Developer: VooFoo Studios
Publisher: Ripstone Games
Genre: Sports, Simulation
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: E – Everybody
Release Date: 17/Nov/2020
A code was provided for review purposes
Racking Them Up
When it comes to video games, I have genres that I tend to play more than others, such as platformers and fighting games. However, there is a genre that I don’t advertise that I enjoy equally as much as these. Virtual sports games, with Pool being a very firm favourite. With this small bit of exposition out of the way, I recently had the chance to play Pure Pool on the Nintendo Switch. Did I enjoy my experience with the game? Find out after the “break”.
I have always had a passion for the sport of Pool. Since my times going to my local Pool hall with various family members and friends over the years. I even spent nearly 2 years working in a pool hall. I would ask constant questions about the rules of the game, and even getting to play frames against some very decent local Pool league players in that time. All of this is to basically say the following. I am incredibly familiar with both the sport and generally Pool games on various consoles. Starting with games like Bankshot Billiards 2 on Xbox Live Arcade, to playing various different games on mobile platforms. I have always tended to pick them up and play them for hours. So long as either the local multiplayer or online netcode was up to scratch of course.
Pure Pool is a game that was developed by VooFoo Studios and Ripstone Games. Both are UK based indie developers, who had previously collaborated on the mobile game Hustle Kings. Whilst initially released on PS4 and Steam in 2014, I am reviewing the Switch port of the game.
It’s In The Game(play)
There isn’t really much I can actually say on the gameplay, without it devolving into trying to explain how the game of Pool works. However, I would imagine those reading this review will be familiar enough with. However, I will give a brief idea of the game itself. You start with 15 balls on the table: 7 spots, 7 stripes, and 1 black ball. The aim of the game is to break the pack up, and pot all the spots or stripe balls. You win by clearing your allotted balls and then potting the black ball. Based on the break you choose or get allotted either spots or stripes as your ball set. There are lots of rules surrounding the game itself but there are far too many to list here of course.
With that brief explanation in mind, how does the game actually handle its fundamental mechanics of lining up, shot taking, and everything around it? In short, quite badly.
With the vast majority of Pool games on consoles, mobile, or PC, you are given a handy guideline system. This is a line from the white ball, which you manipulate around the table to line up your shots. The line will show you what direction the ball you make contact with is going to go. There will be an additional line showing the direction of where the white ball will end up. These have been a feature of most Pool and Snooker games I’ve played since Codemaster’s World Championship Snooker on PS2, and it hasn’t changed, as it is a system that generally works. However, the problem with Pure Pool’s guideline system, the lines are very short, which makes lining up shots from a distance quite problematic.
There were times I had thought I had perfectly lined up a shot to pot into a bottom corner pocket at a 45-degree angle but would go at a 30-degree angle and miss the pocket. This was incredibly frustrating, and this is without even mentioning the camera
Frustrating Camera Angles
The aforementioned camera is one of the most annoying and disappointing parts of Pure Pool. In the vast majority of games of this genre, the camera would be overhead, looking down at the table. This is a good system, as it shows you the whole table. Thus meaning you can line up a shot and see where your next opportunity to pot is. The skill involved in Pool isn’t just about making pots but making sure you are always thinking 2 or 3 shots ahead as you would do in Chess.
Pure Pool decides to bring the camera down to eye level and hovers just slightly above the table. Essentially, it is like playing from the first-person view. As I mentioned above with the guideline system, the camera being at this angle means you can’t get a decent look at your next shot, unless you press a button to get the view. But if you choose the view, the guidelines will be gone, making it nearly impossible to accurately line up any shots. This makes for an overly frustrating system that is neither fun nor rewarding to play.
Single Player Content
Pure Pool’s strongest part is its single-player content. Sadly, however, this isn’t saying too much, as it is nothing more than playing pre-programmed bot characters. Victory keeps you rising up the various ranking systems to become the best player in the world. It is here, that there is another big misstep made by the developers.
In most single-player experiences, you start out playing a lower-ranked player. You tend to sweep them aside fairly easily until you get into the next league, where the challenge increases. The games get tougher as you progress. However, AI programming on these opponents is incredibly weird. In the first league, the AI would make some incredibly stupid shots, and commit fouls which results in the white ball being in hand. However, if you miss your shot on the black ball, the AI would become the best player in the world. They would barely miss a single shot an emerge victorious. This was consistent through the single-player mode, along with the aforementioned growing level of competence from the AI. The latter players were nearly impossible to beat.
I may have found the single-player somewhat enjoyable, bad AI programming aside, however, I cannot overlook the aggressively bad camera angle. Not to mention the lack of guidelines which causes such a hindrance to gameplay.
When it comes to any game, if your controls are broken, badly designed, or temperamental, then this can have a very adverse effect on how much you enjoy the game. Pure Pool suffers immeasurably from incredibly unintuitive controls. It shows a serious lack of thought when porting this over to the Switch.
The control design of the console itself (the Joy-Cons) is out of the hands of the developer. They are, after all, made by Nintendo. However, the choice of the developers to map the power of your shots to an analogue stick was a very poor decision.
The sticks on the joy-cons are incredibly stubby, meaning you don’t have a lot of room to properly regulate the power of your shot. This is made worse, by the fact you need to pull the analogue stick back, then flick it forward to make a shot. In most occasions, I would pull the stick back, then flick it forward to make my shot, but it would barely register and roll pathetically along the table. This led to the short being registered as a foul. As I thought this was just an issue with the joy-con, however, I tried it with a Pro controller and it was the same problem.
I think the developers knew this, which is why they also include touch screen controls. This is via the cue icon on the screen. However, in the vast majority of Pool games on mobile, you only need to pull the cue back then release. But Pure Pool makes you do the same thing with the touch screen controls as you would on an analogue stick. This would result, again, in fouls being made and the opponent having the white ball in hand.
Online (Or Lack of One)
Pure Pool advertises that there is an online match-making system, where you can partner up with a friend to play online games against them, even stating on Nintendo’s game page on the eShop that you require a Switch Online membership to play it.
Site owner Mike had a second copy to be able to test out the online mode. Yet, it never showed his profile in-game. This is despite having played the game on his Switch activity page. Even weirder was how it was showing another friend as the only person I could matchmake with, who NEVER OWNED THE GAME.
Basically, the matchmaking is incredibly broken. I never got the chance to actually find another person willing to try and help out and test out the netcode. However, based on my experiences with trying to find people to match with, I can’t imagine the netcode itself being much to write home about.
Pure Pool was a game that I was excited to review. I have always been a big fan of Pool games on consoles, not to mention in real life. Sadly, however, but the game left me feeling disappointed and frustrated. Whilst it is a nice looking game graphically, the shortcomings with its controls, terrible camera angle and too stubby guideline system mean that Pure Pool is a game that I won’t be returning to in a hurry.
In fact, the disappointment was so vast with Pure Pool, that I re-downloaded a popular mobile Pool game. I won’t mention the name here but I’m having a much better time playing it than this title. This game needs a lot of work to make it playable, but this seems unlikely, especially considering the game is a 2014 release. Age really shows here.