Developer: Icon Games
Release Date: June 9, 2009
I have a soft spot for billiard games. Over the years, there seem to have been enough computer variants that have successfully used physics and trajectory estimators that the end result is an attractive and function game, and I held out my hopes for a similar such creation in the form of Pool Hall Pro.
The good news is that Pool Hall Pro is a pretty attractive billiards game that has more pool games than you can shake a cue stick at, and it adds enough extra little features to make the whole experience more well-rounded. The bad news is that the game suffers from some control glitches that make certain aspects of the game downright frustrating to play.
In terms of games available, there were more options and games than I even knew how to play: UK 8-Ball, US 8-Ball, 9-Ball, 6-Ball Pool, 10-Ball Pool, 15-Ball Pool, Pub Pool, 6-Ball Snooker, 10-Ball Snooker, Snooker and Basic Pocket Billiards. The sheer amount of game options is amazing, and it'll mean that every player has at least one preferred game mode to play. For my part, I'm partial to US 8-Ball and 9-Ball, so that's what I mostly played.
Now, I don't want to nitpick, but the developers have forced my hand in doing so. You see, right on the box, Pool Hall Pro claims, "Fully Customizable Characters!" Oh, I don't think so, Icon Games. I understand why they put that on there, though, because "Change Your Male-Only Characters With Five Generic Faces and Six Generic Outfits" would've been far too long to put on the game box. Games like this really irk me. It's the Wii, so I don't expect the same level of detail that a Game Face-enabled EA title would offer, like Tiger Woods or Fight Night, but really, don't boast about being able to fully customize a character when all you're giving me are sliders to change face, hair, hat, shirts and pants. That is not fully customizable; it is quite the definition of finite customizable characters, which would be a much more truthful and fitting description to put on the game packaging.
As an almost apologetic make-up for the lack of characters, you have the option to customize your crib. Like similar poker games of the past, you can add furniture, electronics, change the location of your pool table and lights, and otherwise make it a unique pad. It's pretty low-resolution and has its ugly moments, but it's a nice little add-on. I can't imagine people spending too much time in this mode, fighting with the Wii Remote to get things exactly where you want them, but the option is there if you're so determined.
Once you get through the "full customization" of your character, you have a handful of options available to you, from a handy Practice mode to an Arcade mode and a World Tour mode. Not willing to jump into the deep end of the pool right away, I opted for the Practice mode, which lets you place the cue ball anywhere on the table after every shot so you can test out different angles, shot types and velocities.
The controls are a bit baffling. Pool Hall Pro uses a combination of d-pad navigation coupled with Wiimote sensitivity controls, but not in the order that would make the most sense to me. Placing the cue, for example, uses the jittery Wiimote, while lining up your stick then switches to the d-pad, and then once again switches back to the jittery Wiimote when you fine-tune your cue impact location and shot power. This is when things get tricky. To make your shot, you'll hold down the B button and then draw the Wiimote backward, mimicking the draw of the cue, and once you reach your desired power level, you let go of the B button and watch the resulting reactionary physics take place. You can opt for an advanced player mode, which removes the baby mode of using the B button and instead treats your Wiimote as a cue stick, but … it's hard enough playing the simple mode. All too often, words would pop up on the screen telling me to aim the Wiimote back at the sensor bar, or that I had drawn the Wiimote too far back. It's quite nitpicky and completely removes any kind of immersion you might be getting from your one-of-five-faces customized character.
Likewise, the physics of the game feel a bit sloppy. Even with being able to pan, tilt and zoom to get a better view of the table and shots, things just don't seem to move exactly right. There were many times when I'd hit a ball to the corner, and I could see that I misjudged the angle and expected it to rebound off the bumper, only to see the pocket suck down the ball like a black hole. Sure, I made the shot, but in a very cheap and inaccurate way.
Once I determined that I was absolutely horrible at the control scheme, I did the next logical thing, which was to play the World Tour mode. Sure, why not. The first tier match was a head's-up match of US 8-ball. The computer broke, and after pocketing a solid, proceeded to sink the next four shots in a row. Not easy shots, mind you, but insane cut-shots to squeeze the ball into side pockets with physics that would make Einstein weep. Finally, the AI decided it needed a laugh, missed what was comparatively an easy shot, and let me play. Since half of the computer's balls were off the table, I had a pretty easy lay of the land and actually sunk three shots in a row, much to my own surprise. I then missed, and the computer proceeded to trounce me. All right then, so much for that ….
My next tour match was a 9-ball match, and I did very well until the computer hit a ridiculous power shot that banked three balls off one another until the 9-ball fell in by pure happenstance. The games just kept continuing like that: The computer would just destroy me or get lucky game-winning shots, and I'd keep losing. I can't imagine needing four levels of AI difficulty —Rookie, Pro, Amateur and Champion — when the rookies were capable of flat-out destroying me on the easiest setting. It makes me wonder what the Champion mode does. I imagine it as almost a demo mode, where the computer just sinks shot after shot and you sit there and watch.
It's hard to really judge this game. On one hand, it's a pretty robust billiards game for the Wii, and it certainly tries hard to make the game as broad and enjoyable as possible. On the other hand, there are Internet-based Flash games that have better physics and comparable graphics, albeit with a shorter feature set. For the gamers out there who love pool, then this title would certainly fit well among their collection. For other casual gamers, the game is worth a play or two, but the frustrating controls and the juggernaut AI will likely prove disappointing for any repeat playing, thus killing any longevity the title might have.Score: 5.0/10