When Electronic Arts released The Sims Bowling (iLounge rating: B-) in mid-July, we weren’t exactly blown away: the lightweight role playing elements taken from EA’s popular The Sims games added little to a relatively generic bowling title. And though the latest iPod game The Sims Pool ($5) literally recycles most of The Sims Bowling’s uninspired graphics, music, character customization features, and dialogue — a surprisingly lazy way to make two games from one — EA’s underlying billiards games are good enough to rise above the familiar trappings.
Regardless of whether you decide to play a one-off game or go through the simple role-playing mode, The Sims Pool presents you with a choice of 9-ball billiards, 8-ball billiards, and trick-shot pool games, each of which is played with the same three-step interface: you spin the cue stick to aim at the white cue ball with the Click Wheel, tap to pick a spot on the ball to hit for added spin, and pick the amount of power you want to use for your shot. The cue ball hits one or more of the colored, numbered balls on the table, hopefully knocking them into one of six corner and side pockets on the table.
In the 8-ball game, you’re supposed to clear four striped or four solid balls and the 8-ball to win; in 9-ball, you try to clear balls in numerical order from 1 to 9 to win.
The challenge mode gives you all sorts of trick shots to clear, such as knocking out three balls with three shots, or four balls with one shot, with all of the balls starting from the game’s preferred initial position.
Simply put, The Sims Pool’s presentation of all of these games isn’t flashy at all: there aren’t dramatic close ups or any 3-D effects to be enjoyed here. But it’s actually pretty fun, thanks to a nice edge-of-cue-stick visual effect that lets you know the angle and general consequence of each shot before you take it. Suddenly, on-screen pool is no longer a pure guessing game as to the effect your button presses will have; avoid using the spin feature and you can pretty much guess exactly where a given ball will wind up after a certain power level shot. Add spin to the mix and you can start to make trickier shots, too.
While the 8-ball and 9-ball games aren’t phenomenally deep or challenging, and there’s neither betting nor another strong direct incentive to win games, the challenge mode keeps Sims Pool interesting, as does the ability to pass the iPod back and forth to a second player (read: friend) rather than playing against computer opponents.
EA’s sound effects are so sparing that you won’t need to worry about handing off or sharing your earbuds, unless you’re supplying your own music; once again, there’s too little to keep your ears busy unless you’ve initiated playback of your own iPod music before starting the game.
Our biggest problem with The Sims Pool was the weak character customization and currency system carried on from The Sims Bowling; you choose from one of several players, change the color of their clothes, and accumulate money by showing up to play pool, then going home. The role playing elements felt tacked on before, and are even more so here, as it’s basically the same art, dialogue, and pointless “collect money to buy stuff you don’t need” system, only with a cue cleaning cloth to buy instead of one for your bowling ball.
You still make more money off of EA’s occasional “life-changing” events, which are supposed to happen randomly at your character’s house when you’re not playing pool, than you do by actually playing pool. And the random events are even the same: after winning a game and going home, we were once again offered a high-paying job that was supposed to take us away from playing games.