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It seems to be an unwritten law of the universe. Wherever a computer appears someone, somewhere will attempt to create a snooker or pool game for it. Sometimes these will be in-depth simulations that implement every rule in the book; sometimes they will be arcade variants with fun in mind.
Doodle Pool takes the latter route and is simple stripped down approach to pool. This means that if you are looking for an in-depth pool sim with realistic physics, a 3D perspective and a faithful application of the formal rules of pool, this is not the game for you. On the other hand, if you want a straightforward, addictive game which emphasises fun over skill, then Doodle Pool is worth a look.
Taking the simple approach does mean that Doodle Pool doesn't have endless variations of the sport, although it has the option to play UK 8 Ball, US 8 Ball or US 9 Ball. Don't worry if you don't know the rules of these different versions because these are explained to you as you play. Each version can also be played as either a one or two player game or against the clock in speed mode. The one player mode also has several different opponents of varying skill levels, so it offers a reasonable challenge.
Graphically, the game takes a fun, rather than realistic approach. Rather than a seeing a "proper" pool table, the screen is taken up by what looks like a crayon drawing of one, with small coloured blobs representing the balls and deliberately child-like scribblings marking the outline of the table and the pockets. It sounds a bit strange, but it works well, getting across the idea that this is meant to be a fun game rather than a realistic simulation.
The table is viewed from an overhead perspective, which works well from a graphics viewpoint, but not quite so well where the controls are concerned (more on this shortly). This makes it instantly clear where all the balls are in relation to each other and enables you to plan both which one to pot next and how to set yourself up for your next shot at the same time. This gives the game an element of strategy similar to the real sport: your aim is not just to pot one ball, but to stay on the table for as long as possible to prevent your opponent from having a chance.
Sound is pretty basic, but is OK. A jolly little tune accompanies the main title screen, whilst in-game effects are limited to the click of ball hitting ball or other more limited noises. It might have been nice to have a few more effects (some applause or cheering on potting a ball or winning a frame would have added to the atmosphere, for example), but it's adequate.
It's the controls that let the game down a little and will make or break whether your enjoyment of Doodle Pool. Once you have got used to them, they work reasonably well (although there are still niggles), but they are tricky to master because they are somewhat counter-intuitive at times. Many of the reviews of this game on the App Store mention the controls as a real negative point and you do need to invest a bit of time learning how to use them.
In most pool/snooker games, you view the action from behind the cue ball and line up your shot and set its power using a series of icons. This is pretty logical approach and has become common because it works. Doodle Pool adopts a different method, which is not entirely successful. Rather than starting your shot from the cue ball, you can actually drag anywhere on the screen to control the power. The further back you drag your finger, the more powerful your shot. Once you have selected the power, you keep your finger pressed to the screen and then move it around to select the angle of the shot (shown by a white guide line on screen).
This control method is initially frustrating. The logical thing is to start your line from the point where the cue ball is, but this is not a good idea: as soon as you reach the edge of the gaming screen, you can't add any more power (so if the ball is close to the cushion and you take this approach, your shot will have barely any power). Worse still, if you take your finger off the screen at this point, it's assumed you want to take the shot, often resulting in a foul. For the first few games I played I had real trouble getting the hang of this. Once you have got your head around precisely what you need to do it gets better, although because they are so counter-intuitive, there are still times when you forget. Even when you have mastered them, they can still be frustrating. It's a little too easy to accidentally lift your finger from the screen (which results in your shot being taken) before you have selected the right angle and (due to the Ai of the computer opponents) one mistake can result in you losing the game.
As mentioned above, the game doesn't offer the most challenging game of pool in the world, and it is definitely aimed at causal, rather than hard core gamers. When you are taking your shot, a red arrow shows you the path the ball you are hitting will take. This makes it far too easy to calculate potting angles and, indeed at times, it seems virtually impossible to miss, since all you have to do is make sure that red line points into the pocket. You also can't apply any advanced control techniques to the cue ball either, such as side, spin or screw in order to use get perfect positioning on the next ball; it's all down to how well you judge the speed of the shot. Again, this makes it more of an arcade pool game than a serious sim.
The computer AI is also a little uneven in places. I've played games where the computer player has missed even the easiest of pots (balls that are hanging right over the pockets) then, because I have put together a good sequence of pots, they've suddenly come back to the table and cleared up in one go, pulling off some outrageous shots in the process. This is rather unrealistic and more than a little frustrating. Similarly, there are sudden spikes in difficulty, so you will beat one opponent with ease and meet the next who clears up everything in one break. Even so because the game is pretty easy overall, most computer opponents will only take a couple of goes to beat and you'll soon have defeated all the computer players.
To be honest, though, this doesn't actually matter. I've beaten every computer opponent several times over, but Doodle Pool is one of those games I return to time and time again, because it's a lot of fun. It might not be the most realistic pool game ever, but the arcade approach to the sport works well and provides a game that will keep you coming back for me.
Overall, Doodle Pool is a fun little pool game for those who don't want to learn the complexities of real pool rules or practice for several hours a day to learn the art of perfect positional play and advanced break building. It's fun and it's free (or you can pay 69p for an ad-free version), so you can't really complain. It might not offer the greatest challenge and the controls may take a bit of mastering, but for the most part, its good points outweigh the bad.
© Copyright SWSt 2012