Let's approach this review honestly, and by that I mean most of you have probably never heard of the Reel Deal Card Games series, and probably aren't looking forward to it like you might the next Madden or FIFA game. So first let me answer the basic question -- what is Reel Deal Card Games '09? Put simply, it's pretty much what you would expect, that is to say, a massive collection of card games of a wide variety ranging from multiplayer staples like Hearts, Spades, Cribbage, etc...to a rather impressive list of Solitaire games, and of course, Poker. In addition to the games themselves there is a tiered prize system along with "VIP Points" and "Diamond Points" to keep players playing towards their next major goal or prize by spending them on prizes and in the mall.
2-Player Cribbage against Dr Jekyll (and occasionally his better half)
The game's presentation is probably the first thing I noticed, and being blunt it's not nearly what it needs to be in this day and age. I think it is fair to recognize that the demographic for this game is not going to be sporting the latest and greatest in PC hardware but the graphical quality is not the only presentation issue found here. For instance, upon loading the game the first time you apparently need to patch, only the game failed to inform me of this and was waiting for me to click update before it would start. To make matters worse the button to launch the main game is, unlike several other buttons, not grayed out, and appears to be functional but ignores clicks. After several restarts I finally tried the update but even then it appeared to freeze for long periods of time and in total took about 35 minutes to update (for reference I did a speed test during the update and was able to hit right around 11Mbps on the speed test on top of the update itself).
The musical aspect of the game's presentation was somewhat of a mixed bag in that while I rather enjoyed the musical selection in all of its bizarre variety, the problem was that it never really worked properly. Songs would skip and stutter and ultimately the resulting headache convinced me to turn the music off entirely. What portions of the music I was able to hear when it wasn't stuttering was strange and diverse selection of music most of which had a certain charm to it that, if working properly, would probably suit the game quite well. Also worth mentioning is that the game allows you to point it at a directory with MP3's and use it as a playlist. This feature, while very nice, is ultimately not that useful since even my own MP3's skipped and stuttered when played through the game.
No Limit Texas Holdem - Kings on the button doesn't suck...
The game has other minor issues in the realm of gameplay, especially in the poker games that are available. Playing at a table of Texas Hold'em proves to be an interesting task as the game randomly crashes from time to time, losing track of any money changes since you joined the table (which can be good or bad depending on how you're doing). In addition I can say that those who are familiar with online poker sites will find the command buttons for the poker games to be slightly lacking as some of the more advanced options are not present. You're still able to do anything you would expect to be able to do in a poker game, except perhaps raising/calling in the dark, but the ability to set your choice before action gets around to you is limited to only certain situations.
The big business of electronic poker has been really refined in the last 6 or 7 years since the poker boom, and as a result the poker games presented here are frankly not "up to snuff" with what you can get on just about any online poker site where you can play for free. So if you're main attraction here is to poker, I would advise you to look elsewhere because there are cheaper and greener pastures. Now if you're interested in a collection of Solitaire games or just can't get enough Gin, Hearts, Rummy 500, Golf, Spite & Malice, etc...then this may well be worth taking a look at, as Solitaire and multiplayer games are where Reel Deal Card Games '09 really shines. The games seem to work better (ie: no crashes or glitches that I've seen) and in general they are more up to par with what you would expect.
Rummy 500 - It's always four 2's, never the Aces!!
The online features present are...well they certainly aren't up to what they should be in terms ease of use, but the fact is that you can get online and play your favorite (non-solitaire obviously) games with other people with a similar love for your favorite card game. The online does add quite a bit all told, as you're not just getting access to open tables for the games but also tournaments, and a variety of stuff associated with it to keep those who really get into it working towards the next perk, prize, etc...The biggest advantage of the online play is that you're not dealing with AI which can be lackluster in some games and a little too good in others.
Ultimately the key to whether or not Reel Deal Card Games '09 is worth the $20 is what you're looking to get out of it. While the selection of games is fairly robust, the overall quality of the package definitely leaves something to be desired, but isn't quite all bad either. The entire genre is frankly like this and from my experience this is actually a pretty good entry even with all of its problems. So if you're looking for a pack of games to play at work, or when traveling, or just late at night when you wrestle with insomnia then Reel Deal Card Games '09 will probably fill that need quite nicely. If you're looking for too much more than that I think you're probably rolling the dice if you make the purchase, and if you're looking for something serious and competitive I can emphatically say this isn't it.