Chalk up your cues and gather your scratch, because Pool Pro Online 3 has earned not only its stripes, but also its solids. This is no sticky-floored dive-bar pool experience, with one table, scuffed-up felt, and missing an 8 ball. Quite the contrary: it packs just about everything you could ask for in a pool game into a classy, elegant package.
After the tutorial, single-player mode is the best place to start, because it lets you get used to the controls without putting anything on the line. General aiming is done by swiping your finger across the screen until the directional beam emanating from your cue ball is pointed toward the ball you want to hit. Each ball the beam points at is briefly highlighted, so it’s easy to pick one out of a crowd.
To make minor adjustments to your aim, there’s a low-sensitivity bar you can drag your finger along, just like in Peggle. Once you have your shot lined up just the way you want it, you pull down on the cue stick at the side of the screen, as though you’re launching a pinball, and let ‘er rip.
Keep an eye on the ricochet.
For your viewing angle while lining up your shots, you get two choices: overhead and player-level. Overhead affords you a top-down view of the whole table, which is convenient, but the screen size on the iDevice means that the balls appear quite tiny, and there’s no way to zoom in. This view’s saving grace is that it’s easy to see the trajectory beams that appear for your cue ball and for the ball you’re going to hit. The player-level view shows you what you’d see if you were lining up the shot in real life. When the action starts and a ball rolls near a hole, the camera switches to a close-up view.
Single player offers four difficulty levels and three game types: 8 ball, 9 ball, and snooker. It’s also a great place to rack up money, or “scratch,” which you can use to buy in-game upgrades or to bet against other players online. The amount of scratch you earn is based on various factors, like whether you won or lost, how quickly you played, and how long your sinking streaks were.
Line it up like the Usual Suspects.
A great pool game also requires a versatile multiplayer mode, and Pool Pro Online 3 does not disappoint. You can play locally via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or pass-and-play, or you can venture online to take on strangers. Just like in single player, you can play any of the three variations on offer, but now you can place bets on them, which really ups the fun factor. When you tap on someone’s name in the lobby to challenge them, you can choose how much of your scratch you’d like to put on the line, and your opponent can either accept or decline your offer.
Due to the nature of the game, both you and your opponent will spend time waiting in multiplayer. Lining up shots can be quick and easy in some cases, but when you’re trying to predict bounce-back angles, it can take some time. A countdown timer insures that you’ll never have to wait too long, but still, this mode is not for the impatient. On the plus side, we didn’t have any trouble finding people to connect with online. And the in-game chat client works well, but try to do your typing during your opponent’s turn to keep things moving at a steady clip.
No juvenile insults? Must be fake.
Scads of other features are available, too. Using scratch you’ve earned, you can visit the in-game shop to upgrade the look of your equipment or the pool halls you play in. If you want those extras but don’t want to spend your scratch, a premium pack is available for a $0.99 in-app purchase, which gives you four cues, four felts, and four pool halls. You can also create a friend list, block people, look at leaderboards, and unlock achievements.
The graphics are crisp, clear, and fully 3D. Although you’re locked into one of two perspectives when it’s your turn, you can move the camera all over the place while you wait for your opponent. The music is elegant and unintrusive, but you can access your iTunes library from the options menu if you’d prefer. And a helpful soft tone sounds to alert you when it’s your turn.
Pool Pro Online 3 includes everything you’d want in a handheld pool game. The game’s biggest hindrance is that it’s trapped in a small screen, but even that can’t stop the fun you’ll have if pool is your thing. Maybe Namco will bring this to the iPad eventually. Regardless, pick this game up, earn some scratch, and we’ll see you online.