‘Chalk’ it up to clever design, thoughtful planning and an eye for the sport’s subtle nuances: Backspin Billiards will make a hustler out of you yet.
Pedestrian approach and lack of focus aside, the title – a convincing simulation of America’s favorite barroom diversion – offers a compelling look at the grand old game. More amazing still; the outing will actually teach you to hone your real-world technique, yet remains accessible enough that even novices greener than felt can still wrap their hands around it.
All hyperbole aside, if variety truly is the spice of life, then developer pixelStorm might as well be force-feeding you paprika. Frankly, a staggering array of play modes, options and rule settings is available.
Players can choose from dozens of unique combinations of table background colors, ball patterns, and cue types. Graphical settings also let you decide whether arrow indicators should highlight the cue ball’s movement path and allow you to juggle the use of shadows and enhanced cursors. (Hint: We highly recommend running the title in windowed mode for maximum visual and computing performance, not to mention ease of multi-tasking.)
Myriad game variants are also offered in addition to standard 8-ball and 9-ball games.
There’s cutthroat (balls are divided into three numbered groups, which you’ll select one of, then try to defend while pocketing all in your adversaries’ stable.) Euro 8-ball, similar to its American cousin, but with different-colored balls and no called shots needed. Point-based alternative 3-ball and 14.1 Continuous, a bizarre diversion wherein players nominate pockets to place shots in and scores are tracked, are additionally featured.
Rounding out the package are three catchy, arcade-style diversions.
Time trial events require that you pocket balls as fast as possible. Mind-bending and reflex-testing trick shot challenges position balls in unlikely spots (i.e. at random ends of the table) and demand you sink all in one shot. Finally, golf, the most interesting item of the trio, asks that you polish off tables under par. Or, should we say, by emptying them within a set amount of shots while avoiding penalty stroke-levying, red-colored balls.
After selecting a mode, of course, you also get to pick whether or not it’s necessary to choose stripes or solids after a break, scratching results in your opponent being awarded ball-in-hand, etc.
If the setup seems overwhelming though, relax. Like play itself, a user-friendly point-and-click interface makes everything a cakewalk.
Positioning the cue is as easy as moving the mouse. Setting shot power, plus adding spin and English, is effortless too: Just click on self-explanatory meters until they’re ready to go, or use the keyboard to accomplish these tasks.
Simple and elegant, the system’s incredibly endearing.
Anyone can comprehend the basics in seconds. Mastering the game’s nuances, well… That’s infinitely more difficult. Nevertheless, you’ll have plenty of time to pick up on Backspin Billiards’ intricacies. Replay value is immense, especially when you factor in support for two-player head-to-head showdowns on a single PC.
Where we’d like to have seen more improvement is in the area of affability, though.
Computer opponents come in different difficulty levels: skilled, amateur, novice, shark, expert. But no unique character portraits or personalities were created to bring added charm to these artificially intelligent foes.
Settings are bland too. Forget playing in smoky pool halls, seedy backrooms or plush basements – all you’ll ever see is the table itself.
There’s no career mode either. Advancing through the ranks, competing against the world’s best players while earning cash to unlock new gear and settings… Common gaming conventions expert-level users may be well-acquainted with are nowhere in sight.
But what you do get is an attractively-presented (love those authentic sphere-crashing sound effects) and finely balanced diversion that boasts spot-on physics modeling and progressively more competitive adversaries.
As such, it’s easy to enjoy the program as a pleasant little time-waster capable of teaching old dogs new tricks, even if you’re not into the actual leisure time activity on which it’s based.
That, naturally, being the best compliment we can pay Backspin Billiards – it feels like playing pool, yet with none of the associated hassle. Let alone, no less, the need to pony up anything more after losing to a friend than the initial $20 cost of purchase.