In the high-pressure world of professional poker, the really successful players are the ones who know when the time is right to up the stakes, to bet it all on a single strong (or apparently strong) hand. It takes guts, skill and no little luck, but it’s a trait that sets apart the great from the merely decent.
If Café Hold ‘em Poker on N-Gage was a poker player, it’d be the cautious, tactically astute one. The one who can always be found in the latter stages of competitions, but who rarely goes all the way due to an unwillingness to lay it all on the line and go all out for a win.
Which means that you have the same stylised café hub from which you launch games, customise your avatar and connect with other players to check out their own custom-made efforts.
Hold ‘em Poker also shares with its Café siblings the same subtle graphical improvements over the mobile original, with pleasant lighting effects and additional background touches being added rather than any kind of elaborate 3D engine.
In fact, about the only thing that differs from the other two titles is, as you might imagine, the central game itself. Here we have a straightforward six-player game of poker, presented in a neat and unfussy manner.
Everything is controllable with the thumb-pad and central ‘OK’ button, as you scroll through your betting, checking and folding options. It’s a typically intuitive and slick Digital Chocolate experience, with all of the relevant information such as current bets and how much is in the pot displayed in a crystal clear manner.
The AI players put up a convincing fight, too, backing away from an aggressive bet increase unless they have a strong hand themselves. This can be exploited at lower levels, but they do get tougher as the stakes increase. I noticed on a couple of occasions that an opponent had called me on a positive bet despite having a weak hand himself.
It’s a good job Café Hold ‘em Poker plays a decent single player game, because that’s all there is to it. As with previous DChoc Café games on N-Gage and mobile, there’s no option to compete online.
It’s more of an issue here than in the previous N-Gage Café games because, while sudoku and solitaire are inherently solo pursuits, poker is designed around human competition. Without the psychological element, Cafe Hold ‘em Poker never quite replicates the buzz of outwitting a flesh and blood opponent.
Of course there’s always the pass-the-handset mode, but it doesn’t sit so well with poker’s immersive style, where monitoring the table and your opponents at all times is a large part of the game.
Still, there’s plenty to get your teeth into as a solo player. The Career mode does an excellent job of offering you a compelling string of tournaments, each one unlockable by completing the last. The learning curve is well judged, with early rounds not requiring an outright win in order to progress.
The plentiful trophies and point pickups are a trademark Digital Chocolate method for rewarding continuous play, and they’re a compelling reason to come back to the game again and again.
And, of course, you can import your café and avatar from the previous Café games and keep on adding to them both, if you’re interested in that side of things.
It’s worth noting that while Solitaire and Sudoku are without rivals on N-Gage, Hold ‘em Poker has World Series of Poker: Pro Challenge to contend with. While both the presentation and approach to the game is completely different, it’s pretty clear that Café Hold ‘em plays the superior game of cards, and comes to the table with a lot more to offer.Café Hold ‘em Poker is another decent N-Gage conversion from Digital Chocolate, representing a hattrick of solid Café games released within a year of the platform’s release. We only hope that the next generation of N-Gage Café games shows a little more ambition, giving us the ability to play other humans online rather than merely being able to view their scores and customisation handy-work.