Poker Smash (Xbox 360) review
"Everyone loves poker - the bluffing, that chance of getting a great hand, going all in, the waiting? Imagine throwing that all out of the window yet in a backward sense sticking to what makes it great. Poker Smash is a puzzle game for the Xbox Live Arca- wait, before you stop reading and are convinced this is just another port of an internet puzzle game, then you are in for a surprise. Where were we? Ah yes, Poker Smash by Void Star Creations is a puzzle game akin to Planet Puzzle League, but wi..."
Everyone loves poker - the bluffing, that chance of getting a great hand, going all in, the waiting? Imagine throwing that all out of the window yet in a backward sense sticking to what makes it great. Poker Smash is a puzzle game for the Xbox Live Arca- wait, before you stop reading and are convinced this is just another port of an internet puzzle game, then you are in for a surprise. Where were we? Ah yes, Poker Smash by Void Star Creations is a puzzle game akin to Planet Puzzle League, but with the ingenious twist of using poker cards for blocks. Instead of combining colours you connect cards to make kinds, flushes and runs either horizontally or vertically. Despite only being able to move blocks horizontally, you are able to move blocks anywhere across a row, detonate bombs to trigger chains and adjust time on the fly to suit the style of play you are looking for.
Deceptively deep, the game has an ingenious and engaging hand and chaining system that extends beyond the usual genre aspirations. You can take the game at face value and go by the colours of hands to create simple kinds, but as every card can be represented there is huge potential for creating an array great hands and chains. However considering the flexibility of cards available you often find yourself overwhelmed with information, making it difficult to find complicated hands and instead find yourself plucking away at meagre kinds instead, reducing it to a simple "match the colour blocks" game that has been seen countless times before. This is because you have to be technically minded and think of hands several moves ahead in order to achieve some of the most dazzling scores, and until you learn how the game works your brain will be screaming out at you for being so stupid. The same could be said for the chaining system; triggered by blocks colliding after a hand has been made, you have to quickly ensure other blocks fall from above the eroding hand to create another and continue the chain. This has to be done literally within a matter of seconds, and although can be prolonged with the use of slowing down play, altering time is finite until the gauge fills up again. You will often find yourself panicking and halting chains because you cannot see the wood through the trees, and this steep learning curve may put certain players off.
Despite these qualms, the system is not the slightest bit broke and is frustrating simply because you are simply not good enough yet; it is incredibly hard to take advantage of the system but once the penny drops and you manage your first chain run, the game takes an entirely new direction. Spotting potential combinations and managing to effectively string together chains is immensely addictive, and moreover satisfying, and is a system that really drives you to beat your previous efforts. Poker Smash is a classic example of something that is easy to play and difficult to master - and when it is this fun you really do not mind taking the time to get good at it. In the mean time, you can marvel at the Theater Mode, showing highlights of the most impressive runs, updated on a weekly basis, which serves to educate, entertain and amaze at what you can do with this intricate system.
On top of the staple Action Mode, which ends when the screen becomes filled with blocks, Timed Mode pits you against the clock as you attempt to get the highest possible score within three minutes. Puzzle Mode has set scenarios where you have to clear all blocks on the board in order to pass, and with 55 puzzles to clamber through adds strategic longevity to the otherwise fast paced and arcadish approach of the game. If you are stuck at any time then a video solution can be unlocked within the shop, but for a hefty price in chips. Each time you play a game you are given a score represented via poker chips based on your performance, which are accumulated in a kitty and can be spent in the shop to unlock in-game themes, external gamer pictures and the aforementioned puzzle solutions, giving you further incentive to keep playing, and playing, and playing.
Poker Smash is very addictive puzzle game with a unique twist, a breath of fresh air to the repetitive and over-explored genre, especially in the Live Arcade market. What you get out of the game is down to each individual, whether just as a simple bog standard puzzler for quick play or for the incredibly deep and satisfying hand and chaining system, either way the game demands you give it another go. To get the most out of the package requires you dive into the chain system, otherwise you'll be skimming the surface and may miss out on the games true potential. For quick play or long sessions either way Poker Smash adds up to a something that is simply smashing.
+ A new and refreshing look at the standard puzzle genre
+ Horribly addictive
+ Puzzle Mode breaks up the action nicely
+ Shop adds longevity to the package
- Difficult to master
- Chaining system has a steep learning curve
- At its roots it is still a standard block puzzle game
Community review by Crazyreyn (March 02, 2008)
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