Version Reviewed: 1.01
Graphics / Sound [rating:3/5]
Game Controls [rating:4/5]
Re-use / Replay Value [rating:3.5/5]
I love Poker. I love Bejeweled. Mash the two together and you've got an idea of the kind of match-making nirvana of possibilities that entered my head when I saw the title of this game in our review list. "But Perrin," you ask, "do we really need yet another matching game in the App Store"? After playing Poker Stacks for a few days, I can answer with a rather emphatic yes (as long as you bump this game up to the top of the Worthy Matching Casual Games list and eliminate all the fluff - let's not get carried away here).
Poker Stacks manages to unite Poker and Bejeweled into a compelling casual game. Via a series of ever-increasing difficulty levels, you are asked to match gems that are marked with playing card values and pips into Poker hands, which then eliminate the gems from the board, causing the stack to drop toward the bottom of the screen. Instead of more gems dropping in from the top as seen in other matching games, in Poker Stacks you're on a time trial to remove enough gems to get your stack to fall under a designated line on the board. The first level requires only that you remove, at the minimum, a single pair of cards at a time at the least. As you pass each level, the stakes get higher (Ha! See what I did there?), as you're forced to remove two pair at the least, and then three of a kind on the next level, and so on as the game progresses. Sound confusing? It is at first, so reading the instructions on game launch is a definite recommendation.
What this game has going for it is its addictiveness. The clock counting down the seconds at the bottom of the screen until the level is over makes for a fever-pitched hunting and pecking session. Being able to switch the place of two cards and then having those positions locked until a match is made creates another level of strategy to matching that you don't see in some other games of this type. Another differentiating factor is that the game doesn't point out the matches for you. If two Aces are sitting side-by-side on the board, it's your job to identify them by running your finger over the pair, thus removing them from the stack. I can't tell you how many times the clock ran out before my puny brain would identify two pair sitting next to one another, almost as if in mockery.
And this is actually the biggest detriment to the game as far as I'm concerned - it is totally ruthless only a few levels in. In fact, I haven't even passed level 4 as of yet where the system is now asking for Two Pair hands. Call it my tiny dinosaur brain if you will, but I still have yet to find enough matches in time. The graphics and sound effects could be nitpicked as well, offering passable media but not the level of eye-candy we've come to expect on the iPhone platform (if it looked something along the lines of Poker Smash for Xbox Live Arcade then I might take this game's draconian lashing with a bit more temperament).
In the end, gameplay does indeed save the day for this title. If you're looking for a fresh take on gem-matching puzzlers that will satisfy a casual pick-up-and-play desire, then Poker Stacks is for you.
There is a Lite version available in the store if you'd like to try before you buy.