Let’s get straight to the point: Miniclip's 8 Ball Pool is a weaker version of a free PC flash game (8 Ball Quick Fire Pool) that costs 69p.
Granted, that’s not an enormous sum of money, but to reiterate: you’re paying for an inferior version of a game you can play for free in your web browser.
And yet I can't stop playing it.
Why? Well, it’s certainly not because it’s rich in content. The game features a single mode with a simple task: pot as many balls as you can (I do hope John Virgo's not reading this - PG lawyer #1). Clear 14 of each 15-ball rack and they’ll all be replaced, with your only objective to keep knocking them in until the time runs out.
It’s not because of the controls, either. What was a perfectly tuned setup with a mouse in hand is now more fiddly than Topol.
Fine-tuning with chunky digits can be a slow process, especially as lifting your finger from the screen to actually take the shot can effect a tiny but crucial shift in your aim.
To take a shot, you need to slide your finger parallel to the cue before releasing. Theoretically, you can do this anywhere across the table. Half the time, however, this results in the aiming reticule going haywire as it misreads your intent.
The only safe way to take a shot is to slide your finger back along the cue and let go. Which works fine for all occasions where you’re not near the edge of the table. Find yourself next to a cushion, though, and hitting anything but a pathetically tame shot is nigh-on impossible.
Sensibly, Miniclip has extended the time limit, thus easing the pain somewhat. But what is that if not an acknowledgement of flawed design, a concession that the iOS controls don’t match up to the PC game?
A game – let’s repeat it once more – which is completely free to play.
It doesn’t even look as good, either: the realistic aesthetic of the original given a cartoonish sheen. And the frequency with which you’re ‘encouraged’ to give it a five-star rating on the App Store is almost reason enough to deduct another mark from its score.
In short, the reason I’m still playing is the solidity of the core design. There’s a purity, an unfussiness to the central idea that is immediately appealing. You don’t have to pot the balls in any order, you don’t need to hit spots or stripes, or sink the 8-ball last. You. Just. Play.
It’s like you have a pool table all to yourself, but with the pressure of a time limit to force rapid-fire play. It’s a thrilling race against the clock where speed and accuracy are prized. It’s the kind of challenge that few gamers could resist taking up.
So, no, 8 Ball Pool isn’t the best advert for the App Store. It’s the kind of lazy, bare-bones port that does iOS gaming few favours. It’s shallow, simple, and flawed.
And yet I can’t stop playing it.