You don’t generally expect to find stories of domestic violence or promiscuity in casual games, and you definitely don’t expect to find them in solitaire! When I first started playing Heartwild Solitaire, I was very surprised to see the direction the story was taking. Still, as uncomfortable as it was, I found it very hard to stop playing because I wanted to see where the story went.
It begins with Anne, standing in her night clothes with a bloody lip, holding a gun to her abusive husband John. She’s sure he deserves to be shot, but she can’t bare to do it herself, so she intentionally misfires and then flees into the forest. Finally free of John and her old life, she decides to start a new. Then she meets Ross and his mistress Binky…and telling you anything more would spoil the plot! For those who are concerned, there are no illustrations of violence or anything else, so the mature elements in the story are strictly in the text.
Playing Heartwild Solitaire is easy. Cards are placed in a variety of layouts, and your goal is to match cards of the same number, much like in a mahjong solitaire game. You have a draw pile of additional cards to use, and discard piles for unused cards. In order to win a round, you must clear all of the cards in the layout.
The bonus meter is shown on the left side of the screen. This fills as you make matches, and declines with time if nothing is done. The faster you make matches, the higher it fills, rewarding you with a multiplier bonus at the end of each round. If you don’t like the pressure, there’s no need to try and keep this full. Rounds are untimed.
There are several power-ups, which you can earn by making a match with a power-up card. You can accumulate these for later use. The undo power-up allows you to undo your last move. The shuffle power up allows you to shuffle around cards, and the retry power-up allows you to replay a round. There is also a holder power-up which gives you an extra discard pile, a bonus fill power up which fills up the bonus meter, and a turnover power-up which gives you an extra turnover. These occur randomly as you play.
The game is arranged into levels and chapters, with each new chapter represented by a tarot card. It’s worth mentioning that actual Rider-Waite-Smith tarot cards are used (although the images are different), and that a reasonable interpretation of those cards is given. As a tarot reader myself, I thought this was a cool touch.
At the end of each chapter, you face a challenge deck, which means there’s no draw pile. Also, you will sometimes encounter a bonus round, which gives you a chance to increase your score. A slot machine appears, and instructs you to find a specific card or type of card in a layout. You are timed, but each correct click is rewarded. This is a bit tough, but in a good way.
There is a button for a level editor and extra levels, but there isn’t any content at the moment. (Perhaps the game-makers plan to add content at a later date.)
What’s nice about Heartwild Solitaire is that the cards are randomly drawn, so each round is different, even if you retry. This adds an element of luck to the game. The fantasy-inspired music is really beautiful, with several compositions included. The graphics are also nicely done, with backgrounds that alternate as you play. Although at first they appear random or unconnected to the theme, there is a lot of foreshadowing in the graphics.
The biggest draw to Heartwild Solitaire is the story. Many times, I wanted to yell at the protagonist. She certainly has interesting taste in men. It was the story which really drove me to keep playing.
If you set the story aside, the game play itself is fairly typical. There are a lot of solitaire games out there, and the mechanics work in much the same way. If you’re not a person that likes a good story, or if you don’t care for the nature of this particular story, the game might have limited appeal.
Still, it’s fair to say that Heartwild Solitaire is a very interesting game. I wanted to keep playing in order to learn how the story progressed. At the same time, though, it’s definitely a mature game, and not one for kids or sensitive readers.