Pool tables are expensive. We’re talking upwards of $1500 for a decent one and a few thousand dollars for a really nice one. Oh, you need cues with that? Even if you want to share just one cue with everyone playing, you’re looking at another hundred bucks or so. But wait! You need balls to go with that. No, I’m not talking about your underlying need to man up (which you also need), I’m talking about the central focus of the entire game of pool. That’s another couple hundred dollars, and again, I’m talking for a decently nice set of balls. And all of this is assuming you have the space for a pool table with room to maneuver around it. Or you could buy Pool Nation for the cool price of $8.49 ($5.09 currently for PlayStation Plus members).
The team at Cherry Pop are obviously fans of pool. Care was taken with this game to make it the best pool sim that you will play, and it shows in the details. The styling of Pool Nation would fit in very well with the aesthetics and build of Sports Champions – the game controls with the DualShock 3, though, no Move controls in sight. Speaking of controls, my first stop was to the tutorials to learn how to handle the balls, and what I found was not your basic “point and pocket” mechanics, but rather a deep system utilizing realistic pool ball physics for trick/skill shots.
The great thing about the trick shots in Pool Nation is that they aren’t just ridiculous shots that only pros can pull off. Given that you take the time to briefly run through the tutorials, the game will teach you how to make some badass shots like putting an angled backspin on the cue ball, swerving around balls to hit other ones, or even bouncing the cue ball off the top of the side pad and into another ball for what is arguably one of the coolest shots in the game. Pulling off these shots feels great and is even more satisfying when you are given points in matches based on the skill of each shot.
Pool Nation features two main campaigns based on two of the most popular games of pool. 8-ball and 9-ball are the games that you will be playing the most, but completing challenges during each of the matches will unlock bonus missions with alternate games like 3-ball (try to get three balls potted in as few shots as possible) and an elimination game where each turn that you don’t pot a ball subtracts a life. The challenges add an interesting spin, allowing you to focus not only on winning, but on how to win while completing objectives such as doing a jump shot or getting a five ball streak. Endurance mode rounds things out, tasking you with potting balls quickly before the table can reach 24 balls.
Completing matches and bonus games unlocks various different aesthetics for your cues, balls, and decals for the table. While not game changing, they at least give you something to work towards instead of opting to give no rewards for completing the more difficult matches. The points earned for skill shots are also put on a leaderboard so that you can compare yourself to other Pool Nation players. Unfortunately the game doesn’t seem to be popular currently for online play and I was not able to find matches online, but if it works as well as the game does versus AI and local players, then this would be a great way to play pool with friends without the need to meet at the bar (and risk a DUI on the way home). Never again will you have to make that awkward shot because you don’t have enough room between the table and the wall or the guy playing on the table next to you.
There’s not much else to say about pool. You should know what it is. If you don’t, it’s doubtful you’ve even read this far into my review. I could continue by making a plethora of ball and stick jokes, but I’ll spare you for the time being. Pool Nation is one of the most pleasant surprises that I’ve reviewed. It does nearly everything right and feels about as close as you can get to a real game of pool. With the variety of game modes, tournaments and unlockables, the novelty of the title sticks around for longer than one would expect. In my opinion, Pool Nation is well worth the price of entry and perhaps the best pool sim on the PS3.