3D Pocket Pool – Game Boy Color
Platform: Game Boy Color
Release Date (EU): March 30th, 2001
Developer: Aardvark Software
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Nerd Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Note: I played this game on the Visual Boy Advanced emulator.
In my ongoing quest to beat every Game Boy Color game ever released, I decided to start with this game, 3D Pocket Pool. I had never seen this game before as a kid, mostly because it was only released in Europe, so I was really excited to start with something fresh. Also, I love pool so playing a pool game sounded fantastic. At first glance, it appeared to be one of your average sports game with little creative elements added to it. However, looks can be deceiving and that is very much true for this title.
I was actually surprised at the beginning of 3D Pocket Pool because it wasn’t a plain looking, it had a ton of style. All of the colors were incredibly bright and had this 80s throwback kind of feel to them. The game also has a cast of really interestingly designed playable characters each with their own backstory, usually revolving around space, that all were pretty ridiculous. This was especially weird for a game released in the early 2000s where most sports games tried to look clean and uniform. But I appreciated the creativity and sense of humor that the developers put into 3D Pocket Pool, it was definitely an interesting game.
The actual game is pretty simple with only four modes; Practice, Tournament, Two-Player, and Killer. The Practice mode is pretty simple and also the best place to start when getting acquainted with the game. You start, like all modes, by selected the character you want to play as and then selecting the ruleset you want to play by. This game gives you four options; UK 8-Ball Bar, US 8-Ball APA, US 8-Ball No Breaks, and US 9-Ball Normal. Since I’m familiar with the US 8-Ball APA rules I went with those, but I appreciate that the game gives you the option to use different rulesets. Afterwards, you can pick how long you want a turn to last. I went with Unlimited because it made learning the game mechanics easier, but you can choose anywhere from 30 seconds to 10.
Once you’ve selected that, you’ll see a match-up screen and your game will start. Typically if you choose any rules that involve breaking, you’ll be the one to break. When it’s your turn you’ll be adjusted to wherever the cue ball is and will be able to see exactly where the ball will go. And by exactly, I mean you can actually continually adjust the stick to wherever you can see the preview cue ball sinking one in. This basically defeats the purpose of the aiming mechanic at the top of the screen, but also removes a bit of the challenge from the game. I’ve managed to sink all but a single ball and the 8-ball during my first turn because of the preview ball. However, that being easy doesn’t ruin the game; in fact, you will need that because your opponents will be difficult.
I know this seems strange especially when the gameplay mechanics make the game easy, but it seems as though that same preview ball ability you have, your opponents have. Because they will sink everything on their first turn. This makes the game’s second mode; Tournament even harder. In Tournament you can’t choose a time-limit per turn, only rules and a character. The tournament is set in your typical tree fashion and will pit you against a character for two matches before allowing you to advance. Once again, with the opponent difficulty being hard and your turns only 20 second intervals, Tournament mode is anything but easy.
The third mode, Two-Player isn’t as it sounds. This mode doesn’t allow you to connect with others to play through a link cable, instead it’s like practice mode except with two players sharing the same game with back-to-back turns. While it may seem boring without having a second person nearby to play it with, Two-Player mode can offer single players a good practice session against themselves before going up against Tournament and Killer modes. This is especially helpful if you want to get used to the strange physics system and learn where around the holes is considered a pocket, but more on that later. It’s time to talk about the last mode which I found pretty enjoyable; Killer.
In Killer mode you go against two opponents and each of you has three “lives.” The rules with Killer are a little different than regular pool, which makes it the odd-one-out compared to the other modes. Instead of the typical pool balls, this mode replaces them with red, green, and blue solid balls. And the goal of Killer mode is to outlast the two opponents by sinking a ball every turn. Should you not sink a ball during your turn, you will lose one of your lives. This would seem easy since you don’t have to focus on any particular balls and you can relax and focus on sinking, but it really isn’t. As the turns wear on, the table will have less and less balls for you to sink. Luckily, there are no back-to-back turns in this mode, but the opponents will still be as perfect as ever. I’m serious, the first time I played Killer mode neither of my opponents lost a single life during the first round even though there were a few times when they had a crappy shot.
Besides the incredibly difficult opponents, this game isn’t completely logical with their physics system either. I suppose this is a limitation of the game not actually being built on a 3D engine, but it just makes winning near-impossible. For example, sometimes when a ball hits a certain area around the sinkholes, it will go in instead of bouncing off against it. Or when the ball should have sunk or should have bounced against a wall and hit another ball but didn’t. But like I said, I suppose these were just limitations. The same could also be said about the area of the cue ball being hit not mattering and a lack of force controls for the stick. But that’s just me being picky.
Within an hour of playing this game on my computer I had completely burnt my eyes out and gave me a headache. Luckily, this is something that would never happen on a Game Boy Color screen because it isn’t backlit. However, the headache part had nothing to do with the colors and more to do with the fact that in-game, the screen constantly flashes. I spent a lot of time wondering why that happened as I played and only figured it out when I was trying to get screenshots for this review. Because this game is built on a 2D-engine, making it appear 3-dimensional would require some trickery, and by trickery I mean flashing light. That’s right, this game known as 3D Pocket Pool is actually only 2D with flashing shadows on the images to make it appear to be three-dimensional. While I suppose this means the developer marketed a lie, I thought it was a pretty interesting trick.
Overall I would say 3D Pocket Pool is a decent game, it’s not the worst and it isn’t the best, but it’s neat. I had a fun time playing and I think I might use this game to practice pool when I’m not at the pool hall. This game is pretty creative with its style, characters, backstories, etc. It also attempted a feat at being a 3D game on a 2D handheld console, which is a pretty noble goal in itself. So props to the developer, but it’s still near impossible to beat.
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