No-one pops down the pub to play a game of pool just to play a game of pool. Pool is a game that, whether in 8-ball, 9-ball, or insert-your-own- preference-here-ball form, people can multi-task with; it's perfectly possible to watch the footie, drink a pint or two and catch up with your mates whilst managing to hold your own on the pool table. That's no reflection on the game itself, but rather on its place in our everyday life. What is pool without all the dressing that comes with it?
That's something Digital Chocolate clearly agrees with, though the studio hasn't opted to surround it's latest pool title – Party Pool (or Pool 2-in-1) –with soggy beer mats or local drunks propping up the bar. Instead, its take on pool sits neatly beside bikini-clad beauties and toned young men flashing their flesh in shorts; this is a party where pool is played by the side of the pool, and any beer bellies and lager louts are left outside.
Pool 2-in-1 is one of the games in Digital Chocolate's Party Island line-up, which seeks to link numerous titles up to a Facebook style social-network. Before you can even begin playing in your pool career, you have to pick an avatar – all of which happen to look like members of the Backstreet Boys if you're a lad, and Baywatch wannabes if you're a lass. Either way, winning matches wins you credits that you can cash-in for new clothes, hairstyles and so forth.
This is Party Pool's way throughout, directly linking the sport with a fiesta of fashion and flirting with fitties, but it's still a game that lives and dies by the proficiency of its pool. Luckily for us, that's pretty top notch, too. The games themselves, which take place on a variety of different tables (sizes, shapes, and surfaces all change as play progresses), are incredibly easy to play. Viewed from above, the game predicts both the path of the ball you plan to hit and the direction the cue-ball post impact, as well as depicting just how the two balls will make contact. It makes picking your shot almost effortless, as it's easy to gauge the likely result of each possible strike of the cue simply by swinging the 'predictor' around the table.
But this doesn't mean you'll pot a ball with every shot – only a short trajectory of the ball's path is shown, meaning that it's still a case of feeling your way into play and learning just what angles and shot strengths are likely to give you the best result in any given situation. All the options at your disposal are similarly a breeze to control – power being determined by a gauge that thankfully comes with no catches or premium points. Just where you hit the cue ball is also simply a matter of calling up a close-up of the ball by hitting the '*' key and moving the impact point around.
Contests are very rarely boring, either, with standard matches mixed up with trick-shots that manage to train you as you go – that's on top of the two versions of pool (8-ball and 9-ball) available throughout, and the added bonus of an 'obstacles' mode, which places everyday objects on the table that can either help or hinder play.
If it's your wish, it's perfectly possible to get straight down to playing all of these brands of pool, either against AI or a friend in Hot Seat mode, skipping the social side of things altogether. But then again, chatting with other 'party peeps' online, comparing records with them, splashing out on new accessories or even changing the music playing in the background by befriending the game's DJ might prove too tempting not to dip into every now and again, at least between matches.
And why not? Party Island: Pool 2-in-1's lifestyle elements don't do any harm to the game as a whole, coupling what could have been a fairly plain pool simulation with some more decorative and superficial elements. While the occasional pop-up ad promoting Digital Chocolate's other titles might grate, on the whole Party Pool has the best of both worlds; a top-notch pool game for those who enjoy potting their striped balls down their local, and a nice bit of fluff on the side for those looking for a title that goes the extra mile. This is one party you can enjoy without an invite.