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25

Windows Phone Xbox Live Review: Pool Pro Online 3

Pool Pro Online 3

Namco Bandai’s Windows Phone output has been somewhat uneven so far. Some of their games like Puzzle Quest 2 are great, many are overpriced (Pac-Man Championship Edition DX anyone?), and a few like More Brain Exercise are simply duds.  Their previous release, Pac-Man Kart Rally, fell somewhere in the middle of the quality spectrum, but I respected the developer’s boundary-breaking use of local Wi-Fi multiplayer. Now Pool Pro Online 3 pushes things even further, becoming the first mobile Xbox Live game with true real-time online multiplayer. While its online mode is unparalleled, a few fouls keep Pool Pro Online 3 from being a truly great pool game.

Three in one

Pool Pro Online 3

For those who are new to pool, a primer: there is no one game of pool. Rather, a variety of games with different rules and ball configurations can be played on a pool table. PPO3 features three such games, all designed for two players: 8-ball, 9-ball, and Snooker. The first game is best known in the USA, the latter in the UK.

Learning to play

Unfamiliar with one or more of the game’s rules? They’re easy enough to learn thanks to a decent generalized tutorial and some reference text in the Help & Options menu.

Here’s how making a shot works:

  • Drag left or right anywhere on the table to aim your stick. Arrows indicate which direction the cue ball and the first ball(s) it hits will travel.
  • Use the slider at the bottom of the screen to fine-tune aiming.
  • Press the Eye icon at the bottom-left corner to switch between first-person and overhead views.
  • Press the English icon at the top corner to aim at a specific part of the ball, affecting its spin (optional).
  • Once the shot is lined up, pull down on the cue stick at the right edge of the screen and release to make the shot.

Sounds good, right? It is, at first. But the more you play, the more nuisances become apparent. First, truly fine aiming can be tough because lifting your finger after aiming usually nudges the aim a bit. The developers should have compensated for that somehow.

More importantly, the mechanism for actually firing the shot needs serious work. Performing a maximum strength shot is extremely tough because your finger often strikes the bottom of the phone before the game can register the stick has been pulled all the way down. Worse, sometimes the stick releases without me even removing my finger from the meter, ruining the shot. I’ve even had my aim change instead of the stick moving, which should never happen. Given the importance of striking balls with maximum strength at times, I found these quirks quite exasperating.

Multiplayer madness

Pool Pro Online 3

Earning money in single-player to buy new equipment and pool halls is all well and good, but multiplayer really increases the fun factor. PPO3 offers both pass-and-play and real-time online multiplayer. Let’s look at how online works.

Each of the three game types has a public lobby, from which you can invite other players to a game. If you’d rather play with someone else, simply press the Invite button and send one out to somebody on your friends list. Unlike Battleship, they actually need to accept right away since there’s no asynchronous multiplayer. Once a challenge has been accepted, both players must agree on a bet before the match begins.

Chatting up a storm

Pool Pro Online 3Each player has a turn timer, so you can’t just take forever to line up a shot. While you’re waiting, feel free to tap the Chat button at the top of the screen. New messages create a nice sound effect, making it easy to keep a light conversation going during the game.

Once the match ends, the winner walks away a bit richer and the loser slightly humbled. Chat unfortunately cuts off at that point. But you’re free to choose a Rematch; as long as both players stay connected to the server, the gameplay can continue.

Still a Windows Phone game

Pool Pro Online 3The public lobbies, real-time multiplayer, and chat features might fool you into thinking you’re playing a console or PC game online as opposed to the rudimentary multiplayer modes we’ve seen in Xbox Live games on Windows Phone so far. Well, all is not perfect in the online mode. Once you challenge someone or accept a challenge, actually connecting to that game is a crapshoot. I’ve also experienced disconnects during games, for which neither player is penalized.These connection issues aren't so severe that they ruin the game as in Gun Bros and Contract Killer, but they certainly cut into the fun.

Achievements

Pool Pro Online 3While multiplayer gives a game like PPO3 some legs, an addictive single-player component or metagame is also necessary to keep players coming back. Unfortunately, PPO3’s unlocking system and Achievements fall pancake flat.

See, scratch can either be earned by performing feats and winning games in single-player or by betting and winning multiplayer games. That scratch can then be spent in the pro shop to unlock felts, sticks, and pool halls. It costs 500,000 scratch to buy everything from the shop (Achievement), and there’s also an Achievement for collecting a million scratch.

Unfortunately, the developers seem to have pulled those two numbers out of thin air, because as it stands nobody will ever reach 500K, let alone a million. Single player games pay about 500 scratch on average – up to 700 or 800 if you play on the highest difficulty and do really well. Nobody really wants to bet large amounts of scratch online because you lose your bet if you lose. The betting economy might actually work if the pot exceeded the amount bet, but it doesn’t.

Given the average payout I just described, it would take a minimum of 1000 victories to unlock all the pool halls and 2000 to get the Fat Cat Achievement. Each game takes several minutes, and that’s not counting loading times and losses. Unless Namco Bandai changes payouts with a patch, it would simply take a ridiculous amount of time and dedication to get either Achievement.

