When I was younger, I played a game called Arcade Pool 2. For years, I played this game whenever I didn’t have anything better to do, because it was easy to pick up and play. It had the mechanics nailed, looked decent enough for a game of the time, and was, most importantly, fun. Despite it coming out in 1999, I still haven’t found a pool game that comes close to giving me the same level of enjoyment. However, that was before I saw Cherry Pop Games’ take on the sport – a game named Pool Nation.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this game. It is extremely beautiful. Admittedly, I’d expect it to be an upgrade on a game from the previous century, but it is absolutely phenomenal. The table, as well as each of the balls, look phenomenal. They genuinely look as though you are watching pool on the telly, and have a gorgeous shine to them. It isn’t just the detail on the table either, there’s some fantastic settings to play pool in. Each one makes me think I’m playing in a billionaires recreation room, or a very expensive tournament hall. Playing pool in these settings would be a dream for most, and fortunately for us, Cherry Pop Games have given us access.
Just like Arcade Pool 2, Pool Nation is fun. A whole lot of fun, and it keeps me interested in every frame. Each match in the career mode has three objectives to hit. These can vary from just winning the match, to having a 3-ball streak with a trick shot. This is what makes the game a real challenge as you progress through it, as you’ll frequently need to replay matches to hit every target. There are bonus rounds every now and then which require you to hit two or three of the targets, so keeping on top of it is tricky, but great fun.
I have to pay tribute to the quality of gameplay in this game. Sure, it may just be a pool game, but it’s so hard to get it right. There’s been tonnes of shit top-down flash games that have provided an adequate experience, but only for short periods. Pool Nation gets it spot on. They’ve nailed the physics, first off. Even adding in the ball flying off the table if you smash it too hard. Lining up the perfect donkey’s leg to pot a ball is immensely satisfying when it comes up, but that’s not all. There are a whole bunch of small things, but are amazing to have. There’s an option which, now I think about it, seems tiny, but really does make the game play better, and that’s the option to skip your opponent’s shot. Yeah, it can be a bit cheesy to do it, but when you’re getting hammered and want the match over with, it’s an essential tool. There’s also a rather nifty slow-mo cam when a ball is about to go in. It doesn’t go off too frequently to be annoying, but when it does, you know you’ve made a great shot.
I did find some things let Pool Nation down though. The most notable one was the music in the game. In a pool game, you’d not want the music to be too distracting. You would, however, want it to be suitable to the sport, which Cherry Pop Games have certainly not managed with what they offer. There are only a handful of different songs, but only one or two of these actually fit the game. The rest are some classical piano pieces. They’re very nice and relaxing to listen to, but nodding off while you’re about to sink the black is not a great plan.
I also found fault with the menus. Only a minor issue, but they’re the ugliest part of the game, and often don’t update quite correctly as you move your mouse around them. It’s a shame for the menus to let the game down – and they’re not absurdly ugly, but there is a noticeable difference between the quality of the menus and the quality of the rest of the game. They don’t sound particularly nice either, so it’s a bit disappointing to have such crappy menus in such an otherwise polished game.
I really enjoy this game. It’s very addictive and remains a challenge throughout, so you’ll get your money’s worth out of it. If they manage to polish some of the flaws, then they’ll have a top game on their books. I mean, it is already a very good game, and with a snooker DLC on the way, it will only get better. I reckon I’ve found my latest addiction in Pool Nation, and it’s definitely making me want to sharpen my actual pool skills!