Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Midnight Pool Review

I'm not a "good" pool player, but I really enjoy playing the game with friends and occasionally with strangers, as long as they don't totally whip my ass. That being said, I've always enjoyed virtual pool games as well because they allow me to play the game without scrounging for quarters or blowing more money than usual on drinks.

I can imagine it must be really difficult to get pool to "feel" right in a video game. The atmosphere of a seedy bar or a
neon-lit nightclub is easy enough to duplicate, and getting the geometry and physics of the table game into a virtual world can't be all that hard, even though many past attempts have been sorely disappointing. In particular, the Billiards game on the DS's Clubhouse Games was a huge letdown. What better system to have a great pool sim on than one you play with a different kind of stick?

Despite the DS's shortcomings, the Wii seems to have gotten it mostly right with Gameloft's
Midnight Pool for WiiWare, and this 800 WiiPoint package has a lot of bang for its buck.

The most important element of any pool game is of course the actual gameplay. Midnight Pool delivers in this department. You only need the Wiimote to play this game. All of the menus are simple and utilize the Wiimote's IR capability. The in-game control is the most notable part of this game, as Gameloft has done a great job in getting the feel of a pool cue. It's not a 1:1 ratio, but how hard, soft, quickly, or slowly you thrust the Wiimote translates excellently into how your character strikes the cue ball. You're able to aim either using a click-and-drag ability or by scrolling around the table using the D Pad. You click the B button to switch in and out of shooting mode, preventing any accidental touches. Furthermore, you can change seamlessly between two camera angles (one close to the action, the other an overhead view) using the 2 button and make adjustments to your strike location and angle of approach using the 1 button, allowing you to put some wicked spins on the ball. If only I could apply enough backspin to pocket balls at opposite corners in real life, I'd hold down a table for a whole lot longer. All of these elements add up to the most realistic pool experience on the Wii, even better than Nintendo's own offering on the Wii Play compilation.

The only problems I've had with t
he control scheme are that you MUST be pointing the Wiimote at the screen to strike the ball, otherwise nothing happens. I've poked my Wiimote forward many times with no results, making me feel like an idiot as I make sure I'm lined up with the TV. Also, I've found that to get a better feel for the power of your stroke, you need to click into striking mode with the B button while the Wiimote is closer to the screen, then draw back and thrust forward with your chosen speed and power. If I started the motion with my hand further from the TV, I noticed that sometimes upon thrusting forward, nothing would happen, so I clicked out of striking mode and started again with the Wiimote nearer to the target.
Besides these two gripe
s, which are probably more due to my own stupidity than to programming miscues, the game controls very well and has a great overall feel to it.

Graphically, the game looks good for a WiiWare significant damage it does to the block total (I'm down to 17 now...where's the solution Nintendo?). The environments all have that neon glow you associate with the inside of a bar, club, or pool hall, and there are quite a few different locations to play in, although you're really not paying much attention to your surroundings in this game. The tables are all basically the same, save for color variants depending on the venue. The characters don't look quite as good as the spaces they inhabit, but they are pleasantly silly and stereotypical, complete with some appropriately bad one-liners and voice acting. One character, who is a cop, informed me th title, and one should hope so considering theat I was under arrest for being a loser after he came from behind to whip my ass.

The game has three basic modes: Arcade mode, Story mode, and Multiplayer. Arcade mode and multiplayer both allow you to choose between US 8-Ball, UK 8-Ball, and 9-Ball games, and this variety is a nice touch that adds significant depth to the experience. Multiplayer mode is a very enjoyable experience, though with increased difficulty, the AI provides a bit of a challenge in Arcade and Story modes. As always in pool though, your worst enemy is yourself. Story mode doesn't have so much of a story to speak of, but it allows you to choose a character who hops around the US playing other characters for significant chunks of change. You can bet on every game and you get additional monies for winning and also performing feats such as streaks, combo shots, or bank shots. Also, after every win, you're given the chance to win extra money with no penalty for failure by completing characters' special trick shots. These trick shots also have a mode of their own, adding even more legs to this package.

Overall, Midnight Pool is well worth the 800 WiiPoints as a casual, pick up and play title, a perfect fit with Nintendo's new philosophy. It's many modes and difficulties and the multiplayer experience will keep gamers coming back for more. If you play more than 8 rounds of pool, you've gotten your money's worth in games at the nearest bar. And it's a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a pool table. The virtual experience will, of course, never measure up to the real one, but this is about as close as we've far.

7/10 DreadPoints

Thanks to WiiWare World (part of a nifty family of Nintendo sites called Cuttlefish Media, including Virtual Console Reviews and Nintendo Life) for the images.