It’s the third week of the Fall semester at the university. Everyone is back and studying hard, cramming as much information into their eager young noggins as they can, thus allowing them to pass the class and attain whatever degree they dream to acquire. The workload is tough, as is the stress and disappointment of failed expectations. However, there’s only so much higher learning a person can get before they falter, their sturdy resolve giving way to the basic needs of food and sleep. Thankfully, the cafeteria comes equipped with fully functional Taco Bell and Star Bucks counters that allow students to fill their mouths with the junk food they need to remain conscious and attentive for the next lecture. This cafeteria also has a game room, complete with wall mounted television screens, a few arcade games, and a Ping Pong table. Yet there is one other feature of this massive dining hall that the lively rush of lunchtime students tend to miss. Standing in a desolate and untended corner of the game room, an old Pool table sits and waits for someone to play. Being the amateur player that I am, I’d have gladly taken up a cue and some shots, but the equipment is long gone. Luckily for me, The Billiards takes care of all my needs.
For the sake of those that have never heard of Billiards, I’ll save you the trouble of a Google search. The game takes place on a long rectangular-shaped table with six holes along the edges. On it, a certain number of balls are placed, along with a single white ball towards your ends of the table. Taking your cue stick in hand, you’re supposed to hit the ball, thus launching it into the others. If the balls simply roll around the table, your turn will end, opening up an opportunity for your opponent to do some damage of his own. If one of the colored balls rolls into one of the holes, you’ll score points, hopefully gaining you the advantage needed to win the match. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? At least, until you factor in the laws of physics into your gameplay. Your goal is to get the balls into the holes, but getting that perfectly aimed shot can be hard to come by. You’ve got to angle your shots, hitting specific parts of the white ball with a certain amount of force. Such alterations can make or break your strategy, granting you a perfect game or dooming you to failure and shame. It’s up to you to keep a close eye on your table, using your best judgment on how to proceed with each nail-biting and tensioned shot.
But here’s an interesting question: How do you take a classic game that requires so much physical skill, technique, and patience and convert into a game that can be played on a handheld with two screens and a stylus? The answer lies with the infamous Touch Screen. The game begins with you up against a faceless AI for a simple match. Though the directional pad and the shoulder buttons works wonders for aiming shots and changing camera angles, it’s the Touch Screen that allows you to fine-tune all of your smooth moves. In the bottom right hand corner of the screen, an enlarged replica of the white ball will be standing at attention. Using your stylus, you can pinpoint the precise location of where you want to hit the ball, virtually giving you the freedom to angle your shots however you wish. Once you’ve planned out your moves, a power gauge will rise and fall allowing you to select the strength behind your shot. And off the ball will go, smashing into its intended target and hopefully launching it into the nearest hole. Though it sounds easy to execute, actually succeeding with some shots will take timing, skill and practice before you finally get it right. With such finesse and potential strategies at your fingertips, this game will give you a run for your money.
However, all of this awesome technical handling still won’t ensure your success. The AI in this game is tough, merciless, and unforgiving of any mistakes on your part. Even when set on the lowest difficulty, your foe will seldom make a blatant mistake, constantly smashing balls into holes and hoarding a massive amount of points. If you slip up enough times, the computer will make short work of the match and leave you scratching your head in wonder at the Game Over screen. But if you get tired of getting thrashed, the game offers a few extra game modes to keep you interested. Instead of enduring the harsh punishment of the Challenge Mode, you can take a look at the Free Mode for a more leisurely gaming session. You can play a decent variety of playing styles, such as 9-Ball, Rotation, Cut-Throat, and a few other variations with their own rules and demands. Even if you aren’t familiar with all of these different styles, you’ll have plenty an opportunity to give them a try and learn how to play. Once you’ve mastered the game and honed your skills, you can ditch the AI and multiplayer a shot, giving you and three of your friends an opportunity for some truly competitive matchups.
These epic tournaments are portrayed with a remarkable amount of realism, making great use of the DS’s graphical abilities. Though the majority of the game is in Japanese, the basic commands and simplistic menus shouldn’t pose much of a problem. The matches are shown on both screens, with one showing the three-dimensional view of the table and the other presenting a top-down 2D display. Though the tables look a little too pixilated for their own good, they are set in the middle of some interesting rooms. You’ll get to compete in a gritty bar adorned with vintage wine bottles and decrepit arcade games, a Japanese restaurant with intricate designs, and even a maze of stairways. The Billiard balls are depicted in their appropriate colors and numbers, complete with the realistic shine from the reflection of the fluorescent lighting. The animations can be a little glitchy and choppy at times, but the movements of the balls are as smooth as the real thing. You can even hear the loud clacking sound as the balls hit each other, with more or less noise depending on the strength of your shot. Though tensions can mount as the match progresses, you’ll be treated to some laid-back piano and jazz tunes to keep the stress down. While it may not be one of the greatest presentations on the DS, The Billiards stands well enough on its own.
Sadly, this game didn’t get an American release, safely tucked away in the arms of the DS gamers in Japan. It’s a shame that it won’t get the kind of recognition it should, instead of being cast away as yet another of the countless obscure games on the market. The Billiards fulfills its ultimate goal of being nothing more than a humble Pool simulator. It has a wide variety of gameplay styles, incredible technical handling, and a brutally savage learning curve. Indeed, it’s just like the real thing. Though the presentation could have been vastly improved, this handheld Billiards game makes up for it with its top-notch gameplay. But does it justify shelling out 2800 Yen and shipping costs to import? Depends on what you want. If you like the quick and intense gameplay of Meteos, Advance Wars, and other DS titles, you might not like this game’s slow, laid-back playing style. But if you’re a fan of the real thing, this game is right up your alley. In the meantime, I’ve got some Billiards to play.