A debut title from new UK studio Cherry Pop, Pool Nation is an interesting choice of product to deliver as your as a first impression. While a virtualisation of pool may not strike everybody as a ‘must have’ title in the same way as a new first-person shooter (FPS) or a grand high-fantasy role-playing game (RPG), the competition for the genre has softened considerably on the current-generation of consoles due to the huge steps made in these industry leading genres. As such, there’s plenty of room for developments to innovate with pool adaptations with the power of current-generations systems.
From the very start Pool Nation appears to have all of its bases covered. Offering single-player and multiplayer matches (both on- and offline), Pool Nation compliments these basics with the intriguing Endurance mode. Tasking players with the objective of removing balls from play in rapid succession as new balls are continuously added to the table, each ball pocketed adds to your Drop Stop meter. The meter will offer the Drop Stop ability when full, preventing new balls from being added for a short time. However, it’s not simply a case of potting fast as accuracy will add to the Shot Pot multiplier, boosting your score considerably. This series of rules creates a tense atmosphere where players must be aware of everything happening on the table at all times, being decisive and swift with every single shot.
The core single-player mode is a dual campaign system each offering a series of tournaments. The player collects stars as they progress through the tournaments, with a certain number of stars required to unlock more difficult ones. It’s a simple and familiar system, but that’s not to say it’s not an enjoyable one, proving the player with a well balanced difficulty curve beginning with easy win and building to players capable of out-tricking a newcomer with ever shot.
The multiplayer gameplay options (and one-off matches against AI for the single-player) offer eight varied rulesets, including the commonly known Killer and 3 Ball game types. Both tournament and individual matches can be played online, in Ranked and Player Match varieties. It’s a simple system perfectly suited to the game upon which it’s based: quick to start and equal in skill as it is luck.
The control system is undoubtedly the most inspired part of Pool Nation, proving that analogue control is far more adaptable to almost any interpretation of real life actions once again, providing the development team are appropriately in tune with their source material of course. The left analogue stick is used to aim with fine adjustments able to be made whilst locking the cue position with the left shoulder button. The right analogue stick controls the power of the shot and can also be locked is the player so wishes, using the right shoulder button. The D-Pad controls the position on the ball that the cue makes contact and the left and right triggers control the height and angle of the cue. Throughout all of this a short pair of arms will be present on the table indicating the directions both the cue ball and the first ball it will make contact with will travel, but not where either will end up nor the resulting effect on other balls they may collide with.
The visual quality of Pool Nation is faultless, with a variety of backdrops that don’t pull focus from the table and a series of views that allow for the perfect angle on any shot. The choice of names for the AI players deserves a particular mention, with homage’s paid to many modern cultural phenomena (such as The Simpsons) and the soundtrack is elegantly abstract while, again, not striking a particular chord in favour of the table action.
While Pool Nation isn’t about to become the biggest name in videogames, it does enough to secure its position as the best virtual pool videogame of the moment. There’s plenty of content, a well nourished multiplayer component and that incredibly well presented control system deliver a package that is undoubtedly more remarkable than you may believe any pool videogame has the right to be. As a debut title from Cherry Pop, Electronic Theatre can only hope that Pool Nation is a success so that we may see the developer try their hand at something a little more unique next time around.