Poker Pop is the latest collaboration between casual game developer Playfirst and mobile game developer Glu Mobile. The two companies were responsible for last year's extremely successful mobile port of the casual game smash hit Diner Dash. Poker Pop doesn't ever quite reach Diner Dash's heights of addictiveness or depth, but it's still an enjoyable mobile puzzler, especially for poker fans.
As a poker fan, what I most enjoy about Poker Pop is that it presents basic poker concepts in a radically original way. This isn't "poker - with sexy girls!" or "poker - with gangsters!" Instead it takes the concepts of poker's various hands (two pair, three of a kind, flush, straight, etc) and builds a unique puzzling experience on top of them.
Gamers are presented with a play field of thirty face-up cards and are tasked with making poker hands by stringing cards together in a chain (they all must be touching). In tour mode (the meat of the game), each subsequent round increases the number and complexity of the hands that must be achieved. Early on the experience seems shallow and mindless, when you just have to complete say, five three-of-a-kind hands to win. It's just a matter of finding chains of cards that work.
Later on things become much more challenging. As you clear cards, those above shift downward, and new cards fill in the blank spaces at the top. To complete say, a straight flush, it becomes necessary to make many small hands like simple pairs to arrange the cards above in a specific way allowing you to chain the straight flush together.
Various power-ups and obstacles are slowly introduced to spice up the experience. You'll gain the ability to arrange all cards by suit or sequentially, making certain poker hands easy to achieve. On the flipside, you'll have to contend with smoking cards that have to be cleared before they reach the bottom row, or freeze cards, that have to be cleared in a matter of seconds, or else they lock themselves into place.
On paper Poker Pop makes all the right puzzle game moves. It includes a lengthy "tour mode" that slowly ramps up in difficulty, a mindless, time-killing adventure mode, and a challenge mode. There are more difficult, bonus objectives to complete to boost replay value, to boot. The entire experience controls well, and looks/sounds good.
Still, despite all this, I didn't enjoy the core experience as much as many other mobile puzzle titles, even ones that didn't include all the modes or features. The fact is some puzzle games are better than others for intangible reasons - the core puzzling itself is just more addicting in some games than others.
Poker Pop is a lot of fun - I can't imagine many gamers who end up with it on their handset wouldn't enjoy themselves - but it isn't destined to be a mobile classic.
What's Hot: A genuinely fresh twist on the poker craze. Lots of extras.
What's Not: The puzzling hook itself isn't as compelling as other titles.