Review: Pool Nation (PSN)
Title: Pool Nation
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.4 GB)
Release Date: June 24, 2013
Publisher: CherryPop Games
Developer: CherryPop Games
Price: $8.49 ($5.09 for PS+)
ESRB Rating: E
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 325 of the podcast.
I’ve been playing Pool since I can remember. In the bar culture that is Wisconsin, there was always a table available at a friends or at the bar. Here, if you’re with your parent, there is no age limit to be there, and many of these bars were a normal stop on a Sunday morning for breakfast (many of them were also restaurants.) As soon as I got tall enough to actually see over the edge of the table, I picked up a cue and started learning the game, and I still play on a regular basis. Heck, I even used to work for Brunswick!
As soon as I brought the game up on my PS3, I jumped right in without even glancing at the tutorials (partially because I’m a ‘typical gamer’ and partially because instructions are for communists and martians.) Many times, this action can result in my not understanding what’s actually available to me, but not in this case. The controls are not only incredibly easy to pick up and quite intuitive, but with the simple press of the Square button, a quick controls legend pops-up in the lower-right portion of the screen. You have an amazing amount of control over your shot, and it couldn’t have been setup easier to use. Your draw and power are mapped to the right stick, and the left is used for aim, including the option to hold L1 for more finite aiming. You can raise and lower the butt of the cue using R2/L2, and where the tip hits the ball is handled with the d-pad. In so many words, control is fantastic, and at the same time simple.
8-Ball and 9-Ball, the standards, are available from the menu, as are 7 other modes in all. Also, online play is supported, but we’ll get to that farther down. Tours are available for 8 and 9-ball, with both offering hours of gameplay and progression. You’ll go up against a huge number of opponents, all of which you can unlock upon their defeat. Each opponent has specific tendencies and play-types, and a couple in there will downright punish you for missing a shot. For AI opposition, Pool Nation does a great job at not always completely running the table in every match. High risk shots will take their toll on you and your AI opponent, making you feel even more immersed in the action.
The action can take as much time as you want, with the option of hitting X to skip your opponent’s shots on a per-shot basis, or keep your hands off and watch how the game plays out in realtime. I definitely prefer this as opposed to setting game speed in a menu, since I like to view an opponent that I’m having issues defeating to see if I can find any tendencies. Overall though, the action is quick and effortless, and the game is an absolute blast to play. I’ve found myself playing for 3 hours without a hint of thinking that “I’m playing his for too long.” Time kept escaping me as I moved farther and farther along the progression in the single-player tours.
Control over everything, spin, power, even jumping the ball (which actually isn’t allowed in most leagues) are all incredibly easy with the DualShock. CherryPop has done a very admirable job at making the controls as easy as possible, but allowing for as much control as the real game.
Each match in your tour will present you with specific challenges, and every match has up to 3 stars that can be earned. You’ll also notice bonus matches hovering above occasionally, which can be unlocked when you earn 2 or more stars in the match directly below it. The bonus matches will hold challenges such as speed runs through a rack, or a first to 30 match with an AI opponent, and they’ll yield some of the nicer unlocks in the game. Speaking of unlocks, there are quite a few to be found, including decals that apply to the felt, and new cues, some of which are very pretty. You’ll also be able to unlock new locations and variations of each, which adds to the already abundant all-around variety.
Pool Nation is one beautiful game. CherryPop has done an outstanding job in the visuals department here, with incredible detail throughout. Locations are drenched in sunlight during the day, giving everything an over-saturated glow, and at night, detailed lighting accents the intricate details throughout the architecture. On the table, the smallest detail is visible, including true reflections on the ball surfaces and a wonderful texture to the felt. It’s a fantastic visual experience, and it never compromises no matter what’s happening on the screen.
The audio is very well done, with every ball strike and roll sounding exactly as it should. The music is understated but pleasant, and the best part is that Pool Nation has full Custom Soundtrack support. I can’t find any fault with this game in the audio department.
Multiplayer is available on the couch and online, but I was not able to test either. After multiple attempts to connect online, I was never able to find any reviewers on the servers, and with the PSN outage today, I am still not able to do so.
Modes available online are plentiful though, including the ability to play in tournaments in multiple game types. When I am finally able to play online, the experience may change the grade, but we’ll cross that bridge when I can.
In so many words, I love this game! I found myself playing for two or three hours at a crack and not even noticing that time had passed. The elegant controls are at the heart of how fun this game truly is, and the wide variety of game modes and unlockables will bring you back for more and more. Now we just need to convince CherryPop to bring this fantastic game to the Vita!