posts you a solitaire diamond ring after every clearance.
It doesn’t include any of them. Instead, GrassGames would tell you that you’re getting quantity over quality: Solitaire 3D comes packaged with 100 Solitaire variants, presumably because anyone who’s sat down to play Klondike, Patience or Spider Solitaire is aching to play a long-forgotten variant from another country that those countries probably don’t remember.
Yes, Solitaire 3D is exhaustive. You’ll be immediately presented with a confusing interface and 100 games listed alphabetically. Most people will have a favourite game and will scroll down to kick-off with it, and they’re all here: every variant we could name – even those from the more creative Solitaire games on mobile. There are ‘Easy’ versions of the games, listed separately, that amend rulesets to ensure you are more likely to win: things like allowing unsuited stacks, turning one card at a time rather than several from the deck, and more. They each take one of the 100 slots, but they’re welcome additions.
A couple of things become clear from this bemusing interface: Solitaire 3D isn’t a pretty game, and it’s not designed particularly for console. You may not expect Solitaire to be an eyeball-massaging experience, but while there’s a wealth of card backs and a fair few boards hidden in the menus (historians rejoice, as there’s plenty from across time and the globe), it’s all a bit stiff and stuffy, and certainly not making use of the 3D in the title. It’s got one visual tone, and it’s ‘Gentleman’s Club in Basingstoke, circa 1970’. We almost expected to see a stained ashtray in the corner. Let’s be kind and say it does the job.
We can’t say the same for the controls, which have opted for a mouse cursor. If you’re used to PC versions of Solitaire that might be serviceable, but an analogue stick just can’t replicate the speed of a mouse, and it makes the whole thing a trudge, even with responsiveness controls. It’s laziness, really, that there isn’t a gamepad-friendly option to snap from pile to pile, or at least snapping from option-to-option on the interfaces. Pretty much every other card game on the Xbox has adopted it, so you can only assume that the monumental task of creating 100 games took up the developer-time, so it couldn’t be done. While Solitaire 3D is a Play Anywhere title, so can be played on PC, the developers could have taken the time to remove the mobile options (a toggle for where the handset’s battery shows, anyone?). It’s no surprise to see that the majority of users on the leaderboards aren’t playing on Xbox.
Hopping into a game you know, it does what you’d expect. There are no click-area issues, weird bugs or rules that aren’t familiar. You even get some nifty user improvements, like the ability to single-press a card to move it to the best stack, and there’s a togglable ‘Auto-complete’ feature with a few increments, allowing you to control how presumptuous the AI is for you. The audio cues are all very tactile and have that clean “schwiff” sound as cards are dealt.
Hopping into a game you don’t know is a bumpier experience. Each game comes with a ‘Rules’ feature, while only half or so come with a ‘Tutorial’, and those tend to be the more commonly played ones. These Tutorials are clear, only muddled by some odd-looking arrows, and they take you through your current card layout, step-by-step, showing the optimal play. It’s pretty good. The rules, though, are poor: they’re kept to a standardised template that don’t make sense for many of the games, and are flooded with terminology that wraps your head in knots. We also found that important information and deviations between games were completely left out. There are variants we left behind because the rules didn’t get us to a point where we found the game fun. 51 Worldwide Games this is not.
Winning a game gives you the fun bouncy-card animations you might expect from early games of FreeCell on the PC, and then you get a promise of ‘posting the score to the leaderboards’. Unfortunately, Solitaire 3D’s leaderboard functions are intermittent, working a quarter of the time, so you’re often left wondering whether you’ve just beaten the world’s best all-time score. We could be a prodigy and we’d never know it, damn it. Mostly, the social features clog up the game interface, which was already confusing.
This last point is actually a fatal issue: if you’re a casual player, Solitaire 3D is harder to use and way more complicated than it needs to be. Yet you get the feeling that Solitaire 3D wants to be adopted by casuals, since, you know, it’s a Solitaire game. But the info-dump of games, the lack of tutorials, the poor controls and the chunks of game that don’t work add too many caveats for a recommendation. It’s like those taste-tests where you find out that the budget brands taste better than the Waitrose luxury brands: if you like simple Solitaire games done well, then you’re much better off with the budget, or even free, Solitaire games on Xbox like Spider Solitaire F, rather than pay one penny less than a score.
We’ll be honest, Solitaire 3D isn’t great for the hardcore either. When they work, the leaderboards are exhaustive, there are obviously achievements to chase, but there is plenty of room for a meta-track or other progression to persuade you to play the other games. Challenges, quests or a levelling system with card backs and game boards unlocked would all have been welcomed. Alas, there’s nothing like.
You end up wondering who Solitaire 3D on the Xbox is made for. If there’s such a thing, there’s a ‘game archivist’ in a university or museum who’s rubbing their hands at the prospect of preserving 100 different Solitaire variants. For the rest of us, you have a monumentally over-priced (£19.99!) compendium of games you won’t play, with controls that aren’t optimised, and with features that often don’t work. You’re better off cutting your £20 into tiny little cards and playing with that.