Pool games are never going to be the most evocative of experiences. When you're attempting to emulate a game mostly played in hazy snooker clubs and sticky-floored student bars, there’s only so much 'va-va-voom' you can inject into its virtual recreation. So when a game comes along with the words ‘Premium’ and ‘Arena’ in the title, you'd be forgiven for feeling your eyebrows raising in unbridled skepticism. So let's rip the plaster off right here and now in the first paragraph of our review - Premium Pool Arena isn’t very premium and you’d never know you were playing in an arena. It does, at the very least, have some pool in it. So there's that.
Ironically, it’s very much a standard experience in every sense of the word. There’s no immersive, table-side view like the one found in the recently released Pool Billiard; instead, the action is resigned to a traditional and very uninspiring top-down view. It’s a tried and tested perspective, but considering Switch is powerful enough to support a more varied approach, it immediately dates a game launching on the eShop in 2018.
There’s also very little fanfare or bells and whistles when it comes to presentation. Even you opponents are resigned to static character portraits. When compared to the likes of Pure Pool or Hustle Kings on other platforms, with their at least vaguely atmospheric backgrounds and lighting, Premium Pool Arena feels more budget than deluxe. However, with a price over $10 (just under £10 if you're in the UK), you're definitely not getting a budget price point.
So, how are things in the physics department? It's an aspect pool games live and die by, where an iffy set of ball physics can render even the nicest-looking sims dead on the baize, and it’s an area that’s just as middle-of-the-road as the rest of the package. Ball movement is smooth, with certain angled power hits creating a believable amount of spin, but there’s very little of the depth found in more polished titles elsewhere. There's also an off-putting blur to ball movement that makes it look even more artificial in motion.
It’s an issue made all the more worse by the lacklustre controls. Cue control is bound to the analog stick, and it makes for a rigid and imprecise experience. Considering regular matches - which make up most of the game’s modes - use a timer for each player’s shot, you’ll spend most of your time trying to line up a fiddly guideline before fluffing it as the seconds tick down. Considering even the forgettable Pool Billiard managed to at least pack in motion controls, you’re left wondering how anyone thought this was an acceptable control scheme for a game all about precision.
So how about the modes; is there a saving grace to be found there, amid the mediocrity? There’s no option for online play, so multiplayer is bound to a single Switch, turn-taking setup. You can’t even split the Joy-Cons. Everything else is solo-based against the game’s AI, which ranges from moderately talented to god-like pool savant. Even if you manage to master its clunky controls, not even the world’s best pool players could pull off that many near-impossible shots in a row. There’s also a Tournament mode, where you can battle the AI for big gold prizes. These coins can then be spent in the Premium Pool Arena on new cues and balls. Each one says it offers improved stats but the controls are so drab you’d never really know you were playing with an Epic-rated Battle Axe. So no, no saving graces here, either.
There’s also a Speed mode for clearing the table of all balls in the fastest possible time. It’s a neat little extra touch but with no monetary reward to go with it, there’s very little attraction bar the personal kudos of scoring a faster time. There’s even a set of revolving daily challenges, which can also be replaced with new ones once a day, but even a sense of replay value can’t save this sorry excuse for a pool game.
Pool might not be the classiest of sports, but that doesn’t mean it deserves a half-baked attempt at simulation to further its virtual cause. For a game asking for £9/$13 for the privilege of knocking balls around its tables, Premium Pool Arena feels more like daylight robbery than an eShop steal. If you truly want a proper pool experience, you're best looking elsewhere for now.