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1995-2000
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Take Two Interactive

qb1-01.jpg (2897 bytes)Part of the beauty of playing video games is that you can do things you’d never be able to in real life—become a spy, do high-flying side kicks, snowboard on the pro circuit, and much, much more. Even with football and track and field games, you’re able to execute moves with the speed and agility of a professional, instead of the weekend sports fan you are. But when I look at a billiards game, I know that even I can wield a pool cue with enough accuracy to keep from embarrassing myself in real life. So then the question becomes, what does the video game offer that I couldn’t get with a couple of quarters at my local bar, bowling alley, or pool hall?

qb2-01.jpg (3736 bytes)Q-ball is set up with 10 billiard lessons (given, via written instructions, by Yoshikazu Kimura) which serve to get the player comfortable with controls and special moves and has an in-game glossary of pool terms you should know to play like a pro (or at least talk like one). The game also has a "vs. player mode" where you can challenge 10 players of either normal or professional rank, a "frozen play" mode which includes 50 stages/puzzles involving pool games, and "free play" where you can pocket the balls by yourself in any way you chose. The vs. mode has five types of games to chose from—US nine ball, International nine ball, eight ball, rotation, or straight pool. You can also access two player "special" games such as Bowlliard, Random Six, and Carrot. And if these are not enough options to choose from, the game lets you play billiard bingo as well.

qb3-01.jpg (3667 bytes)Tons of options are always a plus for expanding the longevity of a game, but I must admit that in the end I always came back to playing by myself in free play. The reason for this was related to my frustration with elements of the gameplay in other areas. Don’t get me wrong—half of this game is pretty phenomenal, but the other half really could use work. Let me explain…

qb4-01.jpg (4008 bytes)The way in which you can tailor your shots is great. You can adjust the altitude of your cue, the angle, and even the amount and type of english you put on the ball. The power gauge lets you execute everything from "just a little tap" to a stellar rack-and-break that Schwarzenegger would be proud of. The movement of the balls as well as the accompanying sound effects are realistic, and this may sound pretty weird and metaphysical, but you can actually "feel the table" in the pool sense. The camera has two settings in vs. play (which do a nice job of following shots), and in free play you can adjust the camera to give an overhead view with a touch of a button. The shot programming was easy to master and made sense, and the overall "realness" of this part of the game was pretty phenomenal.

qb5-01.jpg (2502 bytes)The first negative part of the game is the limited number of halls or venues. Added to that was the fact that each is fairly uninteresting (the graphics are solid, but mostly just balls and table), from the actual room itself to the fact that they lacked a crucial dynamic element—real people!! During vs. games your opponent appears as a cartoon figure in a box on the left-hand side of your screen, and any dialogue is written rather than spoken. The computer runs the "ghost cue" which shoots in a manner consistent with the specs of each individual player. While each opponent played in a unique manner, I found I got really bored while the computer was playing. How much fun would it have been to have a moving, interacting opponent that we could watch and trade taunts with? But no, we can only wait and watch an inanimate box and a computer cue. This was especially apparent when playing with the opponents who rarely missed a shot. That meant you got to sit and watch for large amounts of time, with nothing of interest to distract you from your boredom. Ouch!

qb6-01.jpg (3488 bytes)If you have ever played pool in real life you know that music sets the critical "mood" to inspire your shots, and while Q-ball has a capable soundtrack, it isn’t the type which really moves you to play like a pro. I know that as a game wore on, I began to feel that the music was repetitive and really didn’t add much to the already flat forum, when it could have spiced up the mood (or at least functioned as a distraction during down time). The sound effects were nice, but again, they were mostly relegated to the table.

Although the myriad of games Q-ball provided are a pleasant distraction, they suffer from some of the same "surrounding" boredom that the vs. game does. The sense of elation I felt from finishing a game or making a great shot was short lived, and I didn’t feel as though the game fostered a desire to do any better to progress through it. Perhaps this is also a function of the lack of interaction with other opponents or increasingly interesting venues and challenges.

So where does this leave us as would-be billiard players? I finally came to the conclusion that the $50 dollars the game cost would have provided me with enough quarters to head down to my local pool hall and bang a few balls around the table for quite a while. Invariably some other lonely soul or even an occasional shark would come to keep me company, and no matter how pedestrian, total strangers are still more interesting that an inanimate cartoon box. If you don’t know how to play pool, are agoraphobic, or don’t have a pool table within a hundred miles, then you wouldn’t be disappointed renting this game for a few hours of fun. But as for adding it to your personal collection, I’d say you’d be better off slaying dragons, shooting bad guys, or sacking the quarterback, and leaving billiards, at least for now, to the realm of real life.

Monica Hafer

Snapshot

Ups: Nice graphics; decent instruction; good single-player mode; lots of billiards games.

Downs: Uninteresting venues; AI opponents are really lacking in personality; not as good as the real thing.

System Reqs:
PlayStation 2

 

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