Despite its presentation and theme, PokerMania is related more to Tetris than it is to classic poker, and has been marketed as an arcade game instead of as a card-playing simulation. All things considered, this is a fair enough assessment of the game.
Like Shanghai, an older Lynx favourite, PokerMania utilizes the structure of a familiar game without relying on its rules. Here, PokerMania borrows the scoring rules of poker and adopts them to the familiar layout of Klondike Solitaire, but restricts play to a 5x5 matrix.
Gameplay is unusual and fairly complex. In PokerMania, players select a card from one of four decks of cards to place on the static 5x5 display. Cards may be "dropped" down one of the five vertical stacks in the matrix to assemble a "hand". Each "hand" is scored according to the rules of poker. No individual row of five cards is scored until each stack is filled, and, unlike Tetris, cards do not disappear once a scoring hand has been assembled. The game sets a goal of points which must be reached before the player advances to the next level. If a player does better than the set goal, the excess points are "banked" to be used as an aid at higher levels.
The primary problem with PokerMania lies in the fact that a card deck is not well-suited to Tetris-style matching-shape games; it just introduces too many variables for good gameplay. In Columns or Klax, variables are limited to about four different colours and/or four different shapes per screen. In PokerMania, however, gamers have to wrestle with four different suits and their twelve respective denominations, not all of which will make it into any given game. In addition, the scoring system here is more complex than in most similar games, which means that players often have to keep track of an enormous number of variables in order to complete a level. There's just too much going on the screen at one time to be confident that you're playing well.
I also found the rules to be rigid and unforgiving. Given the number of variables involved during gameplay, it's often difficult -- if not impossible -- to assemble a winning "hand", and most of my screens are littered with incomplete and low-scoring combinations. The matrix' limited size (25 cards) means that, no matter what strategy is utilized, it will be impossible to assemble some combinations, and players don't have the luxury of waiting for a certain card to appear. This particular problem could easily be corrected if a Joker or other wild-card was added to the game's variables.
In addition, players are stuck with a card that they've been given, and cannot "unselect" it, as they can in Shanghai or Ishido. This feature would have been welcomed here.
I would suggest that the game's difficulty ramping needs to be tweaked. A score of 6,000 is needed to clear the first screen -- a goal that is often frustratingly difficult to achieve -- but , conversely and perversely, the point "goal" drops considerably over the next few screens, because some of the previous score will have been "banked" and carried over to help with the next screen's goal. In other words, you have to play a pretty good game to clear the first screen, but can be fairly sloppy for the next five, before the game's difficulty ramping kicks in again.
PokerMania features ten different tunes which may be changed and selected during gameplay by pressing "OPT 1" and "PAUSE". This does, unfortunately, disable the restart function, so players unsatisfied with any given game must turn off their Lynx by pressing the "OFF" button.
I found all tunes to be pleasant, although there's nothing so memorable here as the tune offered in the Lynx Othello minigame in Lynx Reloaded. Players may also select to have no music at all played during gameplay, which is a nice feature who may require absolute silence for the high degree of concentration needed to complete each screen.
PokerMania does not tax the Lynx's graphic capability, as befits a card/puzzle game. Still, the game's static screens are crisp and interesting and offer an abundance of information. I did, however, find the music selection screen, with its parti-striped background, somewhat hard to read.
Use the mixed straight (e.g. a sequential run of cards in any suit
combination) to score big.
I have found that the best way of advancing beyond the first stage is building a mixed straight on the bottom row, and then full houses/four-of-a-kinds vertically to the top. Cards to not appear frequently enough or in any predictable pattern to recommend utilization of high-scoring "hands", such as the Royal Flush.
PokerMania is a pleasant and unusual game that should find favour with the Lynx's legion of puzzle fans. I found it, despite noted bugs and problems, to be a good addition to the Lynx's growing gaming library, and think the basic core of the game is sound. It would, in particular, make a nice package if bundled with a classic game of solitaire or poker -- something that the Lynx is sorely missing (and needing). Perhaps something to consider for version 2.0, Mr. Wuehl?