Written by: Rik

Date posted: November 27, 2011


The dynamic camera is generally well-behaved, although occasionally it takes you rather too close to the action.

In our otherwise positive endorsement of the last pool game to feature on FFG, Jimmy White’s Cueball World, there was one caveat: we really don’t need any more. Awesome Studios clearly felt differently, although it’s unlikely they took our unsolicited opinions into account when planning Pool Paradise, especially because it was released some months before we even expressed them. I honestly don’t know how we missed this one – perhaps it was quite a low-profile release [or simply down to a lack of basic research – FFG reader].

Anyway, it’s another flipping pool game from the developers of the Jimmy White series, with the somewhat spurious concept of the last game (travel around the world and play pool!) abandoned in favour of something even more ridiculous. This time, for no apparent reason, you’re stuck on a tropical island with nothing but pool and other pub sports for entertainment. Pool is what you’ll be doing, and Paradise is where you’ll be doing it! Just like you always wanted!

If the setting alone isn’t a convincing reason for this game to exist (and it isn’t) then it’s difficult to find any others, because underneath, Pool Paradise is pretty much the same game as its predecessor. Which would be fair enough if, as we argued last time around, it was largely the same but better – and there’d be nothing to do but shrug our shoulders and bow to progress, even if that progress comes in the form of barely-discernable spit and polish, and dish out some lukewarm praise. Unfortunately, though, in the process of faffing around and trying to make it look like a brand new game, Awesome have contrived to release a slightly inferior title.

During play there’s actually only one thing that bugs me significantly, but it’s a biggie, because the control method’s been changed. You still have the choice between setting angle and power with the keyboard (the coward’s way) or using the mouse to mimic the movement of the cue, but where the latter used to allow you to hold down a key on the keyboard while, er, stroking the mouse back and forth to take your shot, you now have to hold the mouse button down and click-drag the cue instead. It doesn’t sound all that significant a change but, for me, the old scheme sort of replicated taking a shot in real life, whereas this feels like you’re just ham-fistedly wafting a mouse around. Eventually, you get used to it (at first it really annoyed me – to the extent that I was going to stop playing), but it’s a step backwards as far as I’m concerned.

You can purchase novelty tables, such as this ice-hockey effort. The physics are adjusted accordingly here, which is nice.

Elsewhere, Pool Paradise expands upon Cueball World‘s relatively paltry single-player mode, with over 30 AI opponents of varying skill levels ready to challenge you to a game of one of a number of different flavours of pool (no snooker though, if you’re bothered about such things). You can play one-off practice games, but the main event involves playing for money in an attempt to rise up the rankings. It’s a pretty slow starter: you can’t challenge the better players until you have enough money to put down, which means that at the start you’re pretty much forced to face off against moronic AI players for low stakes until you’ve built up some capital.

Depending on your own skill level, this can make for some truly terrible matches. Which particular variation of pool you end up playing is decided for you by your opponent, and if it happens to be one of the longer-lasting ones like 14-1, the matches can be chronically dull, with boredom and lack of engagement with the action often causing concentration to waver and the ineptitude that results only succeeds in dragging the whole thing out even more. Seriously, there’s nothing more painful to watch than two people who are very bad at pool playing a game where the winner is the first one to pot 25 balls.

Things do pick up as you progress, and once you have more money and a wider choice of opponents, you can try and select matches with your preferred rules (I tend to favour the ones where the rules are simple and achieving a fluke victory more plausible, such as UK 8-Ball, or 15-Ball), but it has to be said that in general the championship mode rather feels like overkill. I guess it depends on what you want from a pool game: my own reasons for playing involve a misguided notion that a ‘quick game’ of something like this might somehow be low-key and relaxing (in actual fact I invented new – unpublishable – swear words to describe how I felt about losing while playing this for the purposes of the review) and an equally foolish assumption that it might, somehow, improve my real-life pool (which it won’t – see I’m rubbish at pool) so perhaps I’m not best-placed to judge. But be prepared to grind through quite a lot of games.

Darts is a fun diversion. Unfortunately I’m worse at darts than I am at pool.

The incentive for doing so, aside from rising up the rankings, is that you can spend some of the money you earn on extra goodies, the best of which frankly should have been unlocked from the beginning (such as the darts). Still, I suppose the fact that you have to work to get them does engender a grim sense of determination that’s necessary during the early stages. You can also blow cash on completely pointless stuff like custom cues and baizes, if the thought of playing on a leopard-print pool table excites you.

Speaking of which, you may find the general air of wackiness in Pool Paradise just a little irritating. The easy, low-key charm of Cueball World has been chiselled away, to be replaced by bright colours, zany fonts and ‘hilarious’ opponents. Perhaps I’m just being an old fuddy-duddy, but is there really any point in shoehorning half-arsed caricatures of Bill Gates, John McEnroe or OJ Simpson into your pool game? Meanwhile, there’s no mention of Jimmy White, which sadly means no reprise of his genuinely very amusing video sequences.

In other respects, the presentation is generally okay. The main graphics are from Cueball World but tidied up a bit, although it’s slightly disappointing that the multiple locations have been dispensed with and you never actually leave the island. The sound is sparse but functional – my own attitude towards the music varied between hardly noticing it was there and “I want to hurl the CD out of the window”. There’s no variation in tone or tempo – it’s more a case of how you feel about generic background muzak at any particular moment. I guess when everything’s going okay, then it’s easy to ignore, but when you’ve just lost a match by potting the cue ball, it suddenly becomes incredibly irritating.

I wasn’t joking about the leopard-print baize.

It looks like the conclusion I’m dancing around, with some reluctance, is that there’s not really all that much wrong with Pool Paradise, and despite its irritations, it’s essentially a solid pool sim. Multiple unfavourable comparisons aside, I can’t simply recommend that you play Cueball World instead, either, because I recently discovered (much to my horror and dismay) that it’s one of those games that runs much too quickly on modern machines (frantic trials of various slow-down programmes were to no avail) and I’m not about to suggest the difference between the two is so vast that you need to go to great lengths to seek out the older game and get it working. So, for that basic reason, if nothing else, I guess we do sort of need Pool Paradise – it’s newer and it’s not as good, which is a shame, but at least it works*.

*NB: On my system, at the time of writing. All details correct at the time of publication. All rights reserved. Interest rates can go up as well as down. Your home may be at risk if you do not keep up repayments. Please be aware that your nearest emergency exit may be behind you.