Poker Smash Review

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Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Void Star Creations

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

It sounds Hulk-ish: "Poker Smash!" It's also the new puzzle game from Void Star Creations that's arrived on the Xbox 360. Make poker hands to clear the screen and collect chips that can be used to further customize the game.

Kyle Ackerman

Poker Smash is the slickest "gem" matching puzzle game that I've yet seen, but despite its poker theme, Poker Smash is still a game of swapping objects and making matches.

The basic play in Poker Smash is simple – poker cards, ranging from the ten to the ace (in all four suits) slowly rise to the top of the play field. You can swap any two side-by-side cards (meaning that all moves are horizontal) to reposition the cards on the field to make poker hands of at least three-of-a-kind (vertically or horizontally). Completed hands are removed and earn you poker chips. You simply want to make the highest-paying hands possible (combinations score even more) and stop the cards from reaching the top of the play field.

Poker With Two Joysticks

Poker Smash deserves a lot of credit for its interface. One analog stick controls the card you select, and the other stick sends the card moving left or right. That creates a really fluid pattern of play that makes it easy to control and manipulate the cards on the field. Add to that the ability to occasionally drop bombs, eliminating a single card from play, and you have a lot to keep you busy as the cards scroll slowly upward.

The game gets incrementally faster during play, but the player has some control over time, as well. Pulling one trigger makes cards scroll upwards faster to bring more cards into play, and there is a limited ability to slow time. Pulling the other trigger empties a gauge, but creates a warping visual effect and temporarily slows everything but the interface so you can escape a sticky situation or pull off a clever combo.

A Theme Beats Four Aces

Poker Smash shines brightest in those areas that don't have anything to do with the play. The play is solid – don't mistake my point – it's just that the decorations are so slick. The game features detailed 3D playfields with cool environmental effects (dandelion seeds slowly drift by the stoop that sets the "blues"-theme). Each comes with great music that even jaded gamers will think twice about turning off. There's a conventional score field, but the game keeps track of your score with stacks of chips, and everything is presented in rich, detailed HD.

There are several play modes that come down to two real variations and multiplayer options. The basic game includes the Regular Mode that is the core game, as well as Practice Mode (that doesn't keep score), Custom Playlist Mode (that's the same, but using themes you purchase with chips won in the game) and Timed Mode that has players scoring as much as possible over three minutes of Regular Mode play. There's also a Puzzle Mode, in which you are presented with particular clusters of cards, and have to clear the screen while trying to amass as many points as possible.

Poker Isn't a Solo Game

Multiplayer makes for a nice twist. Like the multiplayer modes for most such matching games, success hampers other players. Making hands costs other players chips, and combos add cards to the top of their playfield. In a multiplayer game, you not only lose if the cards reach the top of the play field, you also lose if you run out of chips. Multiplayer certainly can keep things interesting if you get tired of rearranging cards on your own. There's also the ability to save replays of single-player games, adding a kind of meta-multiplayer. You can save those replays to show off your perfect poker prowess, if you are so inclined.

Poker Smash tries to surpass its heritage as a match-three game by adding the poker flavor, giant explosions and an impressive soundtrack. But slick as the game is, it's still just a symbol-matching game. Puzzle fans in need of a matching game will find this the most worthwhile purchase they can make. But for 800 points ($10), if you already have a matching game that's satisfying, there's no need to add this to your collection unless you're looking for fancier graphics and music.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on February 11, 2008 9:38 AM.

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