Publisher: Sierra Online
Developer: Sierra Shanghai
Release Date: September 3, 2008
I have a bit of a soft spot for card and board games on Xbox Live Arcade. They fill a niche, especially for us recluse types who enjoy playing games that others can't, don't or won't. In this case, Sierra Online adds Gin Rummy to the XBLA lineup.
Reviewing these kinds of titles, though, proves sometimes to be rather difficult, not because of the game or the features, but rather the lack of comparative qualities. I can't exactly gush on about the gradient light shading or texture bitmaps of explosions and animations. You'll never hear someone say, "Halo 3? Yeah, sure, but it's no Gin Rummy." But for those of us out there who still love our board, card and puzzle games, Gin Rummy is actually one of the better offerings.
For those who have never played the game, Gin Rummy pits you against an opponent (or two) with the objective of making runs and sets. You'll need at least three of the same card to make a set, such as three queens or four nines, and you'll need at least three cards of the same suit in numerical sequence to make a run, such as the six, seven, and eight of clubs. On the surface, that's the game. There also are rules about knocking, undercutting, and going gin. I won't delve completely into all the game mechanics and scoring other than to say that Gin Rummy perfectly mirrors its real-life physical counterpart.
For those who have never played the game, no worries. Gin Rummy includes a tutorial option that nicely explains all of the basics that I went over, as well as the nuances of knocking, going gin, and score tallying. Of course, you can bypass this and just jump right into any of the game options and figure it out on your own. I'm sure you don't read the instructions either.
Selecting the single-player option allows you to choose several different game types: Classic Gin Rummy, Oklahoma Gin, Hollywood Gin, 3-Handed Gin, Speed Gin Rummy, and a Custom mode. I should append that all of these game types simply change the scoring and knock rules, and otherwise play out exactly the same as one another. After all, there aren't exactly massive variants you can add to a card game with fixed rules. However, adding the ability to customize your own rules is an amazingly cool feature that more card and board games should feature.
Multiplayer mode offers ranked and unranked matches with other XBLA players. If you're lucky, you might even bump into the four of us out there who actually play. That's not a dig on the game so much as on the frantic high-energy players out there. Sure, I like throwing grenades and rescuing princesses as much as the next guy, but every now and then, it's nice to sit back with a virtual deck of cards and undercut an opponent trying to knock with a higher count than you.
The one thing I disliked in Gin Rummy, which is always a big deal for me, is game response. Pushing buttons in this title, which is very limited when you're simply talking about drawing a card and discarding a card, felt very mushy. Everything had a very stiff delay in moving cards around in your hand. I know everyone is different, hence sensitivity controls, but we're talking cards here with no ability to tweak your headshot sniping. The controls here aren't bad, but they just feel slow.
The other thing that may hit-or-miss in Gin Rummy is the music. Attempting to convey jazz parlor nostalgia is a looping riff of soft horns and drums that plays endlessly in the background. Well, that and the sound of cards being drawn and discarded. I'm able to tune out most music in most games most of the time, but this one takes the cake for sheer repetitiveness. Again, it's not bad music, but I guarantee that after about 10 minutes, you'll reach for the remote and hit mute.
The lasting appeal of XBLA titles is a fickle beast. Gin Rummy gives you the ability to change the skin and theme so as to give you a fresh view now and again, but it's no different than changing your Solitaire cards from little fish to blue diamonds. It's still the same game with a different wrapper on it. Of course, if you're a card game lover and no one else wants to play gin with you, then Gin Rummy on XBLA will obviously get far more use and play from you than it would from casual gamers who are looking to invest their time into something with measurable achievements and rank tracking. It's a very specific genre game, but for those into the genre, Gin Rummy is a great title.