The last time a Nintendo DS pool game came across our desk it was a painful and ridiculous experience. Recently another pool game released, this time developed by Gravity-I. Power Play Pool
is a better and more fun version of pool in nearly every respect, but it still has the problem of not actually depicting the sport very well.
Instead of trying to be a hip "underground" pool game, Power Play Pool goes for the more legitimate league and tournament angle. It stars 16 fictional professional pool players from around the world. We would complain about how hideous a lot of these people look, but after seeing professional pool on TV it becomes apparent that these dorky looking avatars are actually completely accurate.
It doesn't really matter since all we get to see of our arguably deformed opponent is their head when their turn comes up. There are no 3D models or even sprites of people around the pool table. The matches are played in rather small rooms, completely alone. People actually like to watch pool though. They watch people play poker after all, and by comparison pool is way more exciting. So it's a little weird that a tournament championship is played with no witnesses.
There are multiple ways to play the game. Quick Play, League and Tournament offer the player different lengths and difficulty. From within each mode the player can also choose between four different types of pool: US Eight Ball, UK Eight Ball, US Nine Ball, and Snooker (which gets renamed Killer Pool). Maybe the developers thought that Americans wouldn't know what Snooker is.
The environment differences usually consist of a felt color change.
Power Play Pool is presented on both screens. The top screen shoes a first-person view of the table. The camera is locked onto the cue ball so all movement and rotation is in relation to it. On the bottom screen is an overhead view of the table, along with the different settings for the player's shot. Using the stylus, players can rotate their cue and alter the power and spin of their shot.
The touch screen controls are a little sensitive and it makes it hard to line up the perfect shot. Players can also use the D-pad and buttons to perform all the tasks the touch screen does, and it actually ends up being less hassle overall.
The actual gameplay really pulls the game away from the realistic pool simulation the developers were going for. While the physics engine doesn't seem to be very realistic, it does err on the forgiving side. Players will sometimes sink shots that really shouldn't quite have made it. Of course this also means the computer player sinks somewhat improbable shots too. But in a game where people are supposed to be professionals, it's not a huge fault to give everyone a bit of a magic touch.
The game does have the classic intangible balls that allow the cue to pass through them. Literally, the graphic shows the stick poking completely through a ball sometimes. Impossible shots become completely doable because the only physical object seems to be the cue ball. Part of the fun of pool is the wicked glee that comes with screwing the opponent over by getting the ball to rest flush against the eight ball or the side of the table. It's something that turns the title from being an actual pool game to a simple geometry/physics program. It's not that this game isn't fun, but it certainly doesn't feel anything like actually playing pool.
Since nobody that actually has friends would really want to play pool by themselves, multiplayer becomes a huge part of the game, and Power Play Pool has three different types: Hot Seat, multicard, and download play.
The Hot Seat mode is obvious enough. Players take turns, and pas the DS back and forth to each other. Not the most exciting way to play, but in all honestly we usually turn our back to grab our beer when playing real pool, so it's not that different. Plus, the pace of the game remains pretty much unchanged since the computer player takes an excessively long time to figure out and take a shot.
The download play is where the game really shines. The download and transfer takes a solid two minutes to do, but the effect is a fully playable version of the game, complete with single player and multiplayer Quick Play. Besides the sound not syncing up, the multiplayer runs flawlessly, and since the game is downloaded the second player can keep playing even after the owner has turned their DS off. The only problem might be that it really makes buying multiple copies of the game unnecessary, because the league and tournament modes are really pretty superfluous.
We can safely say that Power Play Pool is the best pool game for the Nintendo DS. But considering that the only other pool game is awful doesn't make the accomplishment of much note. It's not a pretty game, there is no motivation to go through the leagues or tournaments, and the mechanics are too simple to offer much of a real challenge, but Power Play Pool does have a nice variety of gameplay modes, and a really decent multiplayer mode. In the end, unless the player is underage and has a desperate desire to play billiards on the bus, it's more advisable to spend the money on a couple of rounds of real pool, and a beer.