Those looking for a good billiards game on the App Store had plenty of options before Gameloft’s Midnight Pool recently hit the scene. While we don’t think the game is in a different league than the competition, its gameplay is certainly strong enough for us to recommend it, despite some uncharacteristic loose ends.
Midnight Pool models the motion of the pool cue and balls very realistically, so you can hit any shot in the book, in three dimensions. You can jump your cue ball over obstacles, hit wicked banana curves, or put so much english on it that it skitters all the way back across the table after knocking in a target. All of the momentum and angles feel intuitively correct, and the game helpfully provides an angle calculator that displays the trajectories of each shot in real time, allowing you to concentrate more on placement and strategy (you also can turn it off, if you like).
This finely tuned control comes with a cost, however. It can take a long time to set up each shot, especially when you first start playing. First, you have to set the basic angle of the shot by dragging the cue around, which is painfully slow. Then you make adjustments by tapping on either side of the cue until you’re perfectly aligned; this frequently requires several trips to the camera mode to double-check your aim, which comes with more slow scrolling. After that, you set the position at which your cue contacts the ball, followed by the cue elevation, and finally shot power. Sure, pool’s a finesse game that requires a lot of concentration, but this process seems more laborious than it needs to be.
Two other minor issues bugged us about the controls. First, when you’re dragging on the screen to place the cue ball or to target your cue, the aim spot trails your finger by a fraction of a second, requiring you to lead it into the desired position. Second, you tap on the side of the cue opposite to the direction you want to rotate it in, which is rather counter-intuitive.
On the plus side, there are lots of enjoyable ways to play through Midnight Pool. The game offers single matches of 8-ball US, 8-ball UK, and 9-ball, as well as a pass-and-play two-player game, a collection of cool trick-shot challenges, and a story mode. The trick-shots were our favorite part of the whole game; they require a lot of practice to nail down, so you actually feel accomplished when you complete them. There are excellent, step-by-step instructions guiding you through the various advanced shot techniques, although they’re buried in a menu.
The story mode is a weak link. For one thing, there’s no story. You pick one of two starting characters and simply fly around the country, unlocking the other players and venues as you beat them. When you’ve unlocked everything, you loop right back through, only the guys you just beat suddenly become much more skilled. The characters themselves are moderately interesting–there’s a sassy dentist, a smooth Vegas businessman, a hick cop, and so on–but they all play more or less the same, and it’s no fun to compete against them again. For another, you make money by betting on the outcome of your games, completing trick shots, and stringing together plays, but we couldn’t find anything to spend it on. This part of the game could stand to be fleshed out a little more.
Midnight Pool’s 3D graphics are really good. There are lots of background details in all of the bars, the characters have unique animations (like chucking their cues when they foul), and you can zoom in on the table or switch to an overhead view, per your preference. The music is a fantastic collection of pool hall blues, rock, and alt-country numbers that fits the scene perfectly. We were annoyed by the way it abruptly switches from one track to another, though.
If you like pool games, and you’re looking for something a little less casual than you might otherwise find on the App Store, Midnight Pool is a good bet; it’s just not the tour de force we’ve come to expect from Gameloft.