Continuing our series of ‘top 5’s, a game genre that is close to my heart, having experience of both pool and snooker at a competitive level – and bringing the baize and balls to an Android smartphone for playing anytime, anywhere is very tempting indeed. The more realism the better, the better the opponent the better, and so on. As with other game genres, there are dozens of titles vying for attention but as usual I’ve been through them and hand-picked just the very best.
Apart from the distinction between pool and snooker (if you don’t know this already, then maybe the article isn’t for you!), there’s the distinction between the various variants of pool (9 ball, 8 ball, and so on), plus there’s the important option of human opponents online versus AI opponents within the game. In the top 5 here, I’ve tried to present a balance across all options – there’s something here for every fan of the cue.
In reverse order then:
5. Micro Pool
Unusually taking the ‘portrait’ view, it all works quite brilliantly, to the point where you wonder why all other pool and snooker games don’t do the same – it’s just supremely comfortable. The trade off is that it’s a natural ‘top down’, i.e. 2D view, but Micro Pool makes up for it with balls that are immaculately rendered and animated, you’ll think they’re physically in your smartphone screen and that you could, if you wished, reach in and pluck them out.
The interface is manual aiming, of course, plus you can set one of four spin types (but not the strength of each), along with the desired cue power. Just to make things challenging, you get a cue aiming line but no corresponding contact point or direction for the object ball. As in the real world, this means that not every shot goes where you want it to go. With a selection of AI skill settings though, it’s a case of finding the one that matches you and then sitting back and enjoying playing.
Micro Pool is a ‘casual’ game in that there are no high score tables or online leagues, or similar. With a choice of 8 ball or 9 ball rules, you play for the sake of playing, in odd minutes, and… you’ll enjoy the experience.
4. Pool Bar HD
In this top 5 by virtue of sheer atmosphere, Pool Bar HD is minimalist in the grand scheme of things, like Micro Pool above, with no over-arching ambitions or high scores, but what it does have in spades is ambience. From the flickering neon lights in the menus to the beautifully rendered seedy bar surroundings to the TV-style viewpoints for great pots to the jangly music to the chatter from other bar occupants, even a TV in the background, you’re there.
As a pool game, there’s a choice of three variants, three difficulty levels and four characters/opponents, so plenty to get your teeth into. Aiming is somewhat broadbrush, but you do get to add spin to your liking, you get to see ball contact points and cue striking is ‘analogue’ in that you pull back and then swipe forwards when ready. Bonus points to the developers for putting in a ‘free view’, in which you can view the table (and the bar) from any angle you want, plus a top-down view, for better strategy.
Pool Bar HD isn’t perfect, but it’s an experience.
3. 8 Ball Pool
The focus here is all about playing other people online, with a barrage of offers, currencies, ways to build up virtual cash in a variety of online means, but trust me, it’s all worth it in the end. You get to play against real people around the world, gambling virtual money by way of entrance fees for random matches in a number of themed arenas, with ever increasing stakes. It’s winner takes all and there’s a palpitable excitement when a game is in progress.
As you might expect, given the virtual cash element, there are ways to both buy this with real world money and to buy virtual things (e.g. better cues), the aim being to enter progressively larger and larger tournaments, where you’re immersed for hours at a time against online players trying to win serious amounts of dough. OK, virtual dough!
Although the playing interface isn’t perfect, being top down and with large bezels around the beige, there’s good enough aiming, ball contact points are shown, with a short object ball track, and all of this is pitched just about perfectly to ensure that no online encounter is too one sided and always lots of fun.
With both local (against the game’s AI) and online options, plus every table size variant, every rule variant, every opponent option you could imagine, it’s very hard to fault the flexibility of Pool Break Pro. In fact, add in Carrom and Crokinole to Pool and Snooker, each with all their variations, add in choices of table colour, background, you can even adjust the lighting in the room(!), and this has to be the most configurable Android game ever created.
Gameplay is by roughly aiming the cue, then pulling back to reveal the striking line and point (and optionally, where the object ball will go), adjusting left and right to fine tune the shot, applying spin or swerve if needed, and then either tap on ‘Shoot’ or simply swipe through. It’s fairly intuitive, there’s a free view if you need it, and it’s a tremendously competent simulation.
As with 8 Ball Pool above, it’s the online (‘network’) play that really excites here though, there always seems to be a wealth of possible opponents from round the world, and a rough and ready ‘cash’ system works out who’s on the way up and who’s on the way down. Every now and then you get a smart ‘alec’ who spends 30 seconds setting up each shot, complete with calculated outrageous swerves, but on the whole it’s great fun and gameplay moves along nicely. Recommended.
Hands down the most realistic and immersive contender here, the rendering of table, balls, movement, TV-style camera angles, and so on are stunning. Quite how all this is done smoothly on even modestly powered Android smartphones is a mystery, but it’s commendable. The audio side of things is superb too, with ultra-realistic contact noises that remain perfectly in ‘sync’ at all times.
The interface is top notch too, with side swipes that change the aiming angle by greater or lesser degrees depending on how high on the screen the swipe is made, i.e. swipe at the bottom for the finest control over aiming angle.
Cue ball spin is easy to swipe to apply, ditto cue power and then all you’ve got to do is tap to chalk the cue and then make the shot. Strictly AI opponents only here, but this is easy to forgive because each ‘tournament’ that you enter starts you off with easy-to-beat players and then you’re up against the best by the time you hit the final. Each frame takes about 10 minutes to play, not far off what this would be in the real world, but never fear for the game keeps perfect track of where you got to, ready to pick a frame/match up again later on.
In terms of ‘living’ the game, International Snooker Pro HD is unparalleled. You’ll hang your head after a miss and pump your fist after a great pot and positional shot comes off. The difficulty levels are about right in terms of challenge and you’ll find yourself playing shots that you’d attempt on a good day in the real world. And, after a safety battle with AI inside your smartphone, your jaw will drop at how immersive it all seems.
If I was being picky, I’d point to a quirk of the latest version wherein you have to tap the screen every now and then during an opponent break in order to keep it lit up, or to the way opponents can be a bit thick getting out of snookers sometimes. But I’m not going to be picky, I’m going to be generous. Buy the game and you’ll see why.