Snooker games continue their niche standing in the video game community. Unlike its more popular and universal cousin Pool, the game of Snooker is the reserve of the British and several ex commonwealth countries, but in the land of the free, and the land of the rising sun, Snooker is just not that popular.
So it is that we come to the latest in a very slim picking of titles, with Snooker Nation Championship in its current release on the Xbox One. Following the definitive success of its Pool title, Pool Nation, Cherry Pop Games have decided to delve into the world of the pink and black to provide us few snooker fans with a modern interpretation of the more complex of the two cue sports typically on offer.
To those who do not know, the rules to snooker are relatively simple. The table consists of red and coloured balls that each has a representative point value. The aim of each competitor is to use the cue ball to first pot a red, (worth 1 point), before potting a colour (worth between 2 – 7 points). Successful potting of a red followed by a colour allows the active player to rotate back to a red again continuing to play until each ball is cleared from the table or you fail to pot. Fail and its your opponents turn to try to clear the table. Once the reds are all removed potting follows a specific sequence from yellow to black in order to clear the table. At the end, the player with the most points wins. This is obviously the most basic of descriptions, but it is more than enough for anyone to jump in and have a try, yet is significantly more complicated than the spots or stripes of your standard pool game.
The true success or failure of a cue game, is down to its mechanics. Graphics mean nothing in these games if the balls do not accurately react when struck, and thankfully CPG seem to have this correctly fleshed out, with the physics and movement of the ball an accurate representation of how I would expect a ball to behave if I were to take a similar shot in real life. That said, the graphical fidelity of Snooker Nation is excellent, with a plethora of purchasable configuration settings for the table cover and cues to customise and make each arena individual.
Snooker nation has several modes; Championship, where you challenge to make your way up the ladder to sit atop as the greatest player in an open Crucible style competition, Snooker Hall which allows players to join you randomly to play a game, and finally Friendly which allows you to set up a match against friends.
During Championship, each game you play will earn you experience and credits, the latter of which is used to purchase the customisations mentioned before. The rewards provided are dictated by the difficulty under which you are playing, and in this, Snooker Nation once again differs slightly from your usual games. Difficulty is derived from two factors.
Firstly, as you would expect, the AI competency forms the core underpinning of the difficulty, with the AI becoming more accurate and less likely to make a mistake when taking a shot or lining up a snooker. This in itself ties back to the second part of the difficulty settings and that is your shot predictions. When you line up a shot, you will be granted a vision of where you expect each ball to go, and depending on the length of the line, how far the given ball will travel. These prediction lines vary based on the angle of your cue, the spin you put on the cue ball, and the force you put into the shot (how far back you pull the stick before pushing forward to strike). The difficulty varies in how much distance your prediction lines will “predict”, with the most punishing of the difficulties providing no visibility of the predicted movement, requiring you to understand the angles and interactions that will occur when you play a certain shot at a certain speed. In an extremely well balanced bit of designing, your rewards grow exponentially, the greater the difficulty you place upon yourself.
Aside from a few minor bugs during the multiplayer, such as challenger names appearing incorrectly, Snooker Nation shows a significant improvement in how the game runs on Xbox One compared to its predecessor Pool Nation, with much improved physics and load times allowing for quick and easy access to what is a very well-constructed and enjoyable Snooker Title.
Considering that snooker titles seem to come along once every decade or so, I’m thankful that CPG have created a functional and competent snooker title and the only drawback I can see is the limitation in the championship single player component which is rather bare bones.