The earliest memories I have of pocket billiards (or pool) was not of me playing, but watching in astonishment as professionals on television performed insane trick shots, each one more impressive than the last. It wasn’t until my first year at college, which seems like forever and a day ago, that I got my hands on my first pool cue, getting fist-hand experience at the sport, yet hitting more balls off the pool table than I will ever admit to. I was hooked. Over the years I have played countless different pool games, but Pool Nation from CherryPop Games is the first one to give the same sensation felt when experiencing the sport in real-life.
Featuring an impressive tutorial that goes through each step required in pulling off various trick shots, you will be adding backspin to the cue ball, executing jump shots and swerving around balls to hit another one like a professional. These trick shots are the hallmark of the game and I would recommend going through each tutorial, as utilizing these moves is necessary in order to survive in the higher difficulties.
The two main game modes will take you through tournaments against opponents in both 8-ball and 9-ball variations of pool. The highly stylized hand-drawn characters that you will face in the tournaments provide a stark contrast to the picture perfect realistic style of the actual pool gameplay. Progressively getting more difficult with every round, the last few opponents will have you using your ability to rewind time and get another attempt at making the shot – just remember it has limited uses. If you miss a shot, you might as well restart the entire match as the AI’s level of play is quite close to perfection. It does make for an amazing upset when the AI fails to pocket the 8-ball, giving you a chance at redemption.
Completing challenges in these matches will unlock bonus matches, giving you access to some of the more unique game modes such as 3-ball, where the lowest amount of turns to pocket 3 balls wins and a nerve-racking endurance mode. The Endurance mode will keep you on the edge of your seat as you try and pocket balls as quickly as possible with new balls appearing on the table every few seconds. Allow too many balls to be on the table at a time and you will lose. The challenges add a new dimension to each match as not only are you trying to advance to the next round, but also trying to accomplish tasks such as getting a skill shot score of 16,000 or pocketing 5 balls in a row.
At the completion of a bonus match, you will unlock different aesthetics such as new pool cues, ball sets as well as decals for the table. Considering how good the game looks, I couldn’t wait to unlock new ball designs that highlight the games amazing use of reflection and lightning, as everything around the room appears distorted around the perfectly rendered pool balls. All of your points earned during a match gets added together into your overall profile score that gets uploaded to the persistent online leaderboard. It’s refreshing to see a leaderboard that contains, but isn’t dependent on W/L ratios. Pool Nation also contains a local multiplayer mode, as well as a relatively smooth online experience.
Changing the view of the table at any time allows you to get a top-down view of the action, giving a clear view of the entire table. I prefer to line up my shot using this view, but actually execute shots in the standard view in order to see the up-close slow motion moments of jumping another ball or bouncing it off 2 cushions before knocking in another ball right in front of a pocket. A big part in what separates Pool Nation from the rest of the pool simulation titles is the ultra-realistic physics engine powering the game.
Everything included in the game from the superb visuals, to the lifelike physics comes together to provide a truly one of a kind experience. The only issue I have with the title comes from the in-game music, which seems out of place. It’s not awful by any means, but just isn’t what I was expecting to be listening to while shooting pool, but you can just as easily use your own music. With unlockables that require precise ball control (and a little bit of luck), online leaderboards and both local and online multiplayer, Pool Nation may be the debut title for CherryPop Games, but it may be the most realistic pool game that has ever been released.Note: Pool Nation was reviewed on PlayStation 3. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.