Out of the entire spectrum of bar games to make the digital jump, billiards is second only to poker in delivering really fun interpretations, like Virtual Pool on PC. What makes that series great is a total understanding of why billiards is fun and how to translate that into mechanics that feel more like skill than luck.
Arc System Works’ Jazzy Billiards goes about halfway with it. The (limited) control you’re given is comfortable, everything looks really good and it makes a nice first impression. But dig deeper and you’ll realize that several omitted options, some more obvious than others, make the game something of a missed opportunity.
Starting with the good, what we’ve got here is all 9-Ball, all the time. A solid choice since the rules are simplistic enough to keep things moving at a pace befitting portable play. In case your youth wasn’t misspent in murky pool halls, 9-Ball is a game of sequence. Two players take turns sinking the lowest number on the table and whoever nabs the 9-ball wins. Single player options include facing nine opponents in a row or just playing until you lose, and if you’ve got a friend around you can pass the DSi back and forth for multiplayer match-ups.
It’s a looker, too. Up top is an overhead view of the table and the 3D rendering below looks like a PlayStation version of Virtual Pool. Animation is very smooth as well, lending an overall polished look to everything.
But this veneer fades after a few matches. While the tournament mode has you taking on nine different opponents, the AI doesn’t seem to scale all that well. It’ll make the same dumb mistakes late in the tournament as the first competitor does, and that is to do somewhat poorly throughout the match and then rock the final shot. Sometimes they’ll whip out an inexplicable table run before going back to their simpler ways.
“Simple” is a good word for control options too. The stylus lets you swing the camera around and a tap-flick on the cue shoots, but you’re very limited in how you set up your shots. There’s no way to put English (spin) on the ball so you’re reliant on straight shots and banks, and the aim line feels half-heartedly implemented. It shoots out from the cue ball but doesn’t take into account what will happen when it actually connects with anything that isn’t a side. This line is also completely absent on the overhead view, so a lot of shots (even easy ones) are tough to accurately judge; it’s frustrating to miss a shot because you can’t see properly. You can zoom in to the target ball and see how the line intersects with it, but it’s more of a bandage than a cure and we can’t understand why this essential feature is clipped like this.
And then there are smaller bothersome things that bring it down like an over-looped jazz tune and the inability to skip to the table resting point after a shot, forcing you to wait until everything crawls to a stop after every turn. The last thing you want to do when playing in short bursts is wait around.
What’s here is nice for those who don’t really care about advanced techniques and just want a simple game of 9-ball on the go, because that’s all Jazzy Billiards turns out to really offer. It’s a solid base on which to build future portable billiards games, but for right now it’s simply decent.