BUY IT FROM THE XBOX MARKETPLACE FOR: 800 Points ($10)
PLATFORM: Xbox Live Arcade
DEVELOPER: Void Star Creations
PUBLISHER: Void Star Creations


You know how the best and most addictive puzzle games infect your dreams? I’m not the only one to close his eyes at night and still see Tetris blocks falling, or Puzzle Quest skulls looming at me, right? It’s really the ultimate test of a puzzle game- how much do you want to keep playing it? How much does it haunt you? The greats are few and far in between, but every once in a while a game will pop up and mercilessly suck away hours of your life while you keep promising to yourself you’ll get to bed in a few minutes, just after this game. After this next game, then. Shit, so close… one more. Wait, what’s that light coming in from the window?

Welcome to Poker Smash.

THE PITCH

It’s Planet Puzzle League with a poker twist!

THE PLAY

Yes, first things first- this is very, very reminiscent of the Puzzle League games. It adds enough new bits to not be considered a complete ripoff, though.


Not shown: Jennifer Tilly taking all your money while you’re distracted by her cleavage.


Here you clear cards from the screen by making hands, whether that be 3 or more of a kind, a flush, or a straight. Course, when you start off you’ll head for 3, 4, and 5 of a kind, but once you learn to look for other hands you’ll clear the screen that much more easily. Now, don’t worry if you don’t know your poker hands- the cards are all
color coded and easy enough for amateurs to figure out. (I’m not sure
that there’s anyone alive out there who didn’t get swept up into the
inexplicalble Texas Hold’m craze over the last 5 years, though.)

The controls are very simple. You can only slide the cards left or
right (not vertically!) using the right analog stick or X and B buttons, and the A button
drops bombs that destroy the block you’re highlighting. The bombs are in limited supply, although you can gain more by getting points. Using them freezes the screen and allows you a  breather when you need it, and you
can use them to position combos as well. The left trigger speeds up the
scroll of cards while the right trigger brings you into slow motion, via a meter that
replenishes over time.


And of course like every other puzzle game, once the blocks get to the top, it’s game over.

The biggest thing here is combos. Once you make a hand, the cards will freeze for a second before they disappear and the cards above them drop. This allows you a split second to position blocks in the right places so that when the cards fall it’ll be into another hand, and you can keep this up as long as you keep thinking on your toes. Use of the right trigger to slow down time is key for this. Some people online are racking up 80x combos, and to them I say- good for you, you sad sons of bitches. I’m still trying for the 7x combo achievement myself…. nevermind the one you get for a 24x.
 


Not shown: Dave Foley watching his career go down the tubes.


It’s very simple, and very addictive. Get a friend and you won’t be able to pull yourselves away from it. Besides the regular single player modes (where you can go for time or score) there’s a puzzle mode with dozens of puzzles to try your hand at. No pun intended, of course. They get pretty damn tricky by the end.

But this is a nice package for a incredibly playable game. This is the kind of game you can get anyone hooked on. Perfect if you’ve got girls over the house and are all Rock Band-ed out!

THE PRESENTATION

The graphics do the job. When you make a match or large combo lots of stylish sparks go off, but while it all looks nice this isn’t a game you buy for the look of things.

The music is fantastic, though, and actually one of the best parts of the game. It’s catchy and there’s a ton of themes, one for each board. I especially dig the Jungle theme, and the one that’s very reminiscent of the main Planet Terror theme. Even better is that there’s all available online for free on Void Star’s official site.

THE REPLAY

Infinite. The split screen multiplayer is really where it’s at, where you can play against a friend and yell and punch each other accordingly. It’s unfortunately only 1 on 1 (online allows for 5-person multiplayer) but matches are usually quick enough to play and then have the loser hand off the controller. One problem- though you can unlock levels and gamer pictures through your in-game winnings (an incredibly smart move, and much better than having to purchase them online…), it doesn’t appear that you can change the level and music that plays with split screen. Hopefully you’ve got a few cds ripped to your console- that’ll take care of that problem easily.


Not shown: Ed Norton getting beaten up by cops.


But if there’s one serious problem it’s that it seems hard to connect to an online match. Could just be me, but whenever I try to find a quick match I get nothing. Setting up a custom match of my own and it fills after a little waiting, but it seems that there are either some bugs to be worked out or not nearly enough people playing the game online.

They’ve also just released two new content packs for the low price of 100 points. One’s got two new environments, the other 15 more puzzles. Definitely something I can see myself downloading after playing the ones in the game to death.

THE VERDICT

It took me forever to write this review because every time I went to give it another shot I’d end up playing it for hours. It’s slow to get into but once you understand how the pieces move you’ll definitely be hooked. The fact that every time you play a game you’ll be earning points towards new boards makes things that much sweeter when trying for that high score.

Puzzle addicts- here’s your new game. The 10 buck price point hurts a bit, but you’ll get your money’s worth in the long run. Just hope that more people show up to play online!

9.0 out of 10