Nintendo download services aren’t lacking for casino-style titles, ensuring that you don’t need a pesky deck of cards if you want a game of chance. In the case of poker games, we should be grateful that it means gambling only with fake, electronic money — always a safer way to play. 1st Class Poker & BlackJack is the latest example in a busy genre, and bets with a decent hand.
As the title suggests, this offering from card game specialists GameOn has two main options: poker and blackjack. There are three modes overall: poker, videopoker and blackjack, with a number of game variations in each. The poker mode allows you to choose from seven options, such as Texas Hold ’Em, Omaha and 5 Card Draw rules. Once you’ve chosen your favoured style you select the table to join, with more difficult tables having higher buy-ins but bigger pay-offs if you succeed. With a starting kitty of $1000, it’s all about balancing risk and reward and trusting in your judgement. For longer games, there's the handy option to save progress and return later on, particularly useful on tables with more opponents and larger balances to lose.
Videopoker mode, meanwhile, is a quick-fire experience designed to replicate electronic poker machines. Five variations are available, and these serve as a chance to warm up for a full-on poker match without necessarily risking too much money. Blackjack mode is the easiest game to grasp by a long way, as it’s a simple bet against the banker to hit a total as close to 21 as possible. With options to face the banker individually or with up to five CPU players, it’s a good mode for a short five-minute session.
As this is a poker title, an important area is how much explanation and assistance it gives for less experienced players, as bluffing only works for those who know what they’re doing. In this sense 1st Class Poker & BlackJack raises its bet with a questionable hand: the help content is there, but it’s not presented in the best way. Each mode has a set of instructions and rules to peruse, though the button itself is so small as to be barely noticeable. When selected there are plenty of text boxes explaining the basics, which hands win and so on, but it’s a bland and dull experience to read through them. This title is crying out for a tutorial mode to make this information easily accessible, but players will have to show a willingness and patience to learn the rules the old-fashioned way: by reading them.
It’s the overall presentation, in fact, that lets the title down. The in-game graphics and avatars of opponents are strange and disconcerting 3D models, and it would have been better to opt for a more stylised approach. Sound is just as much of a let-down, with bland midi-music playing constantly in the background, with no respite.
Much like GameOn’s Bridge title, there are decent local multiplayer options if you have friends who fancy some friendly competition. With support for up to five players, it’s possible to play any of the poker or blackjack modes in lobbies, if all players have a copy of the game. If there’s only one copy of the game, meanwhile, the main player can send individual modes to others using Download Play: though more limited and time-consuming, it does mean that one copy of the game is enough. In-game communication options of set messages, custom text or even audio clips are available, though it all seems rather pointless as it's local multiplayer only.
1st Class Poker and BlackJack is, in some ways, a complete package. An impressive range of modes and variations, alongside a decent local multiplayer offering, means that experienced players can have a handy computer simulation that serves its purpose. This title is let down, however, by unappealing visuals, with ugly avatars and the useful details on game rules being undermined by the bland presentation. Overall this title may not win the house, but it’s a decent bet.