World Snooker Challenge Reader Review
I remember, decades (ok, a year) ago when the first snapshots of PSP games started to appear and the first, most enticing game I spotted was World Snooker Challenge. As a casual fan of the original PS1, PS2 and Xbox versions the idea of picking up a PSP, playing a frame or so then slipping it away for another bash when on the toilet (for example) really appealed, and with the benefit of widescreen to allow greater vision on the table it looked like a winner.
And it is a winner. In a way. In another way it is incredibly, damningly annoying.
So, let me deal with the pros first.
1) You are playing a full game of beautifully realised snooker on a handheld. Thanks to the PSP's beautiful screen I've not seen the game look better on any console. The colours are rich, the graphics smooth. Loading times arenít more than 20 odd seconds from table to table and you always have fun creating your own freakish looking player.
2) The game physics is fantastic. Based on five years or so of a refined physics engine over various different versions of the game by Codemasters this should really be taken as a given, but itís still a pleasure when you spin off a black into the reds and the all split apart with satisfying clicks and clacks without the hint of slowdown.
3) You can tilt the screen to line up a shot. Put it in top view mode and you can line up a tricky shot. Wouldn't like to try that with a TV. As a caveat to the Cons listed below you will find you'll need to do this an awful lot. But for the moment itís handy to look down the yellow arrow and see where the white will go.
Bottom line for the Pros is that if you like snooker, you'll like this. It replicates the game and if you've got a mate nearby with a PSP and the game you're going to have fun.
1) If you buy this game the first thing you MUST do is turn off the animation. The computer player is unbearably slow at taking his shots and when he is racking up an 100 plus break I guarantee the battery on the PSP will run dry before he gets there.
2) It's too easy to miss shots. Far too easy. As mentioned I've played multiple variants of Codemaster's snooker series over the years and none of those games have been as unforgiving as this version. Balls rattle in the pockets on a constant basis. What appears to be a simple shot suddenly becomes an exercise in jumping to top down view, back to normal, nudging the screen up a bit, going back to top down view, tilting the PSP and squinting down along the yellow arrow only to find that the ball still doesn't go down the bloody hole.
Ok, it's a practise thing. I accept that. But the computer player - in challenge mode - quickly becomes unforgiving towards these slights and the game degenerates into a war of attruition where what seemed a certain pot on your way to a decent break misses by inches and the computer player consistently mops up after you.
Which leads me to no 3.
3) Gets too hard too quickly. In Challenge mode (thereís no real career mode, unfortunately) you play a series of frames in a knockout type mode, each time incrementing to a more skilled player. Without a couple of wins I came up against Anthony Hamilton who proceeded to knock up a 90 break which, if realistic, is a learning curve too far, especially when you have to sit there and watch him humiliate you. Whatís really needed is a concede option you can activate during his break. Because you canít you have to watch the computer play every shot (although it has to be said you can turn off the AI break feature which means you get an almost slideshow view of the game which still takes time if itís a large break). With the animation on you may as well throw the PSP out of the train window and slit your wrists. Because that would be more fun.
Another point, and I know this is completely unsubstantiated and possibly the rantings of a disillusioned, consistently defeated World Challenge Snooker player here, but I am sure this thing has cheated twice on me. For example. In the final frame of best of 3 we were at one each and the scores in the final frame about equal. I line a long shot to a red hanging on the corner pocket. I check my line of fire, do the tilt thing and take the shot. No spin involved, so no deviation there.
And the white misses the red. Even though the arrows indicated good contact they were wrong.
In another example the arrows dissappeared completely in a tricky shot in a pinnacle moment in a frame. Cue miss and cue (no pun intended) computer mop up.
Ok, I know that the computer isnít cheating. Thatís me whineing. But it doesnít mean I donít have a valid point. And Iíve played various incarnations of this game without having this same issue, so I know it isnít just me.
The whole thing is frustrating because the idea of playing snooker on my PSP, lighting my expectations with those first screen shots a year ago, is a great concept. What Codemasters have done is an almost direct port of the game engine and animations from the other console versions without putting any thought into why a portable version of this game shouldnít be simply copy and pasted from another platform. The whole issue of pacing is inherently wrong and it makes you wonder why, when it takes up to 20 seconds for the computer player to take a shot, the developer did not think about this in a faster, more portable format.
Ok, itís an early version on a relatively new console, so problems are expected. But Iím not a beta tester. This is a full commercial product which you and I are paying for.
Put together with the dicky aiming and you quickly realise all the pretty graphics and the novelty of handheld pleasure quickly drains away into a gurning, fist clenching experience, which will not make you look attractive to the pretty blond sat opposite on the 8.15 to Manchester.
Still, thereíll always be next yearís version, eh?
6 / 10