Rather than mostly relying on luck like it's card game cousin of Solitaire does, FreeCell mostly involves [racking your] brains and the ability to try to figure out several moves in advance in order to succeed, and hopefully win, the game.
Yep, as the title of this review implies, this ain't your father's game of Solitaire, all right! Rather than only having a few cards available at once, with each new game, every card is on the screen from the very beginning. So you'll see every single card in the deck, rather than with Solitaire, as you will, for the majority of the time, never see all of the cards during a game.
However, the basic fundamentals are the same as Solitaire: shuffle cards around (while alternating colors) to try to build up the Aces slots at the top right from the lowest to the highest. This time around though, you're give four "freecells" at the top left of the screen where you can place cards to get them out of the way in order to hopefully advance through the game.
For instance, lets say you have a black Jack and a white 10 card (on the computer version, the colors are red and black, but there's no color in this handheld translation) on the board. You can place the white 10 underneath the black Jack. If, after moving the 10, there was an Ace underneath, it can then be placed (or the game does it automatically) in the top right card stack, and any subsequential card in numerical ascending order of the same suit (i. e. if the Ace is a black club and there's a black 2 of clubs available to be moved on the board) can be stacked along with it.
Then in the upper left part of the screen are four freecells where you can place cards that you can't do anything with, in hopes that you can get the big mess of cards in some sort of order so you can eventually (/hopefully) get them all in the top right area. Having as much of this area clear as possible is also good for moving cards, along with clearing out an entire vertical row will also earn more spaces as you juggle the cards around as you build up the Ace section, hopefully all the way up to the King rank for all of the cards in the game.
This can be a pretty hard, brain-busting game, not exactly the kind of thing you would pick up to relax with after a hard day at work. I don't know HOW many times I needed just one more freakin' space in the top left corner and all would be well, but that turned out not to be the case when I got myself into a jam (which happens often).
Even though they're fixed graphics imprinted onto a board, you can tell what all the cards are easily enough. The controls respond fine, and the sound effects are pretty decent for a handheld (blowing away the irritating as hell sounds on Big Screen Solitaire, an offering by the same company that made this FreeCell unit [Radica!]), as there's a shuffling of cards at the beginning of each game and a delightful brief tune is played when (if!) you win. The backlight isn't bad, although not as good as the Fliptop Tetris unit also made by Radica!, although it's shades better (pardon the light pun) than Big Screen Solitaire's, which I also own.
There's only a couple of very slight problems with this game, one of which is when it looks like you've screwed up and there's nothing more that can be done, yet the game won't end. I would look and look and look at all combinations possible, yet couldn't figure out if there is a glitch, just some reason why the "GAME OVER" words won't pop up, or I'm missing something with a card, as I really could use the flashing card hint on the computer version of the game, indicating there's at least one more move you can make. Having an undo command like on the PC original would also help when you screw up. Also, it might take some getting used to at first that you can't see the entire playfield at once, unlike on the PC version, but all you have to do is use the scroll button to look up and down the playing field real quick to get a better look at your overall situation, which shouldn't take too long to get used to.
The only thing is, I don't know if FreeCell is readily available for other formats and warrants an $18 purchase just for this one game, even though it's great. For example, you can get Solitaire on tons of other formats, but I don't know if the same can be said for FreeCell. If it's also available on various other consoles (especially portable ones like the GameBoy), game/card packages and all for real cheap, then you're probably better off with one of those, rather than just this, with the one game.
If it isn't, I'd definitely suggest picking this up for many hours of a brain-busting puzzle game, good for on the go.
But not after a hard day's work though. 9/10