Review: ?You've got to know when to hold'em, and in this case, know when to fold'em.?
Frankly, there isn't much of a market for gambling and casino games in the console universe. They'll have a niche audience, but they won't really compel people to play them because? well? playing cards is still playing cards. PC software that hooks you up to servers to play Texas Hold'em, and the like, is actually pretty fun, but that's because you're playing against real opponents and the software is so streamlined and efficient. However, when you're laying down, in this case, 29.99(USD) for a casino game, you want something extra. While Bicycle Casino does deliver a decent online experience for those that are interested, its failings come in presentation, style, and very limited innovation.
This is the first real casino game to come to the Xbox, and Xbox Live, and, unfortunately, it does feel like a first try. The game box's boast of "500 Game Variations" is bold-faced lie, as only bet modifiers and game types can really change things up, and even that likely does not add up to 500 game types. Granted, this is no surprise, but to advertise that so prominently shows the publishers might have been worried about the game's marketability.
What is smart on the box, though, is the mention of Texas Hold'em, as this is what many who buy this game will play the most. Personally, I love this type of poker and enjoy playing it and watching it on TV. Of course, much of the greatness of Hold'em comes from the "tells" (or lack thereof) that each player tries to search for. Bicycle Casino has, frankly, lamely attempted to include a "reaction" system where your polygonal gambler can celebrate, pout, sneer, snicker, yawn, sneeze and so on. Yeah, I don't know why half of them are there either. On paper, this idea, in conjunction with the Xbox Communicator, would seem to make Texas Hold'em somewhat comparable to real life, but it really doesn't even come close. The voice chat helps, but the tell or reaction system is an absolute joke. Half the time, people just keep sneezing or fist-pumping just to be funny. On top of this, all money in this game is fictitious so people bet crazily so you can never really "buy" a pot or accurately gauge a person's betting tendencies. But, this is often a problem on PCs as well, so I give them that one, as that cannot, realistically, be helped.
The creation of your "profile" is also somewhat laughable. Essentially, you give your player a name and then proceed to add some basic features to your character model, such as skin tone, facial features, clothes and accessories. There are enough choices, but you can't expect to really make someone who looks like you with such limited options. Additionally, the interface for this (and most of the game for that matter) is quite clunky and doesn't respond very quickly to button presses.
The overall presentation for the game, while not downright ugly, is quite bad. The aforementioned character models look very clunky and even animate poorly ? a real shock seeing as there are only about 20 animations in the game. Additionally, the action is only viewed from one angle for each game type (usually a first-person approach for craps, slots, etc. or a view of all players at the table for Hold'em) and doesn't look very cinematic or engaging. The various gametypes all sport relatively vibrant color palettes, such as slots, money wheel and craps, but the lack of any glitzy presentation or flare really keep the game looking drab. In fact, this is really apparent from the opening menu, for two reasons: first, you see a blurry looping video of a casino and it just reeks of low quality, and secondly, there is no music ? period. The game doesn't even support custom soundtracks, which is completely bizarre. To not include any music or custom soundtracks is just lazy and reflects very poorly on those who developed the game. The only things that can be judged in the audio department are some basic chip-placing sound effects and voiceover quips from the AI opponents, neither of which are any good.
Speaking of AI, it is, like much of this game, not that good. The opponents, particularly in Hold'em, make bizarre bets in situations where they would never put any money on the table or visa-versa. In fact, you can pretty much bully them out of their money, as they're all pretty spineless when they play against you. In Blackjack they often try to "make" a hand of 18 or 19, even when the dealer is showing 5 or 6, which is completely ridiculous. All in all, the AI just serves to fill spots on the table and is really quite uninspired.
After all this negativity, though, there is a small positive in the way of Xbox Live support. It can actually be quite fun to play with a group of people in a game of Texas Hold'em or blackjack and you'll probably enjoy talking light smack and joking around for a while as you try and accumulate some virtual wealth. The game, as it should, has pretty much no lag and responds reasonably quickly when making bets and the like. However, the one downfall with this game's online portion, as was with the water-racing game Carve, is the title's perceived value when it comes to online play. Since each of these games sported a low price-point and have limited appeal, not many people will pick them up or even continue to play it far after its release. As such, you might have trouble finding online games in Bicycle Casino, especially in the wake of Halo 2, MechAssault 2, etc.
What this game really missed, though, was the chance to do something different -- it played it much too safe and ordinary. There could've been tournaments or organized events for online poker. There could've been an actual "casino" simulator where you managed a casino of some sort. There could've been a "poker tour" or some form of world ranking in the single player so that you could have a goal and really want to accumulate money. There was just so much more this game could've done, especially in light of its shabby presentation and ho-hum features. Oh yeah, it really should've been 19.99USD as well, something which the previously mentioned Carve did right. There is no need to try and gouge an extra 10 bucks for a game of this ilk ? you've got to know your audience.