HIGH A refreshingly tactile presentation of action at the pool table.
LOW Sparse tutorialization, thin sound design, uninteresting career modes.
WTF Why aren’t players allowed to lag for the right to break first?
Throughout the history of sports videogames, there’s always been a tension between faithful recreation and using the iconography of that sport to create an interesting, if unrealistic, digital experience. In the case of something like football, this dichotomy has allowed simpler arcade-style favorites like Tecmo Super Bowl to share a space in gaming’s pantheon with the more intricate entries in the Madden series.
When it comes to billiards, however, videogames always seem to bend toward abstraction, pitting one formless competitor against the other in what amounts to abstracted turn-based strategy. Every cut is carefully measured from an omniscient camera often hovering perfectly over the center of the pool table, every shot is registered with deliberate precision.
Pure Pool, a billiards title from Voofoo Studios, refines their previous work on Hustle Kings into a simulation with a different approach bringing renewed focus to the physicality of the sport.
In this case, the first impression is a direct statement of purpose. Every session of Pure Pool starts by immediately placing the player at an open pool table with a cue in hand. No menus, no prompts. Players already familiar with the controls can jump right into free play without a moment’s hesitation.
Like a movie that’s filmed with a single unbroken take, Pure Pool’s camera is constantly tethered to an eye-level focus on the cue ball. There are no overhead angles to survey the table with perfect information — players adjust their shots by orbiting left or right around the cue ball, or, if they need a more expansive view, walk around the table itself.
The shots share the same spartan quality, with the right analog stick (or the Switch handheld touchscreen) serving as an unforgivingly tactile control over the power of a cue strike and a simple trio of overlays on the table to highlight the trajectories of each shot.
If it feels like this review pays an undue amount of attention to these ground-level mechanics, that’s because Pure Pool bets everything on them for player engagement. There’s little else.
There are only a handful of modes available to cover the most popular variants of billiards or snooker, and Pure Pool assumes that the player is already familiar with their rules. My personal favorite was the fast-paced “Killer,” which was like a billiards version of basketball’s “H-O-R-S-E”.
The career modes lead the player through a series of events that encourage a three-star rating to proceed, with no story or character creation to motivate one beyond checking the boxes.
This lack of detail continues into the environmental design. Every session takes place at a nondescript nightclub with no humans in sight. The sound quality of the shots and of the balls striking each other lacks the distinctive punch the carry in the real world, all too easily blending into the banal soundscape of music and ambient chatter. Players can customize the baize felt of the table at the club, but it’s a purely cosmetic choice. Other than switching up table lengths for snooker, there are no tables that play faster than others because the physics are always the same.
Pure Pool supports local and online multiplayer, but I was never able to successfully find an online match on the Switch servers during my review period. The game does offer the possibility of facing off against an offline “player DNA” AI that runs off observed tendencies from live play, but it’s difficult to assess how accurate that AI can be when so little contextual information is provided at the table.
Ultimately, Pure Pool is exactly what its name suggests, for better and for worse. Players that buy into its fascinating shot presentation may find it enough to overlook the otherwise-flat experience. For everybody else, it will likely be an all-too-quick scratch off the eight ball.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Voofoo Studios and published by Ripstone LTD. It is currently available on PC, XBO, PS4 and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. During the review period, no live player matches were available to be played for evaluation.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E with no descriptors. Players participate in a turn-based simulation of various billiards games. There is ambient background noise and music that suggests the pool games are played in a club or other social gathering, but no other people or activities outside of the pool game itself are shown.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no required sound cues for gameplay, nor is there any voice acting that could potentially require subtitling. There are no options to recolor text. (See examples below.)
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable.