We've already seen a host of card games released on DSiWare so far and Texas Hold'em seems to be the hot new card game to get. Hudson recently released its High Stakes Texas Hold'em onto the service to rather mediocre reviews and now EA is serving up its version of the game with the release of Downtown Texas Hold 'Em.
There are basically three modes of play to choose from. The single player game allows you to play through a career mode, of sorts; as you earn money, you'll be able to unlock some of the larger casinos that feature games with higher buy-ins. This will also allow you to play tournaments at these various casinos, sometimes even being challenged to a head-to-head match by one of the local poker stars trying to defend his/her turf. And unlike most other card game simulations we've seen so far, the opponent AI in Downtown Texas Hold 'Em is actually very good and poses a solid challenge, even for seasoned poker players.
If you can manage to round up additional players that have their own DSi systems and a copy of the game, you can have everyone join in for some multiplayer. There's not a lot of extra bells and whistles in this mode, but it's a great way to enjoy the game as a multiplayer experience. While an online mode of play would have given the game a lot of added appeal, the exclusion of download play ends up being the biggest stumbling block, as spending 2500 Points just to be able to play the game's 5-player game mode feels excessive.
Aside from the two main gameplay modes, you have the option to practise outside of the career mode if you need to touch up your poker-playing skills before taking on the big boys. You can even view all of your available stats to see how you're playing and what areas of your game might need a little work.
The controls of the game are well executed and allow you to use either the touchscreen or the actual DS controls if you so choose. Both work well enough, but the touchscreen controls tend to be easier in most cases for selecting various commands, not to mention increasing and decreasing your bets. All in all the game does a very smooth job of making all of the many moves available easy to use and become familiar with.
The interface in Downtown Texas Hold 'Em is quite solid and has a nice polished look to it that you don't often see in DSiWare card games. Sure, most of the visuals are nothing more than playing cards and poker chips, but that doesn't stop the game from tossing in some vibrant backdrops from time to time, not to mention some very interesting opponents for players to look at. Much like the simple visual presentation, EA kept the audio package fairly standard with only a short musical introduction track before you tackle a new casino. You'll also still get a nice mixture of realistic playing card and poker chip shuffling sound effects, but it really doesn't go into much more depth beyond that.
There's certainly no denying that EA has presented a very solid and playable version of the game in Downtown Texas Hold 'Em. The balanced and challenging AI of the game's opponents really lends itself to the game being played as a single-player experience, something not many other versions of the game have been able to accomplish. Of course having said that, it's still a bit disappointing that each additional player is forced to have to purchase and download the game on their own DSi system in order to participate. As impressive as the overall gameplay system is, download play could have easily made this a must-have title for Texas Hold 'Em fans, but without it the game can really only be recommended for those looking for a challenging solo experience.