I have played quite a few pool games for the PC, Xbox, and other consoles. If there’s one thing that plagues most of these games, it’s finding a way to easily control a pool cue with a controller/mouse and keyboard. It’s not an easy task. How does Vegas Pool Sharks do considering the daunting uphill climb to an accurate and fun pool video game? (note: The “50% off” icon is the only one I could find for this game! If you have an original one, let me know!)
There are plenty of pool games for the iPhone, ranging from brutally bad, to way too simple, to surprisingly good. Vegas Pool Sharks doesn’t really fit into any of these categories. It’s certainly not the worst pool game out there, but it’s without a question not close to being the best.
Pool Sharks offers 4 different modes of play: Straight Pool, 8 Ball, 9 Ball, and pratice mode. Straight pool is simple enough, and simply requires you to down 8 balls before your opponent does. 8 ball is supposed to be the classic game, but it leaves out quite a few very important rules. For starters, you don’t lose if you scratch on the 8 ball. You’re not required to call the pocket before sinking the 8 ball either. There’s also not an option to switch between playing “slop” and regular play, which would have been nice, but isn’t vital.
As far as ball-in-hand moments, I have know idea if this feature was just designed poorly, or if it’s just broken. You’re supposed to be able to place the ball anywhere on the table in 9 ball, and it’s limited in 8 ball. However, it appears there are only 2-3 places the game will allow you to drop the ball. This was extremely frustrating and confusing, as the ball pretty much drops wherever it wants, despite you trying to drag/touch where you want it to go.
9 ball is probably the best official mode of play, since there aren’t as many rules that can be broken. As with the previous modes, when it comes to your turn, the game chooses what the best shot is, and points your cue in that direction. This is a nice touch, and works well 95% of the time. You can then further adjust your shot to get it just right. That leads to me to the controls…
Vegas Pool Sharks is saved by the simple fact that it offers you two different ways to control the game. Touch control is frustrating to say the least. You touch and drag left, right, up, or down to move your cue. This is generally difficult because the game is extremely choppy as you do it. You pull back the cue and let go to shoot. Unfortunately, there are several times where I was moving the cue, let go to re-position it, and then the shot was made accidentally. Not fun. The only nice thing about this feature is the ability to set your spin on the ball.
Luckily, there is an alternate method of controlling using on-screen buttons. You have arrows to move your cue left or right, and buttons to center the view either at cue level, or more above the table. You can even use arrows to cycle through the balls by number to aim at them. This is nice considering the game doesn’t have a view mode to show what exactly the ball numbers are. You press and hold a button to bring back the cue, and let go to release the shot. This mode seriously saves this game, and I highly recommend using it.
The pool physics in Vegas Pool are actually really good. The momentum and collision are pretty realistic. I never had a shot reaction that seemed fake or exaggerated. This is one of the most important parts of a pool game, so it’s good that Chillingo pulled it off. It should be mentioned as well that’s there’s not a career mode in this game. When you play against one of the four characters, you place a bet with a value that corresponds to the difficulty of the character. However, there is no pot of money, or anything to tell you how much you have lost or have gained overall. After each game, it shows you if you’ve gained or lost the money for the last 5 games, and that’s it.
One of the biggest downers of Vegas Pool is the visuals. They simply aren’t up to par with other more polished iPhone games out there. Background textures are extremely blocky, and the pool table and balls aren’t much better. As I mentioned before, when moving the pool cue, or zooming in or out, it’s really choppy. Had higher res textures been used, and the movements been smoothed out, this would have been a great looking game considering the graphics engine isn’t bad. Unfortunately, it appears that not much love was given when porting this over from the original cell phone versions.
The sound is also nothing to get excited about. The sound effects are realistic, and good quality. Unfortunately, the sound made when one ball hits another is inconsistent. It’s maybe 50% of the time, which is kinda dopey. There is only one sound for hitting a ball, and one for pocketing a ball. No background music or anything.
Vegas Pool comes with very few options aside from game modes. You can choose 4 different AI characters, ranging from really easy, to impossibly hard. There is an option to turn off the little picture of the person that shows up on the screen, which is nice for those that are a bit freaked out by them. Other than that, there’s not much else. I would have really liked to see options for the style of pool table, different locations, etc.
Presentation & Graphics:
Not very good. Would have been nice to see an actual upgrade in the iPhone version compared to other platforms. Blocky backgrounds, and just overall very low-res textures. Quite a bit of lag when changing views and moving the pool cue with touch controls. Where’s the over-the-table view, by the way? This game looks very outdated.
Very few sounds effects. Ball effects aren’t accurate. No background music.
Bad touch controls are saved by on-screen controls that actually work pretty well. Game physics are pretty accurate. Quite a few standard rules and options have been left out. The first 3 difficulties are fun, but hardest level is near impossible.
There are three challenge modes of play. Two of those modes have vital game rules missing. The practice mode is good to get used to the game, and that’s about it. The game offers both easy and challenging AI which is nice, but there’s not way to really track your progress. Where’s the career mode?
Vegas Pool Sharks is a game that really could have excelled had some time been spent to bring it up to the level of other more polished iPhone games out there. Unfortunately, with lackluster visuals, and a lack of attention to some basic pool rules, it falls short. Despite that, with some forgiving mid-level AI and great physics, there’s definitely some fun to be had; so long as you stay far away from the touch-and-drag controls! Vegas pool either needs a hefty upgrade, or a drop in price for it to be worth a look from any serious pool gamers out there.