Cult Game Review: Pool Edge

Rarely are we given the chance to see cutting edge design in a simulation game.  Most games fall flat when put to test, whether it’s because of mechanical limits or immersion breaking errors.  As such, any sense of realism is lost.  Some games indulge in their mediocrity (such as the both beloved and maligned Goat Simulator) while others try to hide it with various results (such as the infamous Street Cleaning Simulator.) However, all of those fall to the wayside when put up against the simulationist glory that is Pool Edge.  In fact, there are tons of reasons ahead why this game was “cutting edge!”  (I’ll work on my humor in the future, I promise.)

More after the jump!

Pool Edge is a 2002 title that showcases all the fun of pool.  It was developed by MediaKite and was released for the NDCube, as well as being developed by NDCube.  Despite being relatively obscure outside of Japan, the game has slowly been obtaining a steady cult following here in the US.  The only shame is that Nintendo didn’t release that hallmark in gaming history outside of Japan.  Thus, resourceful modders To be honest, there is plenty to write home about.

First off, this game features a wide variety of plausible pool halls that look so familiar, you would swear you’ve been there yourself!  You’re given the option to explore expected and tradition locations for a pool game, such as: a locked off military hanger, an underwater utopia, a roadside pub, an old castle, and several others.  Each stage is rendered with top of the line graphical capabilities, at least for 2002.

Now, it wouldn’t be a game about pool without some diverse and interesting opponents to face.  Each NPC you play against is a still barely photoshopped image of a human face.  These are citizens from the beautiful land of The Uncanny Valley, traveling far and wide to challenge you to a game of pool.  While you have the occasional chance to gaze deeply into their pixelated dead eyes, you get the chance to test your abilities against each computer.  Various computers have various skill sets, with some being more versed in the game than others.  Beware of Gunt though, some say he’s a vicious cheater with a petty attitude problem.

In terms of mechanics, this game breaks down every aspect of a billiards game, with many in game assistants and help screens to ensure you get the right pool balls in the pocket.  Your choice of billiard balls are solid, striped, and the colour out of space!  Once you’ve made your choice, it’s game time!  Using your gamecube controller to direct your pool cue, you can line up your shot however you like.  This is because the game assumes you have the powers of Mr. Fantastic of Marvel’s Fantastic Four.  You’re able to change the angle at an improbable rate, charge up the amount of power and force (from a slightest of light taps to risking your billiard ball even flying off the table), and alter where exactly your cue hits against the ball for maximum geometric power.

Now, despite being only released in Japan, the game’s audio was recorded entirely in English.  Beyond the trick shot and practice modes, there isn’t that much Japanese text or audio found throughout the games. In fact, the announcer speaks all of his lines with an articulate and dramatic dialect, in order to play up the tension and suspense during your game.  To me, the announcer really showcases how far games directors and voice actors can convey personality and emotion.  You can sense the passive-aggressive judgmental mindset from him as he scorns you for being “soooo close” or when your turn results in complete “disaster!  DISASTER!”  Some of his lines showcase the VO’s dedication to the craft, such as when you must choose your pocket to sink the 8 Ball in.  You can really sense that you’ve won over the ever cynical narrator of this simulation experience.

Of course, the real thrill of this game is unraveling the narrative lying deep within the game itself.  Ever notice how the NPCs you are pit against look like blurry versions of peoples’ faces?  Ever curious why all of the stages have a haunting emptiness to them?  Are you dying to know why any time other characters show up, they look lifeless, dead, or plastic-like?  Well, that’s because the protagonist of this game is a survivor of an apocalyptic event. They probably even similar to the character seen in the Mad Max screenshot.  While it’s not specified, it’s implied the main character is one of the few survivors for a long distance.  The faces that represent your opponents are just random faces from your memory superimposed upon multiple personalities brought upon by your post-apocalypse anxiety meltdown.  The announcer is likely you as well, a lonely man who entertains himself with sardonic wit and dry humor to pass the futility of existence.  As such, his skills as a once top ranked pool player keep the remnants of his sanity intact in what amounts to a shattered world.  And thus, he hops from pool hall to pool hall as both nostalgic recollection of the old world and to ease his pains from the new world.

With that major revelation, the drama of Pool Edge really drives home what makes this classic title so fascinating. From the brilliant voice work, to the wonderfully rendered maps, to the dark truth revolving the game’s universe; it had all the makings of a top selling video game within the United States. This makes it all the more unfortunate that it never reached an international market. Perhaps a HD remake will change that, if Nintendo is listening. So, if you’re on the search for a rare gem, track this one down. And one final word from the Doc himself, I hope you enjoy April Fool’s Day and don’t take everything you see on the internet too seriously!

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