With all the ad hoc attempts at casino style games on the Palm platform, it was not too surprising to see this genre picked up by Zio Interactive or Ziosoft, now established as one of the first-rate makers of Pocket PC titles. Their visually engaging Metalion and near ubiquitous ZioGolf franchises have made great strides in wooing would-be Pocket PC gamers to their camp. With this title though, they attempt to go mainstream as the assortment of card titles are sure to attract the occasional solitaire player. The developers have opted to include the bulk of their casino offerings under one name: Pocket Gambler (PG).
Upon loading up PG, you will definitely notice that this title is very polished and speaks volumes about the developers' maturity in the Pocket PC arena. Instead of the usual Windows-style based approach, PG is visually adorned with all the trappings of a casino in full color. It includes titles from Craps to Blackjack to Slots. Each comes with a completely different interface. For example, the Slots screen features the standard lever and buttons that I'm sure any slot addict would be at home for. One thing I always whine about PDA card titles is the fact that the cards are very small and are represented by nothing but their value. I can say the cards are much more impressive here.
There isn't much to the role-playing aspect of PG. Arguably one of the kings of PC card/casino type titles, Sierra's Hoyle franchise offers something that the developers of PG have opted to not include. You don't play Poker or Blackjack against anyone except the dealer. There are no specific profiles of dealers you have to deal with either. The simplicity is much appreciated though, in a title like this. Although there are many options to a gambling initiate like me, I found the title was easy to pick up but just as easily to let go. Your purse carries around from game to game but there really isn't any overall title. As an entertainment diversion, it definitely gets its gameplay down right. I'm no casino expert but I was able to detect a few games were more profitable than others. In my experience, for example, I found the Slots titles were much easier to make money in than any other one. Perhaps that's because I'm not too lucky in cards. The AI is a little quirky as well. Often times, I may select stand when I wanted to hit in PG when at the Blackjack table. In one case, I had only 9 in my hand. The CPU hit once and had much more than 9 but for some reason continued hitting to aim for 21 until it got itself busted. It could have easily stood earlier and still beat me. Of course, in a real casino, I wouldn't be complaining but would definitely ask whether the dealer needs a little break right about now. I do not claim to have any particular expertise with AI programming or even casino rules in general but I thought this was striking and I have had this disagreeable situation play itself out more than once.
Your primary opponent in this title is the dealer who is endowed with a copious amount of voice-over speech. It'll read out your hands and inform whether you need to buy insurance, doing all the deeds a casino worker does. The speech is clean, unobtrusive and the female voice is pleasant to listen to. Other sound cues populate the title like the ring of cash when you check out of a slot machine. Little nuances like that make this game more colorful than it would have been.
I have to confess that I'm not exactly a person who plays Solitaire at all. So when I thought about PG, I didn't expect much but I was wonderfully charmed by the presentation. It is definitely not a small title but for so many games within PG, it is easily worth the three megs space it occupies on my PDA. The sound can be easily turned off and the graphics are not too bad under direct sunlight. There are a few minor flaws I'd like to point out though. A lot of the backdrop is dark, perhaps owing to the "realistic" images used to portray this title. Moreover, some of the buttons are a bit hard to hit without a stylus, requiring some form of precision. If you are anything like me and sometimes you just hit your PDA with your finger, you better pray that you are pretty accurate or you'll select stand when you want to hit in blackjack or vice versa.
Altogether, this is a solid title from a first rate developer we have all come to appreciate. With all its experience in other Pocket PC titles, I expected no less than this. Technically, it is very impressive compared to other card-related titles I've seen. Right now, they can probably set the bar, as they did with ZioGolf that other developers have to beat. If not for the footprint and a few of the slight quirks with this title, it'd be a must have for any Pocket PC owner. However, if you even have the slightest interest in card titles, this is definitely one you can pick up and run with.
[07/10] Program size
[13/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer