8-ball, corner pocket
The first thing you notice when starting Pool Nation is how shiny everything is. The balls look brand new, gleaming in the bright overhead lights; the table looks like nary a speck of chalk ever fell on its pristine felt.
If heaven had a pool hall, I’m pretty sure this is exactly what it would look like.
Now, I’ve been to a fair number of pool halls in my time. Aged equipment placed atop carpet stained with beer, vomit, and other fluids of undeterminable origins. The air usually smells like stale cigars and sweat and you when you get home a shower is the first priority.
For some reason, however, this disconnect kept me from really enjoying Pool Nation, the new pool simulation available on XBLA and PSN. Don’t get me wrong, the game features great physics and actually taught me a few tricks I know I’d be able to pull off if I could handle a cue as well as I do a controller.
But those darn shiny graphics, beautiful as they are, kept me at arm’s length.
Those who can get past the clean room feel of everything will find a game that generally plays well, and has more than a few tricks up its sleeve.
The game’s extensive tutorial is the perfect place to start, as it will show you the various spins, jumps and swerves that make professional pool players look like magicians. And it’s important to hone these skills, particularly if you plan on playing through the single-player campaigns.
There are two choices for single-player tournaments, 8 Ball and 9 Ball, where players must advance through a series of AI pros to win.
These matches start off simple enough but if you plan on winning you’d better be good. A missed shot will often result in your opponent running the table. This takes some of the fun out of solo play, occasionally making me want to fling my controller and mar that perfect felt (though a broken TV would be the actual result).
Multiplayer fares better, since human opponents are more likely to make mistakes, and will keep things more evenly balanced.
Winning unlocks new equipment – cues, tables, ball sets – as well as side challenges which are a nice change of pace.
For $10 the game provides a lot of entertainment, particularly if you have friends interesting in playing online. If only Mastertronic would tone down the AI and dirty things up a bit (or at least give me the option to do so) and it would sit on top of the tiny pool game heap.
SUMMARY: A bright and shiny pool game with excellent physics and deep gameplay. Single-player suffers from too difficult AI, but multiplayer succeeds on every level. A solid choice for pool fans.
- THE GOOD: The physics system is fantastic! Shots would exactly as they should.
- THE BAD: The single-player AI gets way too good, way too fast, to the point of frustration.
- THE UGLY: The game isn’t ugly enough. Everything is so pretty it looks like it was just polished with butter.
Pool Nation is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PS3 (PSN). Primary version reviewed was for XBLA.