I always kind of assumed Steve Davis's Spitting Image puppet was a pretty good likeness, which is to say I believed the Ginger Magician was dull. But somehow, every year when the Benson & Hedges snooker contest rolled around, that expressionless cue-wielding wizard could whip the nation up into a frenzy of green felt and well-ironed waistcoats.
So what's the Nugget doing with his face on a pool game? Well, as many of you are possibly unaware, Steve 'Interesting' Davis is just as nifty around a pool table as he is around its four-times-larger British counterpart.
And he's lent his versatile visage to a damn fine pool title. This isn't Shadow Light's first game in the Pool Star franchise, but it's undeniably the finest – packed with features but never forgetting its goal of providing an authentic and accessible game of palm-sized ball-knocking (tee hee).
Rather uniquely for this kind of game, there's a decent character selection screen allowing you to change the name, gender and appearance of your player. You can even take a snapshot of yourself (ideally with a grim, deadpan expression) using the phone's camera if you're some kind of pool-hustling, vapid narcissist – and who isn't?
Four different styles of pool are available in both the Quick Match and Competition modes; 8 Ball (UK), 8 Ball (US), 9 Ball and Straight Pool. It's all about putting balls in holes (snigger), but you can never have too much choice is the Pocket Gamer motto, so at least the alternatives are present for anyone who does have a preference for a particular set of rules.
Lately we've come to expect our virtual pool and snooker tables to be in full 3D. It's the 21st Century, after all. So it's interesting to see Shadow Light forego modern trends and return to a top-down view with no free-roaming camera to put you at eye level with every pocket and cushion from any angle. The remarkable thing about Steve Davis Pool Star's visuals is the rather cinematic approach it takes to displaying your shots.
Aiming, shooting and allocating balls and pockets are all done from above by default, which is very functional - if a little flat by other, 3D games' standards. It compensates for this by including other pre-rendered shots of the table from the perspective of the pockets and various other angles, changing views as the action bounces around the cushions. You can also aim from these fixed angles, which helps in certain circumstances, but is less useful in general than the overhead view. The pre-rendering makes for some beautifully smooth and detailed graphics, and within two minutes - nay 30 seconds - you'll have entirely forgotten you're playing on a two dimensional table and feel in complete harmony with your balls (chortle chuckle).
Taking a shot is split up into easily operated stages. Lining up, putting spin on the ball, selecting a ball and pocket combination and the power of the shot follow each other in turn. This systematic approach makes it beautifully simple to control the entire game with a single thumb without feeling as though any aspect of a shot is out of reach.
The AI is rather harsh, punishing you quite severely for missing a single shot (even on the break), but there's a variety of alternatives to playing against virtual sharks. Trick shots are always a favourite, and Steve Davis Pool Star has a superb selection. There's also pass-to-play multiplayer, which, short of the seldom-used Bluetooth multiplayer concept, is always a first-rate addition to any sporting title.
The original Pool Star game, which didn't feature the stony-faced license of any hot snooker talent, made use of a loose 'pool hall hustler' storyline to add incentive to the gameplay. Whether or not the omission hurts the game is very much a matter of taste. The removal of the cash-grabbing premise doesn't harm the game too much, though, and even goes a step toward making this a more accessible and recognisable experience for the British, snooker-loving public.
There's a significant amount of competition out there but Steve Davis Pool Star lifts itself from the common stock by allowing itself to be a simple, thorough and welcoming addition to the pantheon of pool and snooker games in the mobile market. I can say, with all certainty, you won't regret having a good hard play with Steve's balls (guffaw!).