App of the Day: Ski Solitaire

Cold cut.

Solitaire has been pre-installed on home computers since the early '90s, so why everyone's decided to remake it all of a sudden is a bit of a mystery. If the timing seems unusual, however, it's easier to see why it's ripe for a makeover: it's a game that everyone's familiar with, that barely requires any instructions to play, and it has that all-important element of luck that adds just enough frustration to keep you wriggling away on the end of its hook.

And it turns out Solitaire's a pretty difficult game to screw up. Big Fish's smartly-presented Fairway Solitaire took it out on the links, forcing players to chip out of bunkers and clear water hazards to progress. Then PopCap's browser-based productivity killer Solitaire Blitz introduced power-ups and time limits, producing a game so dangerously addictive that I genuinely spent 20 pounds of real money to keep playing rather than wait an hour for the game's energy meter to refill.

Thankfully, Greenfly Studios doesn't plan on nickel-and-diming its players; the initial £1.99 outlay is all you'll ever need to play its game. It's closer to Big Fish's take on Solitaire than to PopCap's, trading fairways for powdery slopes populated by characters seemingly lifted from a long-forgotten wintry comic strip in the Beano.

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There's no visible timer, but your earnings are affected by the time it takes to complete a course.

The fact the game's announcer is voiced by one of the devs only adds to the appeal. This is a little less show-offish than its more expensively assembled golfing rival, whose smug commentary can come across a little too pleased with itself.

There are 10 courses here, each comprising 10 levels. The object, as you'd expect, is to try to clear various stacks of cards by placing them one by one onto the card you've drawn from the deck, as long as it's of a value one higher or lower. Get six or more in a row, and you'll earn a run bonus; otherwise you keep drawing cards until either your deck runs out or all the cards in play are removed.

To complicate matters, some cards can't be removed until you've fulfilled certain conditions. Ice cards require you to play the sun card to thaw them out, while forest hazards leave stacks face down until you've removed all the green cards from play. Find a numbered gate card, however, and you can play it when there's no other move to extend your run.

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The undo feature can be a godsend, so thermal underwear should be your first investment when visiting the ski store.

Occasionally you'll turn over a weather report card which cycles through a variety of conditions: swirling winds mix up the cards in play, while bad snow removes two cards from your deck and a little of your earnings, too. You can choose to ignore the report and automatically drop two cards, but then there's always the chance of missing out on a sunny forecast which can either boost your income or even end the round instantly with a perfect score.

Unlock conditions vary from course to course: in some cases you'll need to amass a certain sum over the 10 stages, and in others you'll be asked to reach a minimum run length. Coupled with the entrance fees and the exorbitant cost of the performance-enhancing ski gear in the shop, you may have to repeat a course several times before the next becomes available, though it never feels as much of a grind as that sounds.

That's partly down to the timeless appeal of the core game, but also the breezy charm of Ski Solitaire's presentation. The cards spin beautifully into position when tapped, simultaneously flipping coins into your kitty with a cheerful chime. You'll hear winds whipping up and the crunch of carbon-fibre on snow as skiers fly past, and there's a satisfying crack as ice cards are taken out. Best of all, the threes are adorned with a picture of the goofiest, friendliest purple yeti you ever did see. What more could you want from a game?

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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