|System: Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SouthPeak Interactive||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SouthPeak Interactive||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 5, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Much like the physics of the real-life game itself, playing virtual pool on a video game console tends to be a hit-or-miss experience. Those who enjoy billiards and have developed any measure of skill with a pool cue will understand: nailing the same gameplay in a virtual setting is a tough feat. Making a successful pool game on the Nintendo Wii is doubly hard since players will expect a certain level of innovation from the system's controls to make it closer to the real thing. Though it's not a horrible effort, Pool Party just doesn't live up to expectations.
Let's start from the top. The almost comical cover art of the game depicts four high school age kids (two guys and two gals) standing with pool cues around a billiards table. The two girls are smiling giddily, while one of the guys stands in the back with a cocky, smug look on his face. They're watching another young lad who's about to take a shot - this guy is obviously trying to look badass in front of the ladies. This may be a typical scene at a high school pool party, but it doesn't really work with the rest of the vibe in the game. It's unfair to judge a game by its cover, but the funny thing about Pool Party is all of the characters in the actual game itself are clearly much older. They look like the types you'd see in a seedy bar trying to pick someone up rather than kids sipping soda pop while playing pool in their parent's basement.
The idea of using the Wii remote's motion sensing capabilities for a pool game conjures up mental images of a wide range of interesting ways controls could be implemented. Instead of simplifying controls to make them fun and intuitive, the developers opted to cram in a lot of options for players to tweak and fine-tune ball controls at the expense of overall ease-of-use. It's hard to quickly dive right into Pool Party, thanks to the steep learning curve created by its awkward controls. There are three available control variations using the Wii remote and the Nunchuk to choose from, but none of them are particularly satisfying or realistic. The Nunchuk is primarily used to navigate the huge number of possible camera angles, though only a few of them are actually useful in most cases. When you aim each shot you can make fine adjustments to how much power it has, what vertical angle to hit the ball at, and how much spin to give it. Actually making the shot simply involves holding a button and jerking the Wii remote forward or backward. The force of this motion has no bearing on how hard you hit the ball. It could just as easily been delegated to a single button push.
Once you get over the hurdle posed by the unnecessarily complicated control-scheme, the game is mildly enjoyable in short bursts. Over a dozen different play modes including snooker, time attack, 8 ball, rotation pool, blackjack, and killer offer a good variety to keep players occupied. Every time you win a game a new item is unlocked, and this gives some small incentive to continue playing game after game. You can unlock new balls, cues, characters, locations, pool tables and even background music. Players will find themselves racking it up anywhere from posh pads to dives, and even the back room of what appears to be a sketchy warehouse. The rewards for your effort are meager. They mainly serve to make adjustments to the visual style of the game in order to break up the monotony of poking a ball with stick. This becomes necessary after a short time with the game. The graphics are crisp and the backgrounds are somewhat interesting, yet there's only so long one can stare at a pool table without getting slightly bored.
In single-player games, staring at the pool table is something you'll be doing plenty of while waiting for your computer opponent to take their turn. This can take anywhere from 15 seconds to several minutes or longer, depending on how irritating the computer A.I. feels like being at the time. The pool-playing ability of the computer A.I. seems to fluctuate randomly. During some games, the computer takes over the table at the first opportunity, easily sinking a long series of elaborate jaw-dropping trick shots. At other times, it seems it can't sink the ball in a pocket no matter how hard it tries. In either case, the computer often takes its sweet time to decide how to take every shot, leaving you watching a small percentage meter that indicates when a decision is to be made. It's like watching grass grow. The repetitive music tracks do little to dull the boredom. At best, the audio inspires one to douse their ears with lighter fluid and strike a match.
In small doses, Pool Party is capable of providing some entertainment, but marathon single-player sessions just seem pointless. Playing against another human opponent is the better way to go, and it extends the playability significantly. If you don't have a pool table and are dying for a quick fix, then Pool Party is worth checking out. In the end, however, you're probably better off kicking back a pint and racking it up at the local watering hole.
CCC Freelance Writer