A falling-block puzzle game that is also a poker-inspired card-matching game.
Square Deal is not particularly inspiring or worth hunting down in the year 2019, but in a way that makes them somewhat ideal Game Boy ambassadors. The masterpieces like Zelda and Final Fantasy Legend II were few and far between on Game Boy—most of the handheld’s library fell into the “pleasant time-killer” category, and that’s more or less what these are.
Square Deal didn’t begin life on Game Boy, but it seems like it was tailor-made for the system. It combines two of the platform’s go-to genres—falling-block puzzlers and casino games—into an odd but effective mash-up. Quite simply, it’s poker meets Puyo Puyo. Players are given a standard deck of 52 cards and then tasked to clear the deck with a combination of poker and match-three rules. You begin the game with 1000 points, spend 500 to ante in, and are required to earn a set score in order to complete a round and move along to the next. Initially, you only need to earn 1000 points in a round, but eventually you need to earn 2000, then 3000, and so on.
The way it works is this: Cards fall into the active well area one by one, and you need to keep the well clear by matching different cards as they land. If the well overflows and a card lands above the kill line at the top, you instantly lose the round. However, you’ll also lose if you manage to work through the entire deck without reaching the target score. You’re awarded different point quantities based on the complexity of the matches you make, and you’re penalized 100 point for each card you leave behind in the well. But even if you clear all 52 cards, you can still lose if your point total don’t add up to the target sum. It’s a demanding game.
Again, Square Deal operates with match-three rules, which are modified to account for the face value and suites of the deck. Both the suites and values of cards can be matched to clear away a trio of cards—but you can’t win a hand if you stick simply to removing three like values or suites at a time. A basic match like that only nets you 10 points, meaning the best score you can hope to earn that way is 170—well short of the first tier’s 1000-point requirement. Instead, you need to make more complex matches by bumping up against poker rules.
In other words, you want to make the same kinds of matches you’d want to earn in a real hand of poker. At the basic level, you can go for a straight and place three cards with consecutive face values next to one another. If you’re brave enough, you can try an advanced tactic like shooting for a flush—or a straight flush, if you’re both good and lucky. You’ll earn even more points by lining up a combination five cards at once by placing four cards, two each on opposite ends, and dropping the fifth card into the center space. It’s even possible to pull off Puyo Puyo-style chain combos by setting up a disconnected match that ends up being completed by clearing the cards that separate them. This is extraordinarily difficult.
Unlike in Tetris, you’re not forced to use the one piece—card—that happens to be falling at any given moment. Instead, you have a “hand” of several cards and can use the B button to cycle through them. You can even tap A to freeze the action and make a selection, which is a nice touch, although you only have a limited number of seconds available per round. All in all, it’s a pretty clever combo of two disparate genres, and it works fairly well.
It’s a shame the requirements ramp up so quickly in Square Deal, because it becomes way too demanding way too fast. The 3000-point level would be daunting enough on its own, but add to that the fact that it also introduces handicaps to the mix and reduces the number of active cards from four to three—it’s harsh. Square Deal is actually the sequel to a Famicom game called Cadillac, and it comes to us courtesy of developer Hect. Also known as Hector, Hect made its name in the mid ’80s with a minor arcade hit, City Connection, and never turned out another game that managed to muster up the same degree of success. But if Square Deal is anything to go by, their lack of success wasn’t for lack of effort. This is a pretty interesting, if extremely tough, portable puzzler.