Overall Impression

Pool Pro Online 3 really wowed me initially, but as time went on, its faults became increasingly apparent. In the all-important area of controls, the game is only sufficient rather than intuitive. In real life, high strength shots are easier to make than low strength ones, but the reverse is true here. And with Achievements that are either extremely contrived and luck-based or insanely laborious, players can’t look forward to earning the game’s full 200 GamerScore.

Thank goodness for the online mode, then! Being able to play and chat with random strangers or friends in real-time on Windows Phone is a cathartic experience. I wish we didn’t have to bet scratch in order to play and profit from online games, because an ‘everyone profits’ situation would be more fun overall. Still, the online multiplayer is the best the platform has seen so far, and will likely keep pool fans entertained for a long time.

Pool Pro Online 3 costs $2.99 – not bad given the robust multiplayer options and fairly good 3D graphics. Just make sure to turn the music off before it eats away at your soul. Get the game here on the Marketplace.

QR: Pool Pro Online 3

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Comments

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I want Sally SPA!

Paul Acevedo says:

We all do! Or at least those of us who can handle non-masculine subject matter. But let's read the article too, ok? :)

anodynamic says:

I'm hoping she opens a garage next... :P

derek533 says:

Been playing since it was released.  I too have some connection issues and sometimes will accept a challenge, only to be disconnected about 5 seconds later as the game is trying to load.  I agree about the shot meter too as that needs some tweaking.  
 
In the end however, it is my very favorite game on WP and I think if they would just tweak the connection issues and shot meter, it would be darn near a perfect game for a phone.   

Tahiti Bob says:

That was my impression too from the demo. Controls and graphics seem much better in International Snooker HD, it's a shame it doesn't have online play.

greg2k says:

International Snooker is awesome, they should update it because even in its current NoDo build it plays leaps and bounds better than this game.

NaterBater says:

I believe the physics and graphics are better in Pool Pro. Don't get me wrong, there are things that need ironed out, but it's miles ahead of International Snooker.

anodynamic says:

I think the controls are fine for the pool games, but they don't scale well to snooker at all. So I do agree that those looking for that in particular should think twice before buying.

NaterBater says:

We could get 10 trustworthy gamers to all get 100000 and then distribute the scrap online until we get a million and then just pass it around. Also if anyone is struggling with the 80% or 20 wins lmk as a have my old phone for boosting. Nat3r Bat3r is my gamertag.

Paul Acevedo says:

It wouldn't help with the Achievement for buying all the halls though, as that requires spending 500K.

NaterBater says:

You're right Paul. I didn't even think of it that way.

anodynamic says:

Open Angry Birds. Try to estimate how far off 250K blocks you are. Then go back to earning scratch... ;)

In this case there's at least an indicator off how far you've come. I don't mind it that much, though. I think games need an achievement or two that rewards dedicated players, and if you like the game and play it a few months you'll get them for free.

Me too, but I think this is a bit too much, I think it's much more than Angry Bird's effort.

anodynamic says:

They are both huge. But I had three stars on most worlds when I got the 50K one in Angry Birds, and playing pool feels a bit less like a grind than just flinging fat red birds at things.

I think a way of fixing it could have been tournaments with prize money in the single player game.

NaterBater says:

If they would have online tournaments and rankings I think they could really boost its appeal.

anodynamic says:

That would have been great. Asynchronous MP option would also have been nice. Being able to play matches to best out of 3/5 games as well, which is pretty much a necessity for keeping 9-ball exciting when players are good enough to win in two or three shots.

everylt2012 says:

Too bad this game runs extremely choppily on 1st Gen device

NaterBater says:

Which device do you have. It seems to run the same on my Focus and Focus S

everylt2012 says:

It sounds weird because I got like 30 fps on my device device in the game. I wondering if the game has some kinda fps limiter thing...

Paul Acevedo says:

Huh! Runs fine on my Focus.

tylerh1701 says:

Nice review, a couple things you mention make me hesitant, especially that the single player portion of the game falls "pancake flat".
 
 

Paul Acevedo says:

Just the unlocking system falls flat. Playing by yourself is fun; you're just not motivated to go after scratch because everything costs such ludicrous prices.

NH3MAN says:

I don't know that I fully agree with this review.  Its true enough about the disconnection issue which is frustrating if you are about to win and might be exploited by losers to keep from losing but it has the most realistic aiming and physics of any I have played before.  I think the expectations are unrealistic by the reviewer considering its on a phone.  I have played many a tournament in my day and I think its quite amazing what I have been able to do with this.  I can properly set myself up with the right top/bottom spin which in itself is amazing and I have not had any issues with it moving after I set it but the power setting and release could use a little tweak to make more user friendly.  Graphics, gameplay and multiplayer are all 5 out of 5 and the littel quibbles I have with it makes it a 4 out of 5.

Paul Acevedo says:

I agree that the physics are great. But as you admit, the power setting is off; that's a core mechanic right there that should've been done properly from the start. Beyond that and the disconnection issues, I'm really only unhappy with the unrealistic prices of items/payouts and several of the Achievements.

JKOgden says:

I wanted to try this for my Lumia 928 but it says that it doesnt meet the requirements?