Faerie Solitaire review
Can't Quite Escape Its Limits
Leave it to the video game industry to take activities that seem fairly mundane and make them the most entertaining things ever. Only in this medium can a company make farming seem like fun. Of course, execution is key when it comes to pulling off something like this, and thus we arrive at this little game Faerie Solitaire. Unfortunately, I find myself going against what I see as the usual trend of opinions for this game, as despite the tricks and twists the developers tried to add into the game, I found that the game struggles to appeal long term.
Let's start things off with the presentation, and the way the game looks at least makes a good first impression. Most of the time you'll be staring at a bunch of cards on the game screen and they've done well not only to make each chard type look distinctive but interesting (well, as interesting as simple card designs can get). Various backdrops are used depending on the type of area you're in according to the story and while you may not be left gawping at them they provide a nice image to go along with the cards. That said, the game puts out some impressive CG images that it uses during important story sequences (typically when bridging one area to the next).
Animation in the game is mostly limited to a few card effects during play. Cards visibly flip over, fireballs explode on the screen and stuff simply sparkles as you might expect from a magic themed scenario. Certainly it's pleasant on the eyes.
Sadly, when it comes to the non-gameplay stuff, positive comments stop at the visuals. The story itself is fairly weak, that covered something about fairies in trouble and a random kid (that would be you) randomly stumbles across a fairy in trouble and then a random stranger pops up and randomly gives you a staff and issues you the quest to save the fairies. Or something like that. Didn't really care about it. I honestly don't think it would make a difference if they hadn't included a story at all and I certainly never quite figured out how playing cards contributed to saving fairies.
The audio equally fails to impress. The background music is boring and repetitive. In the end I ended up muting the music and had Winamp running in the background so I could listen to my own music. Seriously, listening to Altima's I'll Believe made the experience better than the music the game provides. This pretty much just left the sound effects, which are fine and all that for what they need to do.
The voice acting itself is unintentionally hilarious. I should give credit to the developer for going the extra mile to include it, but there's so much funny about hearing an adult man's voice recount the story like an excited child speeding through the dialogue.
So about the game then. You have a deck of cards that you flip over cards one at a time and several stacks of cards already on the field where only the topmost card of each stack is playable. The core mechanic involves clicking on a card on one of those field stacks that is one number higher or lower than the base card flipped over from your deck. Doing so adds it to your cards and the process repeats. If there's no card to click on the field (because none of the field cards match the requirements) then you simply flip a new base card into play from your deck. Play continues until you either remove all cards from the field or you run out of deck cards.
Since flipping over cards by itself wouldn't be very good each stage of the game issues objectives to complete. The main one is building up a special purple gauge simply by clearing cards, which contributes to releasing a fairy and completing the stage. While this main objective is used for every stage, additional objectives are spread out through different stages to complete as well, such as earning a set amount of money or getting a perfect (by removing all the cards from the field). To help with meeting these goals each stage is split up into 7 "hands", where you'll need the majority of them to complete the main objective and typically gives you 7 chances to meet any secondary objectives.
This is where things start to look shaky, as the objectives aren't really what you call difficult. A lot of it boils down to luck and blind guessing instead. There are times when you can find yourself flipping through a good portion of your deck because none of the foundation cards you are given are of any use to you. Additionally, many of the cards currently not in play are face down, making it hard to make strategic choices. Say you have a 9 base card and two 10 cards in play. Which one do you choose? No idea, because the cards behind them are face down, meaning you have no idea what they are until you take the 10 cards out of play.
Some gameplay twists exist, but it's a case of some work and some don't. The game puts some emphasis on pulling out combos, by clearing 5 cards or more in a row without touching your deck, but the seemingly random nature of card layouts makes this a hard goal to work towards. When it came to objectives that required a combo, I always earned it randomly without really aiming for it as a goal, because there was little I could do to aim for it other than not miss obvious cards to play. Other aspects include obstacles on the card field that must be cleared. Some card stacks will be frozen or entangled in thorns, requiring you to reach a fire card or a flower respectively to unlock them. Sadly, I didn't feel these added positively to the experience. If anything, it just felt more restrictive as, once again, it was hard to actually aim to clear them when doing so involved praying that the card you needed popped up.
To be fair, not all the additions are bad. In fact, some work very well to alleviate the problem I've been moaning about for the last two paragraphs. During play you can be given spare cards that you can click on to replace your current base cards with the chosen spare card, giving you a better chance to clear existing cards or to continue a long combo. This is still partly down to the whim of the random number gods as you gain these spares entirely at random, but at least they can give you a fighting chance later. There is also Fairy Land, where you can spend some of that hard earned (?) cash you've collected on goodies. Many of these have some interesting benefits in gameplay, and one inparticular I'd like to highlight is the Aura Ring. While it costs a lot to buy (I didn't get it until the end of the second area and it was only my second purchase) it boasts a lot of usefulness during play. Each unused base card adds one charge to this ring, and after five charges it can be used to take a card on the field and move it to your base pile. It's an alternative application of the spares system and also helps with clearing the field.
There's also a pet system in the game, although this pretty much only exists to appeal to the "collect 'em all" interests of gamers. During play you can randomly find eggs that you can hatch into baby forms of animals. By "levelling" an animal (by making it the active pet during play) it will eventually gain the ability to evolve as long as you have the necessary materials as well (which you also get randomly during play). The result is nothing more than having the animal in your collection though. These pets don't have any gameplay effects, nor do they even visible appear during play. It's hard to care when the reward for the effort ends up locked away in a menu.
It's hard to hate the game because the core mechanic seems to work as intended, but solo play cards is already so easy to do through other means that you need a pretty good reason to convince me to hand over cash to do it. While I can appreciate some of the gameplay features Subsoap put in, I just don't think that's enough to justify prioritising it as a purchase despite the low price point. Additionally, once you've got the key features open (like obstacles, spares and the aura ring) there isn't really a whole lot else to see. The game throws a variety of different card layouts at you but since you end up using the same approach each time the gameplay wears thin. As a result Faerie Solitaire is something that is fun at first and shows some interesting ideas but lacks the appeal to drag you back for more.