It's a Good Bet You'll Be Challenged By This Puzzler
By David SherwinMarch 22, 2005
Some people have real "Poker Mania."
Aces are still better than Kings, right?
Poker is a bit like gambling. Oh, wait. It is gambling. ;-)
Although you may never have heard of him,
Markus Wuehl has been one of the most influential names in the Lynx
development scene over the past decade. At the core of a group of
devoted Lynx coders in Germany and France, Wuehl helped to develop many
of the routines utilized in the Lynx’s premier game, Duranik’s Alpine
Games (2004), and has coded a number of individual efforts himself,
most notably with 1999's underrated Sokoban clone, Sokomania.
With PokerMania ($39.95 USD), Wuehl has returned his sights to
the Lynx’s puzzle library with a new effort designed to challenge gamers
everywhere. While too difficult to be recommended to general gamers,
PokerMania offers enough in its nice white clamshell package to be a
worthy consideration for purchase for the avid puzzle fanatic.
Despite its presentation and theme, PokerMania is related more to
Tetris than it is to classic poker, and has been marketed as an
arcade game instead of as a card-playing simulation. All things
considered, this is a fair enough assessment of the game.
Like Shanghai, an older Lynx favourite, PokerMania
utilizes the structure of a familiar game without relying on its rules.
Here, PokerMania borrows the scoring rules of poker and adopts
them to the familiar layout of Klondike Solitaire, but restricts play to
a 5x5 matrix.
Gameplay is unusual and fairly complex. In PokerMania, players
select a card from one of four decks of cards to place on the static 5x5
display. Cards may be "dropped" down one of the five vertical stacks in
the matrix to assemble a "hand". Each "hand" is scored according to the
rules of poker. No individual row of five cards is scored until each
stack is filled, and, unlike Tetris, cards do not disappear once
a scoring hand has been assembled. The game sets a goal of points which
must be reached before the player advances to the next level. If a
player does better than the set goal, the excess points are "banked" to
be used as an aid at higher levels.
The primary problem with PokerMania lies in the fact that a card
deck is not well-suited to Tetris-style matching-shape games; it
just introduces too many variables for good gameplay. In Columns
or Klax, variables are limited to about four different colours
and/or four different shapes per screen. In PokerMania, however,
gamers have to wrestle with four different suits and their twelve
respective denominations, not all of which will make it into any given
game. In addition, the scoring system here is more complex than in most
similar games, which means that players often have to keep track of an
enormous number of variables in order to complete a level. There’s just
too much going on the screen at one time to be confident that you’re
I also found the rules to be rigid and unforgiving. Given the number of
variables involved during gameplay, it’s often difficult -- if not
impossible -- to assemble a winning "hand", and most of my screens are
littered with incomplete and low-scoring combinations. The matrix’
limited size (25 cards) means that, no matter what strategy is utilized,
it will be impossible to assemble some combinations, and players don’t
have the luxury of waiting for a certain card to appear. This particular
problem could easily be corrected if a Joker or other wild-card was
added to the game’s variables.
In addition, players are stuck with a card that they’ve been given, and
cannot "unselect" it, as they can in Shanghai or Ishido.
This feature would have been welcomed here.
I would suggest that the game’s difficulty ramping needs to be tweaked.
A score of 6,000 is needed to clear the first screen -- a goal that is
often frustratingly difficult to achieve -- but , conversely and
perversely, the point "goal" drops considerably over the next few
screens, because some of the previous score will have been "banked" and
carried over to help with the next screen’s goal. In other words, you
have to play a pretty good game to clear the first screen, but can be
fairly sloppy for the next five, before the game’s difficulty ramping
kicks in again.
Sound Effects and Music
PokerMania features ten different tunes which may be changed and
selected during gameplay by pressing "OPT 1" and "PAUSE". This does,
unfortunately, disable the restart function, so players unsatisfied with
any given game must turn off their Lynx by pressing the "OFF" button.
I found all tunes to be pleasant, although there’s nothing so memorable
here as the tune offered in the Lynx Othello minigame in Lynx
Reloaded. Players may also select to have no music at all played
during gameplay, which is a nice feature who may require absolute
silence for the high degree of concentration needed to complete each
PokerMania does not tax the Lynx’s graphic capability, as befits
a card/puzzle game. Still, the game’s static screens are crisp and
interesting and offer an abundance of information. I did, however, find
the music selection screen, with its parti-striped background, somewhat
hard to read.
Tips and Cheats
Use the mixed straight (e.g. a sequential run of cards in any suit
combination) to score big.
I have found that the best way of advancing beyond the first stage is
building a mixed straight on the bottom row, and then full
houses/four-of-a-kinds vertically to the top. Cards to not appear
frequently enough or in any predictable pattern to recommend utilization
of high-scoring "hands", such as the Royal Flush.
PokerMania is a pleasant and unusual game that should find favour
with the Lynx’s legion of puzzle fans. I found it, despite noted bugs
and problems, to be a good addition to the Lynx’s growing gaming
library, and think the basic core of the game is sound. It would, in
particular, make a nice package if bundled with a classic game of
solitaire or poker -- something that the Lynx is sorely missing (and
needing). Perhaps something to consider for version 2.0, Mr. Wuehl?
||Markus Wuehl/ Songbird