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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Xbox Live Arcade
GENRE: Sports
PLAYERS:   1-3
November 22, 2005
 Written by Glenn Wigmore  on March 29, 2006

Review: Hustle or be hustled? Bankshot Billiards 2 does a little of both?

The Live Arcade service on the Xbox 360 has several categories that are providing a stream of content to eager gamers, but one of the loneliest of the bunch is the ?social sports? tab. The only title available in this area is Bankshot Billiards 2, a top-down pool simulation that sells for 1200 points ($15). As the only Live Arcade game that currently retails for that price on the Marketplace, BB2 certainly draws attention to itself. Is the game worth dropping $15 on it? Well, it certainly won't be a game for everyone, but if you want to get some decent online pool going on, then you might not be totally in the wrong for picking this one up.

As a small caveat to the price point of this game, some people will find that they received this title for free in an Xbox Live Gold Kit ? this is honestly the best way to go for owning this title. The ?kit? in question provides plenty of other items to justify the price so that Bankshot Billiards 2 can basically be seen as a free add-on. In this circumstance, the game is certainly worth the price of admission.

What you'll find in BB2 is a billiards simulator that provides a slew of modes, whether it's 8-ball, 9-ball, Cutthroat, 14.1 Continuous or even trick shots. In fact, besides the standard modes, trick shots are actually pretty entertaining, as the people at PixelStorm have provided around 100 tables that each contain a unique trick. These get much more challenging as the tables go on so it is quite rewarding for advanced players. The standard variants play as expected and the rules in use are the standards accepted in pretty much any tournament, club or bar.

Before starting a game, various presentation parameters can be changed including table type and color, ball design, cue style, and also the type of aiming aid being used. Most of these changes are for aesthetic reasons, but the aiming is actually quite key to how BB2 plays. Essentially, a game can be played in which the shooters have no ?aid? whatsoever when making their shots. Moving on from there, the first ?aid? setting gives the player a transparent line towards the ball that indicates point of impact; the second ?aid? setting gives another line that shows where the target ball will go; and the third ?aid? setting provides another line that shows where the cue ball will go. The standard default for the game is the first option, which does seem to be about right, as the game is quite difficult when playing with no guidance whatsoever.

The action takes place from a top-down perspective, and you will find that lining up your shots and controlling the action is fairly straightforward. Other than actually shooting the cue ball, you can also use the X button to alter the amount of backspin on the ball ? this is helpful for not following a target ball into the hole or rolling out too far when setting up shots. The B button provides ?English? on your shots, which allows for curved hits that help you change bank direction or get around pesky blockers. The Y button is used for speed control, and this is quite key to a game in BB2. As a general rule of thumb, a speed of about 18 (out of a possible 100) is the sweet spot, and you'll rarely need to go over this, except for breaks and tap-ins. In fact, much of the action in BB2 can get pretty easy, especially since the ?shooter? in the game always hits everything so cleanly. You will rarely flub a shot if you're actually concentrating, and only some of the harder cuts to be found on a billiards table will prove an obstacle, here.

The pockets on the table also suffer from toilet bowl syndrome, and this means that a shot that contacts a side rail before a corner pocket will still make its way in (providing the speed is in the sweet spot). Hell, even shots that are going away from the hole will still catch the corner ?lip? and flush back in ? pretty goofy physics, here. The side pockets prove a little more challenging, and you will see some shots that kick off of their corners.

Going online with BB2 provides some amusing times, and the options for hosting and joining games is actually pretty good. Most of the game modes from offline migrate into the online space (no trick shots, obviously), and you can even play three-player Cutthroat with some buddies. This may seem like a throwaway feature, but the fact that the developer threw in some three-player support should be noted, especially since it works so well and is the type of feature that wouldn't really be demanded by the gaming public. For those that want to play mini-tournaments, you can setup three, five, or seven game bouts, and these can prove diversionary for a little while. Matches online are lag free and most of the proceedings work smoothly.

BB2 presents itself decently for a Live Arcade title. Visually, the interface is clean and vibrant, and even this aspect of the game can be customized (background colors, etc.). Menus are simple and clear to navigate, plus there are sound effects that provide good feedback when toggling options. The pool tables, balls and cues all appear bright and shiny, and everything, while looking fairly simple, does have a high-definition ?sheen? to it. The sound isn't quite as good, but is functional, if nothing else. There is a music track for the menu and music track for the games, but neither of them are anything to get crazy about (just throw on your own tunes if they bother you). The sound effects are accurate enough, but some tables with bar room settings, quirky music or other effects might have been a bit better.

There are some decent achievements to be found in BB2, but don't expect to get all 200 points, as this game provides some good challenge. Some achievements require 25 or 50 games online, but others task you with winning 50 matches (non-consecutively) where you run the table ? have fun on that one. The trick shot achievement is actually quite rewarding, chiefly because you get to play through a lot of those tables ? hey, they're kind of fun.

BB2 plays an average game of pool and has a bit of variety, but you might find some of its aiming aids and cushy pockets to be a bit too forgiving for novice players. Some four-player support might've been cool for online modes, plus some better presentation across the board wouldn't have hurt (more so in the sound department). In fact, a little more meat to the single-player experience (tournaments, playing AI characters with personality, etc.) might have provided some more long-term value to this one, especially since it's the most expensive Live Arcade title.

Bottom Line
Bankshot Billiards 2 plays an average game of pool while also offering some variable game modes and functional online play. The price of admission is not really worth it from the Marketplace proper, but getting the game free in an Xbox Live Gold Kit is certainly acceptable for a few online matches or some trick-shot mastery.

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