Gameloft Midnight Pool v1.2.4 N-GAGE.SymbianOS9.1.Cracked-BiNPDA
n a word, no. On both fronts. I guess it depends on what you want in a pool game. If we're talking about a casual gamer, happy to pop a few balls in pockets and generally soak up some atmosphere but with few actual expectations, then Midnight Pool will just about, and I emphasise the word just, do OK. For anyone expecting a challenging game then Midnight Pool falls short on several levels.
As usual with the 'Midnight' series of sports games, there's a bit of a seedy night-club atmosphere, brought to life here by 3D animations and 3D-modelled pool halls. As each shot is taken, you get to see how it plays out on set of TV-style angles and there are digital sound effects to match. The production values applied to all of this are quite high and it's just a shame that Gameloft's (cross platform?) game engine isn't really optimised well enough for N-Gage-compatible phones. Even on the N95 8GB, with accelerated graphics and oodles of RAM, animations are sometimes jerky. Moreover, when a shot is played, the ball animations can be seen, calculation by calculation, sometimes down to 3 or 4 frames per second (at worst). Which is a shame, compared to the silky smooth animations in Virtual Pool Mobile, running on the same hardware.
You'll be wanting to know about how the game actually plays though. There are the usual game modes to try: Instant (you vs a computer player, no set up), Arcade (you get to pick opponent and 'difficulty') and Story (where you take on a character and gradually up the dollar stakes you're playing for, travelling the length of the USA to find opponents willing to play for more and more cash).
'Story' is where the rubber hits the road, of course, but over the course of 3 hours gameplay and about ten matches, I err... well, I managed to get myself to $1,000,000 or so and the 'end of game' screen appeared. Say, what?
You see, disappointingly, although extra opponents gradually get 'unlocked', they a) don't get unlocked fast enough (and you end up playing the same person that you played an hour before, but for ten times the money, which doesn't seem very realistic) and b) don't get anywhere near hard enough. Even at the very end of the game (i.e. 3 hours in), the computer opponents were still not anywhere near clever enough to beat me. Their potting gradually seemed to get a bit better, but when faced with a 'snooker' (for example) they just blasted away at the blocking ball - and when they had ball in hand, they would just take the ball from its default location. Making defeating them rather easy. Even if you can't pot that well, it's easy enough to play a strategic game and get the opponents to make silly mistakes.
Potting. Ah yes, now we're getting to the crunch. Luckily, the pool interface here is really rather good and compares well to the one in Virtual Pool Mobile. As with the latter game, all the number keys are used to provide full control over spin, side, cue angle, and so on. One shortcut shows the overhead view of the table, vital for planning ahead.
Power is controlled using a vertical power bar and two d-pad clicks and this works out just fine. I found the aiming increments a little frustrating though - using left/right on the d-pad, jogged the aim appropriately, but several times I felt I needed finer control, to aim a ball between two of the aiming directions offered.
By default, there's a 'the balls will fly in these directions' crib on the screen, but you can turn this off in Options if you either find it distracting or would rather aim shots 'by eye'. Confusingly, the crib doesn't take into account any cue ball spin or side that you've chosen to apply, making it sometimes misleading.
Also confusing (especially in 9-ball mode) is that you're not automatically aimed in any sensible direction. For example, you've potted the yellow and blue is up next. But the screen might show your cue ball aiming for the red instead, simply because that's the last direction your cue happened to be pointing in. With your wits about you, you can press '1' to manually get pointed towards the next ball to be hit, but it's disappointing that this isn't automated in some way (as it is in VPM). If you don't pay attention, you'll end up hitting the wrong ball and incurring a foul...
Midnight Pool screenshotMidnight Pool screenshot
The net effect, game by game, of considering the jerky ball animations and the poor opponent AI are that games proceed fairly slowly, and it's not helped by quirky 3D animations of your player reacting when he or she knocks in breaks of more than one ball in sequence, or fouls, or does anything else of note. These animations take a second or three to play out and can't be turned off in Options, so you have to click your way through them.
There are three pool variations on offer here: 8-ball, in both UK and US colour variants, and 9-ball, the purest form of pool and the one I settled on for working through my brief virtual career. After each match (each of which only consists of one frame, which is a bit sudden-death), there's a chance to try your hand at a trick shot for extra cash. These are fun enough and can also be accessed from the main menu but don't really add anything to the main game.
Most gamesters will grab the trial version and be put off by a) the jerky ball animation and b) the utterly, ridiculously stingy 90 second limit before the trial stops - the end result being that almost noone buys the game. Which in this case might not be a bad thing, since it's ultimately so disappointing.
The one thing that might have saved Midnight Pool would have been an online mode that would have let you play against real human beings. It would have been easy to do too, as it would be turn-based. A missed opportunity again.
I really, really wanted to like Midnight Pool and, to be honest, I've seen worse in terms of pool games on computers and phones over the years. But it makes the cardinal mistake (for any game) of being far, far, too easy. Anyone wanting to experience real, quality, adrenaline-inducing, addictive pool gameplay should opt for the unofficial N-Gage games Virtual Pool Mobile or even the 'lighter' Micropool 2007, which both have the additional advantage that they will run on many non-N-Gage phones too.
Steve Litchfield, All About N-Gage, 27 June 2008
PS. In addition to the links above, you can find out more about where to get Virtual Pool Mobile and Micropool 2007 in All About N-Gage's special feature on unofficial N-Gage games.