Version tested: DS
Here's why casinos are so great: Every time you hear some outlandish conspiratorial theory about one business or another, it's invariably so much nonsense, but with casinos, there's a fair chance it's true.
The reason being, people who run casinos want lots of money, and heck, if it might work, why not give it a try? So when you hear about the Vegas casino that's designed to allow no visage of natural sunlight within so people gamble for longer, it's really doing it. And if someone's told you that they're releasing a particular odour through the air conditioning because it supposedly encourages spending, believe it. Does the lack of sun keep you there? Does a smell change your behaviour? Who knows - but as far as the casino's concerned, who cares? If there's a sliver of a chance of its working, then boys, do it. Once you're done smashing the kneecaps out of that lucky chancer.
Here's why Sega Casino is not great: It's not a casino.
Now, this is no big advocacy of casinos. They're probably terrible. But as anyone who's ever had a gamble - and not finished up living in an empty Dunkin' Donuts container, wife and children pawned - will tell you, it's quite fun to take that risk.
But if you've ever sat down for a game of poker with your buddies and bet for matchsticks, you'll know it just doesn't work. Who cares if you lose a big bunch of matches? All in! Gambling works because you mostly lose, but you're aware there's a small chance of defying that, and winning. But you have to be losing or winning something.
At first, Sega Casino offers you Blackjack, Roulette, Craps, Baccarat and Texas Hold 'Em. There are various ways to get at them - either in the Free Mode allowing a random flutter, Multiplayer Mode (for some) via the magicks of wireless, or Casino Mode with a progressive approach allowing you to accrue or blow your (pretend) fortune. So before we go on, let's all just get it out of our systems:
There, no we can carry on in a mature and sensible way, becoming of a high-class casino.
There's really very little point in the Free Mode. As mentioned above, gambling is 99% incentive, 1% sport, and without even the modicum of interest in the result offered by the Casino Mode, play is near redundant. Perhaps a game of Texas Hold 'Em could distract for a few minutes, since there's a clear goal ahead of you - winning the game. But... well, we'll get onto what's wrong with this in a moment.
So the Casino Mode offers at least some form of carrot. Reaching certain amounts of money opens tables with higher upper betting limits, as well as the remaining four locked games. These only take a few games of Hold 'Em to unlock, and reveal something called Chuck A Luck, the enormously convoluted 7 Card Stud, Keno, and three Video Poker games - essentially fruit machines based on poker logic.
Out of the nine total, only three offer anything more than the luck of a dice, or number. So certainly the reality of Roulette, Craps (snicker) (aimlessly betting on dice), Baccarat (aimlessly guessing whether cards will add up to 9), Chuck A Luck (aimlessly guessing the totals of thrown dice), Keno (aimlessly guessing lottery balls) and Video Poker (various means of aimlessly hoping the right cards roll up) is replicated. But the only reason any of these games are tolerable in real life is thanks to the generous increase in money resulting from a correct aimless guess. Take that away, and the futility of these dull activities is rudely revealed.
So that leaves Blackjack, Hold 'Em and 7 Card Stud. It's safe to say that these are the only games that merit review. (A friend of mine designed a fruit machine simulator on a 4MB graphic calculator during a maths A Level lesson ten years ago - it's not a refined skill). Asking a randomised routine to generate a number is not the pinnacle of gaming excellence. But having AI players is, and that's what these three offer.
Disappointingly, it doesn't offer them very well. Blackjack obviously doesn't require any intelligence on the part of the machine. If you've stuck at 15, then it's obviously going to keep flipping until it's beaten you, or goes bust. But it at least replicates the knowledge required in you to be aware when to hit, double down, take insurance, split, and so on. And for you card counters out there, it loyally plays through a single deck, and there's no large burly man hovering over your shoulder asking you if you'd like to step outside for a minute.
But where Sega Casino wins and loses most dramatically is with its poker games. Both games offer AI opponents - Cassie, Brian, Ashley and David - and the game-friendly purpose of a possible win. Three rooms offer limits of 100, 500 and 1000, unlocked as you earn more.
Starting off in the Bronze Room, things seem a little too easy. If you check, the others will most likely check with you. Rarely will anyone kick off the betting. So you lead, throw down 100, and it's fold, fold, fold, fold. Or perhaps someone will call you, and you wonder if they're calling your bluff. They'll match your 100, and then check to the end. And reveal a flush. More often than not when you have nothing, you can check your way through to the river, just to see if you can reclaim the blinds, only to find they were sitting on full houses or higher. Why so timid? I dismissed this as being the behaviour of the 'easy' table. So it's a huge anticlimax to discover this is the case all the way through. In fact, it's remarkably difficult to lose a game, no matter how wildly you play.
Far more confusingly, the structure of the game is all wrong. Blinds are not raised at any point until the final between yourself and the one remaining player, and then only doubled. So you're playing blinds of $100/200 from a pool of, say, $18,000. It's negligible to lose, so you may as well play every hand through. Which only makes it more daft and annoying when the opponent frequently throws away his cards for the sake of disposable chips. This makes the final a lengthy grind of whittling him down, rather than big betting bravado, and definitely no fun.
The most disappointing factor is the lack of an application of tactics. The opponents rarely bluff, and when they do it's so ridiculously that only blind fluke can score them a win. And they appear to have no concept of the amount of money they're betting, so calling people all-in appears to have no impact upon their decision. The psychology of the game is entirely absent, leaving the AI playing almost as randomly as the dice in Craps (giggle). So you win. Every time.
So oddly, it's the ability to accumulate money that defeats the entertainment in this Casino mode. There's no challenge. I want to lose now and then. And not just by incorrectly guessing that the roulette wheel would stop on an odd number. There's a casino game on the seat-back entertainment in Economy class plane flights that offers a greater sense of risk. Once you've unlocked the remaining games and discovered them to be just more variations on guessing which number might randomly appear, there's nothing else to do.
Apart from the multiplayer, of course. And here there's hope, replacing the AI with simply I, and the justification of the score. As meagre as it remains. One copy of the game lets up to five people play (via the wireless connection) Blackjack, Hold 'Em or 7 Card Stud. (Quick - hit play on the record-scratch noise) Er! You've got five people in a room - get a pack of cards out! The very notion of five adults hunched over their DS to replicate what would be a thousand times easier with a deck and box of Smarties is too horrible to think of. With no Wi-Fi Connection support, there's little else to say.
The graphics are horrible, but functional, apart from the roulette wheel which looks rather spiffy. And the music is ghastly beyond comprehension, and cannot be switched off, meaning the swooshy card noises can't be enjoyed without developing a twitch. And, er, the stylus is implemented, used for dragging bets onto the table, but poorly programmed such that it doesn't work the first drag, but the second. And worst of all, you can't double-tap on the poker table to check, which would have been sweet.
Despite being two-thirds the price of most DS games, it's still not worth it. You'd be far better off having a wash and going to a friend's house for an unfriendly, loud, fight-inducing game of poker, where at least everything can descend into betting on Mousetrap.
3 / 10