Ah, pool. Billiards. The gentleman’s game. Is that what they call it? I think that’s what they call it. Anyway, there has been no shortage of pool games on modern consoles, and Pool Nation is yet another one.
Pool Nation features both 8 and 9 ball modes across its single-player cups, endurance mode, and multiplayer. The cups pit you against an increasingly tough number of strange looking, and oftentimes scary, pool players. Rest assured, the man named “Fronk L’emur” will haunt my every nightmare. The fact that he thinks he’s a lemur makes it even worse.
I honestly thought the progression would be similar to Punch-Out!!, as they bothered to give each opponents name and a short backstory, as well as their own little horrifying headshot, but considering that no physical people show up in the game, that’s as far as any of these characters’ personalities get. Seriously, the environments are 100% empty.
Pool Nation (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network[Reviewed])
Developer: Cherry Pop Games
Publisher: Cherry Pop Games
Released: October 31, 2013 (XBLA), May 22, 2013 (PSN)
MSRP: $8.49, 800 Microsoft Points
You can earn up to three stars in each match. One for winning and two others for performing special tasks, such as trick shots or earning a certain score over the course of the match. These stars allow you to unlock bonus matches down the road with alternate rules, and winning these grant you new ball sets, table decals, and cues. There are four cups in total, but the opponents and locations don’t change depending if you’re playing 8 or 9 ball, which is kind of a bummer.
The game features a decent tutorial that walks you through the basics of the game as well as some advanced tricks, but in the more expert tutorials I found that even though the game gave me green checkmarks indicating that I had performed the correct sequence of events to get the desired shot, the ball still did not go where it was intended. This could be due to the ball physics, which as far as I can gather are pretty darn realistic.
Graphically, the game does look very nice, especially in the tutorials where the action slows down and zooms in to reveal the shiny surface of the balls, and the chalk flying from the impact of cue to ball. This is made nicer by the fact that you can archive matches and watch the replays. However, the fact that no actual people show up during the matches, even watching in the background, gives the admittedly nice arenas a very sparse and empty feel. It’s made worse by the ever-present floating cue that circles the board. There be ghosts in these pool halls!
This is the kind of game where you might want to turn down the volume and just pop your iPod in or something, because the 3 or 4 repeating music tracks aren’t anything to write home about. There’s a little variety between stuff, like contemporary jazz beats to some Unfinished-Swan-sounding piano, but that’s about it, really. The fact that the music glitches a little bit when switching tracks isn’t much of a plus in the audio department. There isn’t even any voice acting, adding to the feel that you’re in some sort of lost episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? where ghosts are playing pool.
Despite having limited experience billiards videogames, I can say that Pool Nation does nothing to stand out from the crowd; it’s just your standard virtual pool game. There doesn’t seem to be anything here that can’t be done with other games of the same ilk. Still, it’s functional, and if you’re jonesing for some virtual 8-ball action, it’s not a bad choice.