Many puzzle games are available on the XBOX Live Arcade, each with their own stand-out features; Zuma has the stone frog idol spinning around shooting coloured balls, and Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords has a strong story mode. Poker Smash on the other hand adds a smashing new perspective to the Puzzle genre.
The game requires players to swap poker cards horizontally using X and B to form lines of matching cards. The cards can be matched either by number (line of 3+), flush (line of 5+) or straight (line of 5+). The cards move at a scroll speed which increases the longer players keep the cards from hitting the top line. To help players prevent the cards hitting the top line, they can earn bombs by removing cards. Bombs can be placed on cards using the A button to remove the card and to briefly pause the cards from moving up towards the top line. Players can also activate slow motion by holding the right-trigger. Both bombs and slow motion are vital in preventing cards hitting the top line at higher scroll speeds.
There are four main game modes in Poker Smash. Action Mode requires players to make matches to score as many points as they can before the cards hit the top and is probably the one players will play the most as it has fewer restrictions and is generally the most entertaining. Timed Mode requires players to score as many points as possible within the 3 minute time limit and it’s great to play when you’ve got a few minutes spare, but otherwise it is quite poor. Puzzle Mode requires players to clear all the cards to solve the puzzle and is challenging as it requires lots of thinking, although it can easily be solved as the solution can be bought from the in-game shop for quite cheap. Amongst the above modes, there is also a Practice Mode and a Custom Playlist Mode which players are only likely to use once or twice.
The Poker Smash Store was a great idea because players can buy new themes for the game, such as gamer pictures and puzzle solutions using the points they have earned whilst playing the game. The themes are all well made and look great. The two gamer pictures available are also very well designed and look good on your gamer card. Personally, I find that the puzzle solutions spoil the game as they are cheap, so players can easily play one or two games and buy the majority of the puzzle solutions; though it is helpful if you’re struggling to complete a puzzle. Once players buy a puzzle solution, they are available to watch in the Theater. As well as watching puzzle solutions here, you can also watch your saved movies and the top 100 replays, similar to Halo 3. This is an excellent feature which works well although you’re unlikely to spend long in the Theater as watching other people play the game is boring.
The game contains some catchy tunes which are played during each theme and have been brilliantly produced by David Sease of Stretch Armstrong. Poker Smash’s presentation is great and the graphics are excellent for an Arcade title. The tiles are designed like poker cards to give the poker feel rather than simple symbols seen in other puzzle titles and the backgrounds/themes are also well designed.
The multiplayer for Poker Smash works well and can be played split-screen and over XBOX Live. It’s very rare to find anyone online hosting a game but when you get a game it is usually very enjoyable. The achievements have been well thought out as they are quite challenging but not impossible.