“It's like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue's part of me. [...] It's a piece of wood, it's got nerves in it. Feel the roll of those balls, you don't have to look, you just KNOW.”
- Fast Eddie, The Hustler.
If you want to know what distinguishes Virtual Pool HD from the five or so other cue sport titles currently on the App Store for iPad without reading this review, the quote above pretty much sums it up.
Virtual Pool is an old franchise. It was notable in the early days for being one of the first pool games in which you control your cue with the mouse, pulling back to draw your cue back and pushing forward to drive it into the ball. As well as innovative controls it had flawless physics, to the extent that Celeris 'guaranteed' that you'd improve at real life pool if you played it.
On iPad it's much the same game, with the obvious exception that you use your finger rather than a mouse to manipulate the cue and line up your shots.
Let's run through the features.
To impart spin you tap on the 'Adjust Spin' icon to set the point at which the cue will strike the ball, and as well as this and the 'Over Head' icon, which gives you a handy overhead view to plan your breaks, there are other less useful icons allowing you to zoom in and out, step back, add track lines, and move the ball in certain circumstances.
There are six types of pool available – 6 Ball, 8 Ball, 9 Ball, 10 Ball, Rotation, and Straight – and two basic modes: Quick Play and Career Play.
Career lets you set up a profile and then take on a series of opponents, grinding out wins to earn money to take on tougher opponents and unlock six locations as you make progress. Once unlocked, these locations – ranging in salubriousness from the Garage to the Beach House – become available in Quick Play.
Quick Play lets you either practise or take on an AI opponent, of which there are more than a hundred, each with a rating. You can choose to play any of them, or another human by passing the iPad back and forth, in matches of up to seven games.Empty pockets
And that's it. Which means there's no remote multiplayer of any kind in Virtual Pool HD, and a fairly scant selection of pool types to choose from. Six modes may not sound like that paltry a number, but who's ever heard of 6 Ball, 10, Rotation, or Straight? A more sensible selection of modes would have at the very least included UK 8 Ball, and a good one would have included Snooker.
While we're on the subject of omissions, it's worth pointing out that it's not possible to raise the butt of your cue, which prevents you from swerving the ball.
In real life, this vertical limitation would also prevent you from digging into balls from above when hampered by the cushion or another ball, but Virtual Pool HD deals with this problem by effectively turning cushions and balls into ghosts while you play your shot, with the cue animating over them in Escher-like fashion.
Of course, the inability to raise your cue wouldn't be an issue if Virtual Pool HD were less physically authentic otherwise. In lesser games, where balls come off cushions strangely and roll unnatural distances at unconvincing speeds, it probably never occurs to you to go for a swerve shot.Feel the roll of those balls
And this neatly takes us back to what makes Virtual Pool HD so good, and why its defects might not matter to you.
You may not be able to take on your friends in other countries or even on the other side of the room, and you may not be able to play the morally superior UK 8 Ball variant of pool, or customise the rules to reflect the frequent national rule changes, or play a swerve shot, but if potting balls is what matters to you then Virtual Pool HD is peerless.
No other pool game on iPad approximates the physical joy of playing pool anything like as well as Virtual Pool HD. It's a real shame that Celeris didn't include a more comprehensive set of features to do the core game proper justice, but even so it has at least two shots and a free ball on all of its rivals.
If Fast Eddie were around today, this is the iPad pool game he'd play.