Pool Nation was a bit of a surprise to say the least, both in its release and its appeal. As much as I love pool, I never expected it to translate so well into video game form. We’ve all played our fair share of computer billiards games, but Pool Nation is definitely at the top of its game, both in looks and execution. Sadly, some overlooked mechanics keep Pool Nation from being a great billiards game, making it just a good one.
From the start, you will notice that Pool Nation is probably the best looking billiards game to date. The 3D visuals during gameplay are great and make the matches very enjoyable, and the rooms in which matches are played are set to colorful lights, creating different moods. While a bit over the top in design, the pool halls are nicely created, with a fun atmosphere about them…not that you will be seeing much of them during the game, as you will mostly be staring at the table, working on your shots.
If you aren’t familiar with how to play, Pool Nation allows you to look at the rules for each type of game, from the standard nine ball and eight ball, to the more obscure games like Gold, Endurance, and Rotation. Though hands off, the rules are easy to remember and to follow. However, there is a tutorial that goes over the simpler and finer points of pool, from a simple straight shot and learning how to aim correctly, to banking shots, where you hit balls off the sides. You can take the tutorial even farther and learn how to put spin on your ball, do combos, jump the cue ball, and much more.
The problem with Pool Nation’s tutorial (and the rest of the game itself) is the lack of camera control when setting up a shot. Aside from the very helpful overhead view, the camera is out of your control, making it very difficult to discern the path your ball could take when attempting some of the more tricky shots, such as a jack knife or curving. Pool Nation‘s tutorial is also very picky about when it wants to tell you you’re aiming correctly or have the right amount of power built up in your shot. The large green check mark to tell you you’re doing things correctly appears at times, but there are instances where it will not show up, leaving you to guess, which will most likely lead to a foul or missed shot. There is very little margin for error, and in tutorials, that can just get frustrating. This will make perfecting your game and strategy longer and more difficult than it should be.
The mishaps with the aiming and the amount of power stem from Pool Nation‘s controls. The left stick is used to aim, and the right is used to gain or lose power. The control sticks themselves for this game are not as spot-on as they need to be and can make for several minutes of trying to line things up. With these problems, especially the lack of camera control, you will probably find yourself almost exclusively using the top-down view. The other problem with the controls is that they are not customizable. If you are uncomfortable with the controls, then you better find a way to adjust yourself because you aren’t going to be able to fix it by moving the controls around. Again, this is something that will make mastering your play style that much harder.
Outside Pool Nation‘s tutorial, the gameplay is solid, aside from camera restrictions that are still prevalent. The matches flow just like they would in real life, but you get the added benefit of seeing where your cue ball will go when you hit it, and where the first ball it hits will go. Setting up shots can be easily pulled off if the lack of camera control doesn’t impede you (which it will at times), and executing trick shots is very rewarding. After playing for a while, you’ll find your way around the camera flaw, but it still makes the road to perfecting your game that much longer of a drive. It would also have been nice to see the path your shots will take when hitting one of the balls into another for a combo shot, but that was apparently too much to ask for, as you can only see the path of the first ball you hit.
Cherry Pop Games created a solid pool game in Pool Nation. The gameplay, the looks, and feel of the game are the best you will find. The online is as simple and easy as it should be; you can play a quick match, or you create your own and pick exactly what rules will be in effect. The funky fresh beats of 70s- and 80s-style techno compliment the billiards scene, while only a bit cheesy. The unlockables made available after completing specific objectives, such as sticks, venues, other characters, and more, will ensure that people who are enjoying the game will keep playing for a while. Sadly, the camera restrictions and lack of control customization, while not very much as far as the number of problems, do a lot to bring the gameplay down. They play a good match, but Cherry Pop Games gets a scratch every now and again (pun!).