If it looks like solitaire and plays like solitaire, it must be… a ’40s-style serial adventure? Unexpected perhaps, but that’s precisely the case in new epic, globetrotting head-scratcher Tri-Peaks 2: Quest for the Ruby Ring. Taken as a whole, the number-crunching game – which fuses a simple card-counting play mechanic with attractive animations and classic tomb-raiding elements – happily far exceeds the sum of its individual parts.
Per the title’s simple, yet intriguing storyline (told via a series of old newspaper-style cartoon strips), the tongue-in-cheek tale follows the exploits of intrepid do-gooders Tex and Ally Carter. Together, the pair must attempt to recover a cursed ring, which requires stopovers at remote and exotic locales like China, India and Easter Island.
Thankfully, you’re there to help out by shuffling through interactive decks in dozens of individual scenarios which, while occasionally repetitive, do sport ample personality. Credit lies with the constant presence of our two heroes, who make frequent cameos, as well as slick sound effects, stunning culturally-inspired musical scores and an overall impressive level of audiovisual polish.
Each stage, themed after the local lore of its native country, unfurls much the same. Upon entry, you’ll notice several stacked, pyramid-shaped piles of playing cards (most of which, except for a few cards at the bottom, lie face down) grouped around three or four peaks that dominate the display. Beneath them rests a group of living statues. Finally, towards the lowest part of the playfield, you’ve got another group of cards known as the foundation pile, one of which is face up at any given time.
Success simply hinges on removing all cards from the screen by clicking on a card in the upper portion of the display that’s one value higher or lower than the active foundation card. (At which point the selected card replaces this item.) So, for example, if you’re holding a 5, you could remove a 4 or 6 from play; if wielding a Jack, a 10 or Queen instead. Once the new foundation card becomes active, the process repeats until you’re out of moves, at which point you either undo a previous move, pull a new card from the foundation pile or (when out of possible replacements) restart the round.
The catch being that it’s necessary to free certain cards first before others become available; randomized card values keep things unpredictable; and occasional snafus arise, e.g. sudden time constraints that pop up when your partner falls into a trap. As such, the excitement doesn’t so much get old as occasionally frustrating, since luck more than skill often determines whether you’ve made the right move, and ultimately need to restart a given level.
Therefore the most one can hope for is to give it their best shot and knock out as many cards in quick succession in any round as possible (the pacing being suitably brisk) by thinking multiple steps ahead. Granted, removing even seven or more cards – which awards you rubies good for use in a point-boosting pachinko bonus game – in a single sitting isn’t a surefire predictor for success. However, it does at least mean more potential moves on the next round if you’ve been smart and attempted to create as many possible outs around the board as strategic constraints permit.
While hardly a fine science, the action’s engaging enough, and pleases courtesy of the addition of little touches like a miniaturized version of Tex who bumbles along the top of the screen facing off against goofy booby traps following each stage’s conclusion. Fail the challenge, and he’ll get tangled in creeper fines, frozen by gas jets or stabbed by errant stone warriors. Triumph and he’ll hop over floor spikes, catch twirling boomerangs in mid-flight and hit the deck as nets go sailing overhead. Amusing and lighthearted, these interludes make a nice addition to the overall saga even if (like end-stage point tallies) you’re unfortunately forced to watch these sequences time and again. Frankly, they prove such a clever touch, we wish there were more to enjoy.
That said, if you’re not a fan of the solitaire variant the single game mode-equipped outing draws its name from, don’t expect to suddenly become one of the converted – play remains largely unchanged from its traditional form. But if the addition of a few bonus options (wild cards, score multipliers awarded for strings of successful moves, etc.) and slick presentation to the age-old formula sounds tempting, hey, be our guest. A cool spin on the usual shuffle-and-go setup, Tri-peaks 2: Quest for the Ruby Ring more than trumps the competition.