[reviewbox img="http://www.darkstation.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Pool-Nation-Featured-Image.jpg" genre="Sports" publisher="Mastertronic" developer="Cherry Pop Games" releasedate="10/31/2012" esrb="E"] Overview
Whenever I think of pool, I am reminded of two things. The first is Scorsese's uncredited opening voice over in The Color of Money, where he says “... luck plays a part in nine-ball. But for some, luck itself is an art.” The second is that, clearly, I am not part of that latter group. Pool Nation reaffirmed that fact for me constantly, ruthlessly even. In fact, I learned pretty quickly that I should just stay away from nine-ball... completely.
From the very first tutorial, it's pretty clear that Pool Nation isn't fooling around. Split into three sections (Basic, Advanced, and People actually do this?), this small intro into the world of pool teaches the basics of spin and shot, all with brief demo videos of someone performing whatever they are asking you to do for reference. Before the tutorial, my understanding of pool amounted to straight lines and bank shots, now, I understand spin and cue placement, though to say I know how to implement it would be an outright lie.
Leaving the comfy confines of the coddling classroom, the single player offerings include two tours, one nine-ball and one eight-ball, each made up of 4 ladders of 12 players each. Difficulty increases gradually, by the 4th person in the first ladder of nine-ball I was outclassed, though I am happy to say that my trip through the eight-ball circuit lasted until the second ladder. It was there that one mistake was met by a torrent of ball sinkage, each and every time it happened. And it happened every time.
Single player also offers a versus mode and an endurance mode. Versus is one vs. AI at both eight-ball and nine-ball as well as some of the bonus games, like a Killer (each player gets three lives and takes turns attempting to sink a ball each turn. If you miss you lose a life. Game keeps going till one player loses all his lives.) and Rotation (number on ball equals it's point value, first player to 61 wins).
Unlike the other modes, Endurance put you up against the clock and an ever increasing ball count. Sinking balls builds a time stop power, and the challenge is simply to keep 25 balls from accumulating on the table at once.
Pool Nation also boasts an online mode, allowing for 1 on 1 games or player made tournaments. It was impossible to find a game during non peak hours though, and a look at the leader boards showed only about 7K+ people having played online.
This is not your grubby pool hall game. In fact, there isn't even a pool hall level, with each game in Pool Nation taking place in a ultra swanky, Las Vegas-esque hotel. Everything is smooth, clean... and completely empty. Not even competitive pool is this clean.
Another odd thing is the lack of any kind of audience. Every match starts with an overview of the lobby area where the single, pristine pool table is, and it is completely devoid of anyone. I don't necessarily need an audience to watch me lose, but I did find it a bit jarring to see a supposed tour full of made up pool stars lacking onlookers.
Do you like pocket billiards? If the answer is yes, then Pool Nation is a blast! It's a sports game, so really the fun of it comes down to whether or not you enjoy both playing and/or getting beat at pool. The additional game modes, are enjoyable, and endurance works really well for someone looking to challenge themselves once their AI competition has been silenced.
Playing the game feels fantastic, even when opponents are rolling over you (read: me). The table plays as physics would dictate, and with shot assist on, there's really no doubt on where the cue ball or the target ball are going to end up. There's no mystery to the straight shot, though I have learned the real skill isn't making the shot you want, it's putting the cue ball where it will do the most good after the shot.
The biggest knock against “fun” in Pool Nation, is the lack of online competition in non peak hours. Three times I waited in queue for an online game for longer then 20 minutes with no one showing up. As good as the AI were, there is a human element that belongs in sports that is really missing when the online element that's meant to provide that is as empty as the faux hotel you're playing in. I certainly didn't expect to beat anyone online, but the utter lack of a community at all was pretty shocking.
Sports games can be hit or miss. On the execution side, Pool Nation is all hit. I absolutely feel that there is no more accurate representation of the game of pool, and was really impressed with all the extra features Cherry Pop Games added to the overall product. Community online play misses the mark, but there's not much to be done when there's rarely anyone to play against.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!