Also On: XBLA
Publisher: CherryPop Games
Developer: CherryPop Games
I'm horrendously bad at pool. There's not a single aspect of the game in which I can even feign competence. When I sink a ball, it's cause for wild celebration on my part. And that usually goes for video game billiards as well, regardless of the system. I'm not sure what my problem with the sport is, but I do know that if I'm expected to push a ball into a hole with a stick, I'm going to suck on a massive scale.
Somewhat miraculously, Pool Nation is the one exception to this rule. I'm far from great at the game — I still don't have a clue what I'm doing when it comes to trick shots, which means I don't have a chance against some of the tougher AI players (of which there are many) — but it's the first time in my life I've ever played pool in any form and not totally embarrassed myself. That, by itself, is a pretty impressive achievement.
Shockingly, at least to me, an avowed pool-hater whose dislike of the game is no doubt caused by his ineptitude, easy-to-use controls aren't all the game has going for it. It looks and sounds…well, cool, for lack of a better, more specific descriptor. The music is all downtempo and suave-sounding, while the graphics wrap the whole thing up in an icy (in a good way), neon-drenched (also in a good way) package. Even if real-life pool is generally confined to dingy bars and sketchy halls, Pool Nation makes it seem like the most glamorous thing imaginable.
There is, of course, a "but…" to all this — and here it is: as fantastic as the game looks, sounds and plays, it gets awfully repetitive awfully quickly. While I was initially ecstatic at being able to play a game of pool somewhat competently, it didn't take long before that gave way to boredom. And I say this as a sports gamer who loves to play games on their easiest settings — in other words, as someone who usually doesn't mind a bit of repetition.
Of course, there's a key difference between a game of football in Madden or a game of baseball in The Show, and a game of pool in Pool Nation: those games last a lot longer and have much more varied outcomes than you'll ever get out of a game in Pool Nation. Even as the game boasts the presence of nine different modes, with the exception of the endurance challenge (where more and more balls keep getting placed around the table) they all feel almost exactly the same, and pretty much every match is over in a matter of minutes.
I don't want to get too down on the game, though. In small bursts it's a lot of fun, and the multiplayer adds another level of enjoyment too (but, I should add, I can only speak for local multiplayer, as I couldn't find anyone online the few times I checked). Unless you're a pool devotee that's been waiting for a chance to play the game on your PS3 or 360, you'll probably only find Pool Nation to be a light trifle of a game, fun for a couple of games here and there — but sometimes, that's really all you want.