With a title like Poker Smash, you can be forgiven for thinking that this game is more about chucking a fit over a losing hand of poker than anything else.
But don't let the misleading title fool you, this Xbox Live Arcade title isn't a straight up poker game. In fact, you'll find that Poker Smash is more akin to puzzle titles like Hexic or Bejeweled than a hand of California lowball or Texas hold 'em.
Forget the glittery blocks, coloured gems and shimmery jewels of other puzzle games; the emphasis here is on adding basic poker to the already crowded puzzle concept on XBLA. Instead players will be given coloured tiles that resemble a deck of cards. But don't be frightened off, you won't have the entire 52 deck to deal with. Instead Poker Smash concentrates solely on using the 10, Ace, Jack, Queen and King cards of the deck, all baring the marks of the four card suits.
The main mode of Poker Smash presents you with a poker table that reveals a row of cards at a time. As these cards scroll up to reveal themselves, you can slide each individual card tile horizontally to make sets of three or more similar tiles to clear them. As this point you're thinking, "hang on, isn't this Bejeweled?" Here's where the poker side of the game comes into play. As well as lining up cards of the same colour, you can also clear rows of cards based on their value as a poker hand. For instance, lining up a pair of Jacks with three Kings will give you a full house --a poker hand that involves three matching cards of one rank, and two matching cards of another rank-- allowing you to rack up some huge combos if you time your run right.
As well as moving the cards around horizontally to make a match, you can also strategically place bombs on cards in an effort to manoeuver the cards into a winning hand. Place a bomb on the right card and it can be the difference between racking up your combo multiplier and watching the words 'game over' flash across your screen.
Of course adding to the difficulty stakes is the fact that the game progressively gets faster as you progress through the levels, making it harder for you to spot the all-important combo at a time when you most need it. To give players a little more time to work out where to make their next move, the game has a built in slow-motion meter which when activated, allows you to slow down the game for a few crucial seconds to get yourself out of a tight spot.
The real star of Poker Smash is that of it's presentation. The top-notch HD look presented within gives players a smooth, sleek appeal with a well thought layout and easy to read graphics, it makes itself an impressive sight on both standard and high-def television sets. Like most XBLA titles, it contains easy to navigate menus and a tutorial section to help get you on your feet. Most impressive is the game's control scheme, which fluidly requires the use of both analog sticks making for an intuitive and precise experience. The sound effects in Poker Smash are well-done, but are pretty much standard fare for the type of sound produced in the puzzle lineup of XBLA. But the music really brings down the whole presentation as it proves to be a detractor more than anything else.
Along with the original Action Mode, Void Star has included additional extra online and offline modes. including: Timed Mode (clear the screen in the allotted time) and a Puzzle Mode (using strategy to clear up the screen and solve the puzzle) as well as Practice Mode to help you learn the ropes.
As well as the different singleplayer modes, Poker Smash also includes a two-player split-screen mode and online multi-player modes (for both both ranked and unranked play) that pit players against each another as they battle over a community pot of poker chips to determine the game's victor. An optional 'dealer' function also comes into play, which allows players to send cards over to their opponent's table when they have matched up certain combinations of cards.
The downside to the online multi-player mode is that you can only see the action on your own table, but like real poker you can tell who is winning the game my the massive stack of chips that they have amassed.
It may not contain anything revolutionary to the puzzle genre, but for those of you that love to spend hours curled up with an XBLA game, you'll find that this poker puzzler is a royal flush.