There have been some excellent pool and snooker games over the years, from Virtual Pool, Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker, Side Pocket and the more recent World Snooker Championship. Yet on XBLA the choice has been a little lacking, so the release of Pool Nation is very much welcome. Is it worth departing with your points for?
Pool Nation does nothing out of the ordinary, it does however play a good game of pool. Physics are solid and the balls act as you would hope. Which in the main is all you can ask for of a game such as this. It has most of the variations of the game on offer beyond just 9-Ball and 8-Ball too.
In single player you have the option to play a tour mode, which is limited to 9 and 8-Ball, but these take you through other forty match-ups in each variation. There is a slight twist to just playing and winning each game too, as well as that each match-up also has a star system, similar to that found on many iOS games. In each game you are given a set of objectives that earn you stars, these range from simply winning a game and potting a certain number of balls in a row, to playing jump shots or getting a points target. It adds a little extra to the basic monotony of play and win.
Also, rather than just having a straight up pot to win, the game encourages you to try fancy shots, by rewarding you with skill points. Take an easy simple pot and you will still get points, but take a more difficult shot, such as a swerve, jump or combo and you will earn more points. On the whole there is no real value to the points you earn, but they are required to earn stars on many of the matches you’ll play. Your top shot is also registered on leaderboards, so for those who like to out do friends, the incentive is there to add some flare to your game.
Outside of tour mode there is versus, which allows you to play against the AI, or local multiplayer. Here you can change up the game type too, adding 3-Ball, Straight, Rotation, Golf, Speed and Killer games to the mix. It does add to the experience too and offer up a nice change of pace to the standard pool options.
The stand-out mode in Pool Nation though is endurance. Here you basically have to just keep potting balls and stay on the table as long as possible. Starting with nine balls on the table, new ones are added every few seconds and the game ends once there are twenty four on the table. There is no time limit as such, but achievements can be earned for lasting past certain time landmarks. It is fast paced and will really test your nerve, especially when you hear the alarm stating that it may soon be game over. It is easy to find yourself spending hours in Endurance alone, as you try to beat your best time.
Online has options of ranked and unranked games allowing you to play most of the game types from versus, with the exception of golf and speed. There is also a tournament mode to play online too, which offers up 9-Ball and 8-Ball variations, with the objective here to basically win three games in a row of your chosen game type. The online play is fairly solid and feels no different to the single player in terms of physics and speed, with the game mostly unaffected by lag and connection issues.
The controls are fairly well done, with the left stick used to aim the ball, then various options to change the spin, angle of the cue, fine tune the shot and the angle you are looking from. A nice touch here is the ability to lock your the power of your shot, pull back on the right stick to get your desired power, then tap the right should button to lock the power, allowing you to then finish aiming your shot properly, before pushing the right stick forward to take the shot. These options are yours to use as you please, but in certain modes the aiming aids, can be switched on and off, depending on what challenge you want from the game.
There is no official licence here, so don’t expect to see the stars from the pool world anywhere near the game, instead you face off against fantasy characters, each with a little mini bio about their background and skill-set. The presentation too is fine, with games taking place in various locations rather than being stuck to official venues, this seemingly gave the design team a lot of freedom, so expect to see lots of colourful locations.
Overall, Pool Nation does nothing new for the genre, but it does play a good game of pool, that is easily accessible from your XBLA library. It is worth having for the Endurance mode alone, if you are a fan of pool, then this is a must own title and at 800 Microsoft Points, it is a bargain.