Release Date: 25/10/02
One of a handful of subsidiary software companies producing for Nintendo, Japanese developers NdCube were formed to broaden the range of exclusive and original titles for the GameCube and GameBoy Advance. They are perhaps best known as the uncredited co-developers of F-Zero: Maximum Velocity on the GameBoy Advance, and also to a lesser extent, the cult futuristic racer Tube Slider for the GameCube.
Pool Edge was their first GameCube title: a pool simulation, nonetheless, released exclusively in Japan nearly four years ago now. For some reason, perhaps the lack of interest in the game of pool itself, it remains one of a handful of Japan-only GameCube games to carry relatively obscure status. In terms of popularity in the pool simulation genre, it sits a distant fourth behind the (admittedly excellent) Monkey Billiards mini-games from the two Super Monkey Ball games, and of course, Ignition Entertainment's own Pool Paradise. However, Pool Edge deserves more than just a mention for its anonymity.
The main game involves a mini tournament of three single-matches against computer-controlled opponents, with American-style 9-Ball and traditional 8-ball games the only selectable match types. Exhibition matches against either a friend or the CPU are also selectable.
The player will need to battle past dozens of competitors in the main tournament, and the latter opponents in particular will only be beaten through skill and sometimes a pinch of luck. The players range from hapless amateurs to arduous professionals and each is represented by a curious mug-shot that accompany their statistics; say “hello” to Gunt, Tony and Zel! From there on, there are the customary Practice and Trick Shot modes. Both of these modes are actually very useful and offer enjoyable diversions. The Trick Shot mode in particular not only demonstrates the wide range of shots and spins available to the player, but also demonstrates its humble but effective physics engine.
Striking the cue-ball is simple; hold the analogue trigger fully down, pull back on the stick and release. Swerve and screw shots can be applied to each shot, and after extended play, will eventually be pulled off with accuracy and ease almost every time. With each pocketed shot, there is a replay of the action that also pans out to give an indication of the next-best possible shot. In this game, any player can pick up the pad and start potting after a few minutes of play, and pleasingly neither the pockets nor ball physics ever betray your expectations.
For a fairly ambiguous Japanese game, it is surprisingly import-friendly. All text, audio and game options are in full English and navigating the well-designed menus and options is a breeze. Only the odd piece of Japanese text is included in some of the Trick Shot and Practice modes, but even these can mostly be ignored as the methods for completing each practice and trick-shot is demonstrated to the player within a “hint” option. Indeed, the player may forget they are playing a Japanese game were it not for the anomalous misuse of English thrown in for good measure. For example, in the main game, when playing 8-ball, the solid ball set (as opposed to the stripy kind) is amusingly highlighted in giant capital letters as: “SORID”. Agonisingly close, there.
Pool Edge is workmanlike and occasionally very colourful, but there is nothing much within the main game itself that makes it stand out graphically. The tables and backgrounds are visually functional and solid, but rarely anything more than adequate; this still looks like a first-generation GameCube game and one that lives and dies by its gameplay. There are, however, a pleasing and diverse number of locations to take your cue and block of chalk to. They range from your bog-standard beat-up bar, complete with beer-stained table cloth and flickering lights, to the centre of an underground dome aquarium, filled with all manner of exotic fish. There is even a skyscraper-themed location, replete with cocktail bar, television screen and a large chill-out area. Peculiarly, on this location, there is also a huge helicopter busily circling the tower; its engine and blades whirr away constantly as it peers through the windows. It's a moment not totally dissimilar to a scene in T2: Judgement Day. Quite what the helicopter is doing there is another matter: perhaps there is some sort of law against playing pool on the top floor of a deserted skyscraper at night? Save this and a few other similarly grating locations, the game is eerily sparse, with little atmosphere or even background music - non-offensive lounge ditties accompany all of the menus in the game, but that's about it. All of this isn't helped by the complete omission of your own entity or opponent, as the floating cues hover around the table to line up shot-after-shot. However, for these same reasons, it is a relaxing experience.
The inclusion of an overly enthusiastic (and often unintentionally hilarious) announcer is pleasant enough, even with his unrelenting fervour. Despite sounding distinctly “Japanese-attempting-American-Engrish”, he is in fact voiced by a seemingly short-tongued English-speaking American. He will applaud in equal measure the most audacious and simple attempts (“I've never seen such an incredible shot!”), but doesn't pull any punches in trouncing any misses either (“Choke! How did you miss that?!”). The rest of the comical quips won't be spoilt here, as they are fun to hear the first time around, at least.
Pool Edge isn't going to convince newcomers or sceptics that the noble game of billiards is the most exhilarating sport in the world - not by some distance. Admittedly, there is more variety in gameplay and options to be found in the aforementioned Pool Paradise. But Pool Edge's strong card is its unobtrusive, pick-up-and-play style. From serious pool fans, to gamers who want a relaxing and addictive few minutes or even to someone after something a bit obscure, Pool Edge delivers. It's a charming little title that deserves to be given a second chance.