Review: Midnight Pool (WiiWare)

Gameloft's best selling mobile hit comes to WiiWare, but does it clear the table?

This week's WiiWare download is something we’re sure every Wii owner was waiting for with bated breath... an adaptation of a mobile phone pool game! However, before you dismiss this casual game as a redundant substitute for Wii Play, read on to find out why every one of you should download Midnight Pool.

First of all, anyone who remembers the control scheme from Wii Play Pool will find the interface here very familiar. However, there is much more depth to the gameplay in Midnight Pool. The game feels less like a tech demo and more like a fully featured simulation of the 'sport'. Aiming the direction your shot will take is easily handled with one of two options, either the Wii Remote (which moves too fast to really be useful) or the d-pad (which is just perfect). Before you take your shot you can pinpoint the precise point on your cue ball you will strike with your cue stick, and it actually affects the motion of the ball realistically, allowing you to pull of trick shots (such as jumping your cue ball over other balls, or adding backspin, and so forth).

Speaking of trick shots, there's a slew of 'challenges' that are unlocked after certain victories throughout the game. Some of them are extremely demanding and allow you to show off your skills by sinking balls in highly improbable combinations that would never occur in a real match. Of course, on a real pool table you could set up any challenge in as many combinations as you would like, so some sort of table editor would have been appreciated. But the inclusion of even just these pre-designed challenges is welcome and gives the player something more to do beyond just playing pool.

With a storyline mode, a quick pick-up game arcade mode, 'Challenge' mode as described above, and local multiplayer, this is a fully featured product that should keep you satisfied for a long time to come. Compared to Wii Play Pool (which was really only good for a few games before it got old) it is likely that you will find yourself coming back to this game again and again simply because it feels so authentic and there is so much to unlock and accomplish.

There are three different flavours of pool included in the game: 8-ball U.S. rules, 8-ball UK rules and 9-ball, each available in all modes of play, including multiplayer.

You start the game with a handful of characters to choose from and you can unlock additional characters as you play through the story mode. The characters are highly detailed and have amusing back stories. For instance, there is Allison, twenty-six year-old biologist, who wears a trucker hat and sounds as though she spends all her days at the biology lab chain smoking and plotting ways to impress her father with her pool skills. And then there is Travis, the Kurt Cobain look-alike musician with a country accent. Other than providing a bit of personality to proceedings the characters don’t appear to have any unique play styles and do not appear to be any better at the game than each other. Their skill level seems to vary only with how good you are and how long you play. Beyond this, there are three difficulty levels to select as well.

Additionally, you can unlock several different bars to play in. This has no effect on game play as you primarily will be looking at the pool table, and they all seem to have that Southern U.S. roadhouse bar feel to them, which shouldn’t be surprising as the story mode takes you only to specific locations in the U.S. So even when playing ‘UK rules’ all the in-game dialogue is spoken in a comical southern US accent - rather unrealistic as we doubt any rednecks bother to use UK rules! Nevertheless it’s another feature that adds a little more variety and shows the polish Gameloft has given the game.

The options menu is pretty full and allows you to customize things like in-game hints, aiming arrows, and voice volume. The tutorial section is surprisingly content-packed and ties in nicely with the ‘Challenge’ feature to teach you how to shoot and even perform trick shots. There are pages and pages of instructions for newcomers to pool. Unfortunately, it is all written in ‘pool-speak’, so unless you have some way to translate the lingo into English, you’ll find that it isn’t terribly useful to new players at all. Mercifully, the game will hold your hand by default until you choose to uncheck certain options such as 'in-game hints' and so you don’t really need to read the instructions to start playing.

To match the setting, the music has a southern rock feel to it. Gone is "Sweet Home Alabama" from the mobile phone version. You won’t recognize any of the music in this game, but what is there is appropriate and sets the mood. It can be turned off in the options menu if it is not your style.

All in all, this is a pretty decent release. It began life as a mobile phone game so by all rights it should have turned out to be a terrible looking, clunky cash-in on the popularity of the Wii. What we got instead was a pretty-looking, fully featured, challenging pool simulator. There are some shortcomings, most notably, the lack of option to set up your own challenges for you and your friends to play each other (which is forgivable), and the lack of online play (which is not). Very few WiiWare games to date include online play, most likely to cut development costs, but this is one game that really needs it. Still, even without this featured the single player in this game will last you for a long time and if you have a friend Midnight Pool is great local multiplayer fun.

Conclusion

For everyone from casual gamers who want something to fire up and play that won’t run away from you when real life intervenes, and for serious pool sharks who want to play pool even when they’re not playing pool, this game should satisfy. And for the price of about four games of real pool at your local pub, this game is a steal (not to mention a lot longer lasting than your 800 Wii Points would normally buy you on WiiWare). If you have any interest in the pastime then this game is worth your time and points. And unlike real pool, you won’t even have to set your beer down to take your turn.

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