When it comes to nailing a sports simulator, it’s all about finding that sweet spot between authenticity, realism and fun. Even when that sport is a little more niche in its mainstream appeal, if you can’t capture the magic that makes that recreational pastime so unique, then you’re doing its fans a serious injustice. We’ve seen some real howlers in the world of snooker games over the years – which is probably why it’s been so long since we’ve had an officially-licensed title – but snooker aficionados should breathe a sigh of relief because Snooker 19 is a sturdy and confidently authentic recreation of balls and baize.
British studio Lab42 has a bit of an odd pedigree to its name (having developed a version of Football Manager for mobiles and ports of Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami for PC), but in partnership with publisher Ripstone (which has plenty of experience with pool simulators), it's managed to tick all the important boxes. With that official licence, you get 128 of the world’s best players, face-scanned for some impressively accurate character models, alongside every single real-life venue from the official circuit.
For those that have grown tired of winning frames in generic locales, being able to nail a maximum break under the lights of the Crucible or Alexandra Palace really sets Snooker 19 apart from the years of unofficial and often inconsistent snooker games we’ve had to endure. Sure, those character models move a little stiffly, but visually, it’s such a convincing product you half expect to get a whiff of stale lager, fag smoke and body odour.
Switch-based sports sims often experience some form of content sacrifice or are forced to run on inferior engines, but this one really doesn’t. It has its faults, but all of these are present in versions available on other platforms. If you really want to take your snookering on the go, you can do so with the full package.
It goes without saying, but authenticity and Ronnie O’Sullivan’s gurning visage can only take you so far. Physics mean everything when you’re getting ready to break on the table, and Snooker 19 isn’t ready to 'snooker' itself in this department (ahem). You can tweak so many aspects of your game, including holding 'ZL' to refine shot positioning and adding side or spin to the cue ball by pulling back the analogue stick to find the right amount of power.
It takes a while to get used to, and even on the lowest difficulty, those really tough shots (such as lightly spinning around the black to hit a red or striking two cushions to land in the corner pocket) remain just as challenging. For snooker purists, this full-on commitment to realism will have them loosening their bow tie in anticipation – just don’t expect an arcade approach that leaves much room for error.
In terms of content, Snooker 19 ticks most of the boxes you’d expect. There’s plenty of modes to tackle offline, including a Career mode that divides its roster into a Pro Seasons grouping (focused on the big names in snooker) and the self-explanatory Rising Stars. There’s also support for online play, with standard ranked matches and regular tournaments (such as the Paul Hunter Classic, due to kick off this month). It’s a pretty standard set of modes, but the online tournaments easily stand out with the ability to earn special rewards based on your performance.
As we’ve mentioned, the presentation is pretty good overall. However, there are some issues. Those aforementioned player animations really don’t do the quality of their character models justice, but hopefully, a little mo-cap in a potential future instalment might help rectify that. There’s also commentary from David Hendon and Neil Foulds, but it’s easily one of the weakest aspects of the game, often coming off (at best) as half-baked and (at worst) completely irrelevant to the match unfolding on-screen. Again, this is the best snooker package Ripstone has ever put out, it just needs some rough edges smoothing out beyond its authenticity and licence.
Sports simulators continue to raise the bar of quality on Nintendo Switch, and Snooker 19 keeps that upward curve moving with an officially licensed recreation of all things baize-based. With an impressive number of facially-scanned pros and real-world snooker halls, and an incredibly precise simulation of striking the ball and setting up future shots, you’re treated to one of the best snooker games of the last decade. While still very rough around in the edges in terms of animations, commentary and accessibility, this is a must for snooker devotees who want an officially-licensed sim on Switch.