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Full House Poker - Review

One of the most exciting benefits of Xbox Live games on Windows Phone 7 is the possibility of connectivity. Crackdown: Project Sunburst unlocks a few bonus features in Crackdown 2 on Xbox 360, but that’s only the tip of the ice berg. Full House Poker, developed by Krome Studios and published by Microsoft, integrates more fully with its Xbox 360 counterpart than any game yet.

Full House Poker is a Texas hold ‘em poker simulator. Poker is very well-suited to mobile game play as you can play a hand in no time at all. Full House Poker’s affordable price and the fact that practically everybody loves poker means the game was bound to sell well on Windows Phone 7 no matter what. Thankfully the developers went the full mile and made not just a mobile poker game but a top-notch one as well.

Head past the break for our full house review.

Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em

Full House Poker on Windows Phone 7 allows a single player to compete against 2-5 computer opponents at once in a game of Texas hold ‘em. Here’s how hold ‘em works, according to Wikipedia:

The game consists of two cards being dealt face down to each player and then five community cards being placed face-up by the dealer—a series of three ("the flop") then two additional single cards ("the turn" and "the river"), with players having the option to check, bet, raise or fold after each deal, i.e. betting may occur prior to the flop, "on the flop", "on the turn", and "on the river".

Texas hold em’s rules are really quite simple, and the game has plenty of tutorial texts to help new players along.

Controls

Depending on how you feel about your hand, you can Call (stay in), Raise the bet, go All-In (bet everything), or Fold (withdraw from the hand, losing any money you’ve put in).  In this version, Calling and going All-In have their own buttons. Dragging one’s cards to the center of the table will fold the hand. A slider is used to set the Raise amount.  Buttons for raising would have worked just as well, but adjusting the slider adds a little spice to the game play. Also, tapping on an opponent displays his or her 3 measurements. And by that, I mean name, title, and stats.

Game Types

The mobile version of Full House Poker has three game types: Standard, Tournament, and Pro Takedowns. All game can be saved at any time and resumed later.

Standard games can have 2, 4, or 6 players. These games go on forever or until the player chooses to stop playing. It’s a good way to play a few quick hands without committing to the longer time investment of the other modes.

Tournaments are higher-stakes games. They can be set up with the same number of players as standard games - I recommend 2 players if you’re just trying to win. Tournaments don’t use the player’s own money. A nonrefundable buy-in fee gets you into the game. Winning awards the player a fixed amount of money and XP, whereas the only thing you part with after losing is the buy-in fee.

Pro Takedowns are a series of 9 one-on-one boss tournaments. They cost a lot to enter and are locked to certain experience levels, so new players can’t access each boss right off the bat. Pro Takedowns reward players with serious money, XP, and unlockable customizations; they are worth the risk to enter. Clearing every Pro Takedown unlocks the All-Pro Tournament: you versus 5 of the previous AI pros.

Man versus machine

Players won't be competing against each other in this version of Full House Poker. Like all WP7 Xbox Live games so far, it's single-player only. The AI could be a little better - computer players tend to fold too often. They usually bet when they have a face card in-hand, though I have caught them bluffing occasionally. Their tendency to fold can make tournaments run longer than necessary, but smart players will be chipping away at their chip reserves all the while. When the computer finally does decide to go all in, a swift defeat on their part often ensues. I'm just glad the AI is beatable, as I don't consider myself a master poker player.

Better than the James Cameron movie

Full House Poker is the first game for Windows Phone 7 to fully support Xbox Live avatars. The title screen and level-up screens feature large, animated views of the player’s avatar. During game play, your avatar sits in the lower corner of the screen, sliding chips forward when you bet and reacting appropriately when you win or lose. Computer opponents are avatars too, naturally. It’s cool to play with one’s own customized character and outfit; hopefully more WP7 games will support them in the future.

Leveling and customization

Texas hold ‘em is fine card game in and of itself, but for a video game like this to be truly addictive in the long run it needs a good progression system. Here Full House Poker excels. Players do have a persistent bankroll, so winning money is always good. Running out of money isn’t the end of the world as you can just borrow more from the ATM.

On top of trying to earn virtual money, players also accumulate experience. Going all-In, winning after the river card is revealed, folding at the right time, winning streaks, and other actions all award experience. You also gain XP just for playing, so even a loss isn’t a complete waste. Full House Poker has 50 levels of experience for players to attain. Each level brings cool rewards like new backgrounds, card decks, and player titles. Titles (like Big Spender, Moneybags, and The Saboteur) don’t do much in this version of the game, but they’re visible to other players when playing online in the Xbox 360 version.

Xbox 360 Integration

Xbox 360 version

Yes, connectivity between the Windows Phone 7 and Xbox 360 versions of Full House Poker is quite a draw. Whatever money or experience a player earns in one game automatically transfers to the other online. I made it to level 5 on the 360 before trying out the WP7 game. When I started it up on my phone, I jumped straight to level 5. I even got the Achievement for reaching level 2 right off the bat.

The WP7 version lacks some of its big brother’s features: online multi-player, 3D backgrounds (only avatars are rendered in 3D on the phone), and the ability to perform chip tricks (like spinning a chip around) with your avatar. Still, the fact that progression is consistent between both versions keeps the mobile game from feeling neutered. The phone version also moves a lot faster, making it easier to level up and earn money with than its console counterpart. Neither game is terribly expensive ($2.99 on WP7 and $10 on Xbox 360), so it doesn’t hurt much to buy them both.  

Achievements

The console and mobile versions of Full House Poker each have their own 200 GamerScore to earn, so gamers who buy both have 400 potential points to shoot for. The Achievements for reaching level 50 and earning a 500,000 bankroll would be a huge hassle to earn independently in both versions, so it’s quite convenient that experience and money transfer seamlessly. Other Achievements do have to be accomplished separately, such as winning the Pro Tournament. It should take some time to earn all 20 mobile Achievements, but they won’t pose a significant challenge for poker players of even moderate skill.

Overall Impression

Full House Poker is an impressive exclusive Xbox Live title. The great interface, progression system, customization, and avatar support all make for a killer app. While I bemoan the lack of online multi-player, the leveling system and multiple game types here make for a terrific single-player experience. The option of taking your character online through the console version also alleviates the situation. Poker fans (and especially Xbox 360 owners) can do no better than Full House Poker.

Full House Poker for Windows Phone 7 costs $2.99, and it has a free trial. You can grab it here (Zune link) on the Marketplace. The blinged-out Xbox 360 version costs 800 Microsoft Points ($10) and also has a trial. You can purchase it here from a PC or Mac.

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Comments

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cdook says:

I'm a huge fan of this game. It's quick to pick up, simple and addicting. You can save your progress at any time so you don't even have to worry about finishing a hand. The AI poker players seem to have different personalities too. So what may work against one won't work on the others.