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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

Hope to Receive it as a Gift

Game Profile
Xbox Live Arcade
Tik Games
Tik Games
GENRE: Casino
PLAYERS:   1-8
August 23, 2006
 Written by Glenn Wigmore  on September 19, 2006

Review: Does this version of Hold ?Em have ?the nuts? or is it short stacked like so many other pedestrian card games?

The Live Arcade version of Texas Hold ?Em has finally arrived, and those that downloaded the title within the first 48 hours were able to acquire it for free. Anyone who didn't take advantage of that will have to purchase the title for $10 (800 MS points), but the good news is that the title is still worth that sum of money if you're a fan of poker or the slew of other casual content that Microsoft has been trickling out over the past few weeks.

Taking a page out of the book that Uno authored so successfully a few months ago, Texas Hold ?Em from Tik Games looks to provide a simple yet fun game of cards that is focused towards online play. A lot of the wrinkles thrown into the design of this poker game do work quite well, but Uno does still serve as the best example of what can be done by adding fun presentation and gameplay to a simple family game. Even still, Tik Games has managed to implement a ?virtual bankroll? system that eliminates some of the problems of conventional ?free? poker games.

The virtual bankroll effectively keeps track of a player's winnings in three different categories: Single player, competitive multiplayer, and casual multiplayer. The solo bankroll is meant to show how you play against the CPU in the various offline tournaments and scenarios. The competitive bankroll charts your winnings in competitive tournaments where the rules are fixed and no friend invites are allowed. The casual bankroll (player match) indicates your winnings in user-created tournaments and games amongst friends. This casual bankroll actually allows you go completely in the hole as much as you want, since casual tournaments aren't restricted in any way. This bankroll system performs quite well overall, as the competitive tournaments are where most of the action happens and you actually have to have appropriate money to buy into the tournament. There are various tournaments with different buy-in levels, and this means that people have to pinch their pennies in order to even play in the high-priced tournaments. The end result ? optimally ? is that these tournaments are much less likely to feature jokers who go all in on their first hand (or every hand) or people who bet very erratically in general. This system manages to achieve a bit of the magic that Halo had; craziness will occur in the player matches (casual bankroll), but competitive tournaments will be where the action is a tad more serious (thanks to the fact that you have to save up your money to play competitively).

When you encounter the AI players in single player or as an online player substitute, you'll find they perform about as well as any other poker simulation ? that is to say they aren't all that great. These bots do make appropriate over-the-top raises and they will call you on limp-in bets and the like, but more often than not they will be cowards with their money and you can bully them out of their stacks quite easily. If you get stuck in an online room that doesn't have enough players, don't go for more than a couple of AI players as it can really stagnate the game when having too many computers.

Generally, online play works fairly well and games support up to eight players at once. The hands play out reasonably quickly thanks to some player and blind timers, but certain rules should've been put into place to dump players who obviously have left their console on after falling sleep or walked away (after three auto-folds they're gone or something like that). Placing bets is fairly easy, and the game uses various buttons to alter bets in different denominations or to just go all in right away. One annoyance is that the game doesn't allow for spectating after being eliminated. This proves bothersome when friends who've been eliminated want to stay in and watch how the tournament plays out but cannot because they get warped off the table ? kind of odd. Still, the games all play as you'd expect and it can be quite fun with the right group of people.

Besides the unique bankroll system, the Texas Hold ?Em also features achievements and will eventually include camera support. The achievements reward players for playing over 1,000 hands, getting one of each possible poker hand (good luck), and winning $1 million in bankroll money, amongst others. As is the norm with Live Arcade titles, the achievements are a good mix of ones that will be easy to get after a few plays and those that will take a good amount of dedication. The camera support will be augmented into the game once the Xbox Live Vision camera releases on September 19th. The camera will allow users to see video streams of the other users in the game, much in the same way Uno plans to do upon the camera's release. As long as you're rolling with a good group of friends, camera support could make what is already fun online poker even better.

The presentation doesn't really do as much as Uno did, and this is too bad seeing as Uno demonstrated how a really clean and vibrant interface and some fun music can really change the atmosphere of something that could otherwise be very plain. Poker does the bare bones requirements in this regard, choosing to display the table from a top-down perspective and allowing you to slightly tilt the angle or change the table color, if you so choose. The game might have benefited from the cards being more prominent in your hand (akin to what Uno did) or by even using many of the presentation traits in MS' Texas Hold ?Em game at the MSN games zone; this version included a stylishly angled table, digital tells (you could see when someone was counting chips, looking at cards, etc.), and a poppy jazz/ragtime soundtrack. The Live Arcade version's music is much more awkward and comes off as pretty hokey with its country twangs and subtle guitar riffs. The sound of chips being placed and stacked is appropriate, but being able to shuffle your chips would've been a fun ? albeit useless ? little addition.

The game has arrived somewhat later than what MS initially said back at CES, and the title was only free for 48 hours (I guess River Belle casino wanted too much advertising space?), but the Live Arcade Texas Hold ?Em works well enough and provides some fun online poker and manages to alleviate some of the betting problems inherent in ?free? poker by the use of its clever bankroll system.

Bottom Line
Texas Hold ?Em for the Xbox Live Arcade is certainly a functional game of poker that provides some entertaining online play and a smartly designed ?virtual bankroll? system. The presentation leaves something to be desired, but the price tag ? either free or for $10 ? is totally worth it for those who want some casual fun in their Xbox 360 rotation.

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