Pocket Run Pool (Free), the latest from Zach Gage with Denver Coulson, was a tough game to review. Not because it’s bad, but because I would pick it up to check out some particular element of the game, and get sucked into playing it for a long amount of time. That’s the sign of a brilliant game. This is another winner from Zach Gage, and another ingenious twist on a familiar concept.
Pocket Run Pool is, at its heart, a game of billiards. But it tweaks the pool concept just enough to feel familiar, yet with its own strategies. You have 10 balls on the table, ranging from two to 13 point values, and each pocket has a rotating multiplier: 1x/2x/4x/6x/8x/10x. So, getting the seven ball in the 8x multiplier gets you 56 points. Every ball that goes in a hole causes the multipliers to rotate clockwise, so if you want to chain together x10 scores, you’ll need to make sure your previous shot leaves you in a good position, or be willing to take a difficult shot. You get three lives per game, and you get bonus points for leftover lives.
Pocket Run Pool controls well, as you just drag left and right to aim your cue. I wish you could make tiny movements more easily, though. Tapping a button on the side will call up the cue shot, where you swipe back then forward to shoot your shot. It’s easy to hit a shot with just about the amount of power you want, but of course, some shots will require just the right amount of power. The indicator that shows how hard you’re hitting the ball you’re targeting is absolutely brilliant interface design. It makes perfect sense, and doesn’t extend too far, so as to make hitting long shots too easy.
The main game takes place in Standard Run mode, where you have your 10 balls to sink. A perfect score in this mode is 800, but this is a pipe dream to attain with regularity, unless you’re really, really good at hitting shots. It is quite possible if you get a good break, and can hit your shots well, just don’t necessarily expect to be getting it right away! Do remember that while you’re going for high scores, the game also tracks your total number of wins, so if you get into situations where you might lose the win, it might be worth eschewing high score opportunities. This mode also tracks your average across all play sessions, in case you want to track how well you’re doing across all play sessions. I sink a lot of time into this mode, just because the core game mechanics are so much fun to play with, and you can get through a round in just a couple of minutes.
The Break of the Week mode gives you one specific puzzle to try and get a high score on. The mode will track your streaks of 650+ and 750+ scores, so you can see how well you’re doing over time. This mode is a great way to learn how to hit tricky shots, as if you want to maximize your score, you’ll have to hit some difficult shots. And this mode will let you get a static setup for every time you play, so you can try to get certain strategies down pat.
The riskier half of the game comes in with Insta-Tournaments and High Stakes mode. These two modes use an in-game currency of chips, and if you run out, you have to use a Rebuy to get back in. These can be earned by watching video ads, buying more through in-app purchases, or using one of the five free ones you get for purchasing the full game unlock.
Insta-Tournaments run every few minutes, with every player that enters getting the same break. You get one shot to score a high score on this table, and the top players win chips. This mode will really test you to get more consistent, because while anyone can put up the occasional 700 round, can you do so when the pressure’s on? Even if it’s all asynchronous multiplayer, it still feels rather intense. It’s easy for standard games to feel at least a little disposable, because hey, if you lose, you can just start over. Here, with stakes on the line, it forces you to be just a bit more careful.
High Stakes mode is where the game gets weird. You have to pay 1000 chips to enter, and then do your break shot. After the break, the game randomly selects a condition, such as balls of random sizes, or death balls, or placing bumpers on the table. You have to pay an additional 1000 chips to accept the condition, 100 chips for a re-roll (with the cost increasing each time), or you can just back out, losing the 1000 chips. You can win back more than you bet for playing this mode, and since wins only count, it’s a test of your survival skills, though a multiplier of your prize increases based on how well you score. You can score low enough to where you won’t make your wager back!
Still, I’d play it really careful in this mode. This is where the rebuy system comes in. It’s not as risky as Sage Solitaire‘s (Free) True Grit mode, since you can buy your way back in, but it’s still something you might have to pay money to play again! At least you can win more credits for doing well in Insta-Tournaments (which only cost 250 credits to enter), and can watch ads for more rebuys. But it’s fun to have something where there’s the stake of losing something.
This little game is just so incredibly compelling. The controls and mechanics work really well, making it really easy to just play. The indicator that shows where a ball will go on its first impact helps out a lot. You still have to be good with hitting particular angles, and knowing how much power to use (hitting a ball too hard into a pocket can cause it to bounce around the edges and back out). If you like to just get sucked into round after round, the Standard mode is for you. But the addition of the money system, particularly with High Stakes mode’s twists, gives the player who enjoys some risk in their experience something to get out of the experience. I can also see the potential for more upgrades, particularly with new modes and new conditions for High Stakes mode that would be fun to play with.
But it all wouldn’t matter if Pocket Run Pool wasn’t fun to play, and it’s so much fun to play. The game strikes a perfect balance between being casual enough to just idly pick up and play, but requiring enough thought and strategy to remain compelling. Its modes have enough intrinsic motivation to drive you to keep going. Definitely give Pocket Run Pool a download, and see if you get hooked as I am. Send help.