I wouldn’t say I really know how to play poker properly. I know the rules, but the real thing is much more complex than on paper. You can’t play poker with only the cards – you need to strategise, know how to hide your reactions, and to read your opponents well. Maybe that’s why it’s really difficult to transport poker to the video game format. In order to do that, games like Poker Night at the Inventory add different rules and elements, because you can’t really reproduce the same experience with AI opponents.
Probably knowing all that, Poker Hands goes for an entirely different approach. Instead of recreating a standard poker match, Poker Hands takes the rules of poker and uses it to create a kind of simplistic and unpretentious puzzle game. Here, your main objective is to use the available cards to match specific hands of poker, such as pairs, three-of-a-kind, straights, flushes and so on.
The main catch of the game lies in how you do that. Poker Hands provides 50 different levels. In each one of them, you’ll have a board that can have the most different formats – 3×3, 4×4, 4×6 – its size will change to increase the difficulty, sometimes even including holes as obstacles. Each spot on this grid can hold a card or combination of cards. The thing is, you can’t move just one card at a time. Instead, every time you use the left stick or directional buttons, every single card present on the board will move at the selected direction. You can’t move the cards out of the board, though, so when one or more cards reach the corner of the board, they’ll get grouped together.
Using this mechanic, you’ll need to combine the different cards in ‘hands’ of five. In addition to having different grid formats, each one of the 50 levels of Poker Hands will present different cards and will ask for one or more unique poker combinations. In the beginning levels, it’ll be very simple, as you’ll need to form basic combinations like a pair or a three-of-a-kind. In further levels, though, you’ll need to find ways to form more complex combinations such as flushes or full houses. If you really don’t know poker, a handy menu is available at all times, where you can check what the game is asking from you.
At the same moment that the Poker Hands levels start to become more complex, they also start to feel a bit random and frustrating. This happens, because you don’t have all cards available on the board. In further levels, you’ll find ‘spawn spots’ on certain points of the board. When moving the cards on the opposite direction of that spot, a new card will appear. Consequently, you’ll have to be really patient in the later levels, as you’ll probably go through a long and repetitive trial-and-error process in order to progress.
Poker Hands is definitely a puzzle game within a budget, which is reflected in its short length. With only 50 bite-sized levels, you can get to the end in less than 1 hour, depending on your skill and patience. In addition to that, the game is also very bland when it comes to its presentation. It can work to pass the time, but it this is no replacement for poker.
Poker Hands £0.89
Despite the name, Poker Hands isn’t really about poker. It is, in fact, a bite-sized puzzle game that plays with some of the rules from poker. The result isn’t much more than a pastime, and won’t really appeal to fans of puzzlers or poker.