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Sunday, 15 January 2012

The slow slide of side pocket.

We've been dealing with a lot of race based posts of late, and we want  to get back on track with something light hearted.;  What could be nicer than a game of pool.

When it comes to old pool games, Side pocket was king.  Between 1986-2001 the series sidled through a total a series of incarnations, each one becoming slightly worse than its predecessor, and we'll tell you exactly why they lacked so. 

Side pocket.

Originally released for the arcades only, it was ported to a number of platforms including but not limited to.  NES, SNES, Megadrive, Gamegear and Gameboy.  We have at present only played the NES and SNES versions so are not qualified to comment on either handheld or Sega incarnations.  We will say this though, the arcade version is horrible, it does a lot of things right but comes across as a complete coin sucker and is not much joy to play.  It would later be remedied by the Pocket Gal versions of Side Pocket which is far more enjoyable, and has brief nudity fact fans.

The NES version isn't bad and has a training mode and as well as the regular 1 Player pocket mode.
You are set a score to match and are given bonuses for building breaks and potting balls in sequence as well as shooting balls into the highlighted pockets, for all the 8 and 16 bit versions this doesn't change.
We've played most of the billiard related roms on the NES and this is one of the best.  A solid one player mode as well as the optional trick shot between stages (this would be par for the course for the series as it would be greatly expanded on over the years).

The SNES version adds a jukebox as well as a stand alone trick shot mode as well as keeping the travel between states theme (messing up at the end of stage 2 no less by showing a shot of San Fran instead of Vegas oh well).  Its pretty decent as it goes just let down by a sheer evilness of trick shots required to pass (the end of San Francisco)

Side pocket 2 / Minnesota Fats: pool Legend

Sadly Data East would let it lie and Side pocket was deemed worthy of an update.  Unfortuantely this is where the rot set in, and the excellent one player mode was consigned to the grave.  Instead you had a versus mode and a story mode where you got to play as Pool legend Minnesota Fats as you took back your clubs from Big G.  This being the mid nineties this was told through the medium of incredibly low quality FMV (both in terms of visuals and in acting).  The pool itself is 2D and has you playing against players in a game of regular pool.  In true hustler style it has you nominate a pocket when you sink the black.  In true hustler style it should have stayed in the pool halls.  The nomiante pocket doesn't work most of the time (its classed as a scratch or in off if you miss) and it really doesn't deliver in fun.  Except for the high camp of the game intro.

It was released for Sega Saturn, and got a japanese release with subbed FMV as well.

Side pocket 3

The ailing series finally lurched into 3D with this example.  Noted for its strange story mode and the insane amount of pool games to play, including Yotsudama with its characteristic pocketless table (what I call 3 cushion pool).  Herein lies the problem, you can play all these games but you'll have to suffer it on the grainiest 3D table ever, it looks like you are playing on coloured sand.   You'll also have to suffer through the nightmare of various 3D views, none of them give you sufficient view of the table and none of them are of any use, including the zoomed out traditional Side Pocket view, as soon as you decide to pot it goes to a First person viewpoint for adding side and spin. 

The story mode is seemingly set in the Resident Evil Mansion and it takes a bloody ice age to actually get a game.  You'll plod through the endless halls talking to staff and looking out for zombie attacks (we are joking of course, though the amount of time you spend spodding about, it feels like undeath) and trying not to get Deja vu.  Data East copied Capcom before with its whole Fighters History Streetfighter rip off.   This time it got both a Saturn and Playstation release and nary a word from Capcom (who sued over the Fighters History riff).

The final release of merit is on the original grey Wonderswan console, and to say it was a slight return to form is a understatement.  You are still playing vs pool, but this time in black and white, its not bad and its been so long we don't know if there is a trick shot mode.  Its not in English but there is no real language barrier to playing any of them.

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