When creating a pool game for the Wii one must balance between proper physics, smooth controls, and overall remain true to the sport. That said very few games have been able to accurately portray the activity of billiards on Nintendo’s motion-controlled console. Developer Icon Games hopes to change that with their latest Wii effort Pool Hall Pro. With a thirty dollar price tag, crib pimping, and plenty of game modes everything seems in place for success. For the most part the game does manage to deliver a solid billiards experience, but some iffy camera problems, and peculiar ball physics do hinder the experience a little from time to time.
Pool Hall Pro is probably one of the most feature-rich games I have played; well at least of billiards. When you begin the single-player campaign you have the option of Arcade, Tournament, World Tour and Exhibition. In each of these modes you will face off against four varying levels of AI difficulty. Rookie mode is by far the easiest, with them making ridiculous shots, but jack it up to Champion and you will have to earn every ball you sink. The AI is surprisingly good for a game like this. Champion does not feel cheap, while Rookie is perfect for anyone looking to get a feel for the way the game plays. In World Tour mode you can enter a series of tournaments, and compete against various foes in order to work your way to the top, while Arcade allows you to simply face off against an array of different people one at a time.
The amount of game types found within Pool Hall Pro is also impressive. Outside of the standard US 8-ball and 9-ball you can also opt to play 6-ball, 10-ball, 15-ball, Snooker and Basic Pocket Billiards just to name a few. The sheer amount of game types means that even if you are unfamiliar with them, there is ample ways to learn the ropes within the game. Earning cash in the game will also allow you to pimp out your crib, which is easily my least favorite portion of the game. I find very little reason to purchase new items for my virtual pad, mostly because you rarely ever see it, which also nearly defeats the purpose of having a character customization when you barely ever see your own avatar.
The most important part of any pool game on the Wii though is the controls. Making sure you can recreate the precision it takes to make certain shots can be tricky. The Wii is not known for precision (that is until Wii Motion Plus arrive, which this game sadly will never support) controls and sometimes things can get a bit wonky. Pool Hall Pro offers two different modes of control; basic and advanced. The biggest difference between the two is that in advanced mode you actually have to physically thrust the Wii remote in order to hit the ball, whereas the basic mode uses a power meter. Everything else works pretty much the same; you can optimize your view with the d-pad, set where you want to hit the ball with the cursor, and even line up shots with the ghost ball that gives you an idea of where your shot will land.
Both control schemes work well enough to get by on, and if you want to really feel like you are in a pool hall, then I recommend going for the advanced layout. However, if you are playing on the higher difficulties it can get frustrating at times as the thrust recognition isn’t always accurate, causing you to hit a shot way off line from what you intended. The game gives you a fair amount of control over your shots and the physics, while sometimes questionable, do a good job of making you feel like you are really shooting billiards with your friends.
For everything it does well, there is no doubt that Pool Hall Pro is a budget-priced game. First off the fake widescreen that the Wii tries to display when a game doesn’t support it just makes it look ridiculous. Couple that with the fact that the game doesn’t exactly sport the most luscious visuals and you have a game that screams low-budget visually. The camera can also be a bit jerky when you fire off a shot. As it zooms in too close to the action and tries to follow it, it gets a bit discombobulated and can really throw off the sense of immersion. The music is also extremely lackluster featuring a few sound samples and a handful of music tracks that sound like they were ripped from an 80s bar (and no not the good kind, the generic kind).
Presentation may be lacking, but as a whole Pool Hall Pro is a decent game of billiards for a reasonable price. The motion controls work well enough that you won’t be wrestling with them, and the sheer amount of modes make up for a lot of the other shortcomings. Once you get the handle of how things work you could easily get addicted to this game. If you own a Wii and are looking to shoot some pool with your friends without having to deal with cigarette smoke and drunken cowboys then this may just be your answer. It is much cheaper than buying an actual table.