GAME BOY ESSENTIALS

3D Pocket Pool

The game features a photograph for the cover but uses very stylized art in the game.

The game features a photograph for the cover but uses very stylized art in the game.

Too Late for Pool

Game Boy Screenshot

This game feels like it’s coming from another planet! 3D Pocket Pool is this strange experience that you can’t quite put your finger on. It would also be somewhat charming if not for one fatal flaw. Let’s look together at this off-kilter game, and figure out why it’s essential.

Obscure Release

3D Pocket Pool was released only in Europe in 2001, during the twilight of the Game Boy Color when everybody was waiting for the Game Boy Advance. The GBA would be unleashed upon the world merely two months later.

During this twilight era I was still playing my Game Boy Color and I missed a bunch of games because I was waiting for the GBA. So anytime I see a game from around March 2001, when Nintendo unveiled the GBA price and launch games, I can’t dissociate the game from the excitement I had for the upcoming Game Boy Advance. Games like Magi Nation, Oracle of Seasons & Oracle of Ages, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare. Those games, and many more, saw their release overshadowed by the Game Boy Advance. And this time Europe, usually a laggard when it came to releases, was waiting at the same time as the rest of the world. Nintendo had announced the release of the Game Boy Advance in Europe a mere 11 days after North America.

3D Pocket Pool was released within this era. So what would have been an obscure release on a good day (come on, it’s a pool game) was even more obscure because it was a Europe-only game for a console way past its bedtime. The developer, British-based Aardvark Software, had clearly gone downhill. You can find information about a reasonable amount of games they made in the 80s for British computers, but once you hit the 90s they seem to have made only two games: a port of Duke Nukem 3D for PlayStation in 1997 and 3D Pocket Pool in 2001. Something is afoot. With the scope of 3D Pocket Pool, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was made by one or two people with little to no connection to Aardvark Software.

How obscure can this game be? What about this: it’s the type of game that’s often missing from Game Boy Color romsets. It’s probably because it was not released in North America and Japan that the game is missed, but come on. More obscure than that, you’re on Unseen64.

Addams Family Pool

3D is in the title; it’s the reason this game exists. I doubt a top-down pool game would have been able to secure a release in 2001. However, a game with a hook could perhaps be different enough to sell. It seemingly didn’t, as it never left Europe. Make no mistake: other simple games with a hook were released at that time. Simpler titles unattached to a licence that harkened back to the early years of the Game Boy were still released up to the end of 2001. Trouballs, Puzzled, and Ultimate Surfing are other titles from this period I could quickly find. It’s not a lot, since the Game Boy Color library by then was mostly made up of licensed adaptations.

Game Boy Screenshot

In terms of simplicity, 3D Pocket Pool is no more complicated than 1990s Side Pocket. Outside of the whole 3D conceit, it’s actually a simpler game. So what about that whole 3D thing? How is it possible? The game uses the exact same trick used by Toy Story Racer. Pre-rendered backgrounds are drawn to simulate a 3D pool table, and a sprite is used over the 3D image for each ball. A shadow effect underneath each ball is accomplished by using a flickering black sprite. The same flickering is used for the ball trajectory that appears when you line up your shot.

I kind of appreciate the gameplay because it has zero randomness. When you are lining up a shot, if the trajectory that appears shows your target going into the pocket it will always go in the pocket. It achieves this because it has no three-click system like a golf game that requires precise timing on your part. I discussed the three-click system in my Mario Golf article. Instead, you manually select the strength of your shot. By eliminating any sort of twitchy response from the game, it becomes a game about geometry. Can you figure out the angles required to put the balls in the pockets? However, the fun you can have when figuring out shots is severely limited by the poor simulation and camera controls. It’s to be expected for an obscure Game Boy Color game. The game is also slow to operate and imposes a timer to shoot when you are playing the tournament mode. This all but ensures you will never have enough time to find a working angle.

The AI is thinking in this screenshot. You can see the thought bubbles on the top right.

The AI is thinking in this screenshot. You can see the thought bubbles on the top right.

Finally, the game has an AI that is extremely slow to act. Whenever its turn comes up, it takes a long time before it shoots. You see a little thought bubble above your adversary, indicating that the character is thinking. It must be calculating a valid shot, and it takes its sweet ass time to do so. It often takes more time than the timer you have allowed. They never give it a timer mind you. They clearly knew their AI couldn’t respond quickly, so they simply let it work without a time constraint. It means you spend more time waiting for your adversary to act than actually playing the game yourself. It kills any hope of enjoyment you could have gotten from this obscure title.

Music

How do you know a Game Boy title was developed in Europe? The noise channel is used for the melody of the music.

Funky People

Game Boy Screenshot

The game has this tattoo parlour vibe for its cast of characters. I wouldn’t be surprised to find those weird looking drawings on a trucks’ mud flap. All the women characters have terribly sexist descriptions on the character select screen. You’re also stuck looking at their dumb faces for the whole time you’re playing. To pretend like you’re playing pool with someone, they do this dumb thing where they will flip the table before your opponent plays, and change the character art above the fold to them hitting the ball. So if you pay attention and think hard about what they’re trying to do, you too can figure out why they rotate the camera every time your adversary shoots the ball.

Conclusion

3D Pocket Pool is seemingly an echo of Aardvark’s own 1989 game 3D Pool. The game, released on Commodore’s Amiga, billed itself as the first 3D pool game. I’ve watched a quick video of the Amiga game and it seems making a responsive pool game was beyond the hopes and dreams of the developers, in 1989 as well as 2001. That some people, somewhere in England, bothered to make a bad pool game for Game Boy Color in 2001 is fascinating.

The game switches to a top-down view upon pressing Select. It just serves to show how the game is even less complex than *Side Pocket*, a game from way back in 1990.

The game switches to a top-down view upon pressing Select. It just serves to show how the game is even less complex than Side Pocket, a game from way back in 1990.