8 Ball Pool is an addictive billiards app for iOS featuring colorful graphics and a robust online community. Developed by Miniclip and optimized for the iPhone 5, this billiards game lets you play with friends from both the Miniclip and Facebook communities.
I have to admit that before I started playing 8 Ball Pool, I was a bit worried I wouldn't have much luck against the other players. I play the game in real life about as often as I go to the dentist, not because I don't like it, but because the opportunity rarely arises.
Fortunately, I found that however bad you are at actual pool has little effect on how good you'll be at this game. That's because the app is so easy to understand that casual players like me will find it challenging, but not discouraging. In addition, the game includes advanced options for more expert players, so they won't get bored either.
First, the basics
You can start playing as a Miniclip member, a Facebook user, or (my favorite) a guest member -- that last requiring no registration or username. Once you're in, you can either play with friends or get matched up one-on-one with random users. There is a third option to play a tournament, but the game says that feature is "coming soon." Strangely, I noticed in other users' profiles that they had played in tournaments already. Maybe that's a bug, or maybe the option to play tournaments is still in beta testing.
The game consists of five levels, London, Sydney, Moscow, Tokyo, and Las Vegas. To play a round, each player pays the entry fee in in-game currency; the levels have progressively higher fees. If you win the game, you'll win twice the amount you paid -- basically, you win your coins back, plus your opponent's share. If you lose a game, you can lose coins, but you won't drop below zero.
To play after the rack is broken by the cue ball, you simply adjust the angle of your pool stick with your finger. Two lines will then appear, one showing the trajectory of the ball you're aiming for, and the other the trajectory of your cue ball. Once everything is adjusted to your liking, pull back the power meter (initially situated on the left, but you can move it) to determine the strength of your strike. The farther down you pull and release, the harder you'll strike the cue ball.
To keep the game moving along, each player gets 30 seconds to set up and complete a shot. If you take longer than that, not only will you lose your turn, but your opponent can then move the cue ball to wherever he or she likes (known as "ball in hand"). To win, pot either all the solid or striped balls, and get the eight ball in last.
Moving up in the ranks
The app has a robust community. At any given time, I've seen anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 players online on every one of the five levels. In addition to the in-game currency, every game you play, whether you win or lose, will earn you experience points. Earn more points and you can level up (this is designated by the number given to you on your badge star), letting you unlock the harder levels in the game.
You can quickly determine how good another player is before a game starts by the number on that player's star. If you want to know more about your opponent, you can always click on his or her username to get more stats like number of games won, number of games played, and how many balls potted in total. Likewise, opponents can learn the same information about you. You also can chat with your opponent to some degree by using preloaded terms like "Oops" and the subtly condescending "Nice try."
As you earn more coins, you can buy certain extra features, like cool-looking cues. You can also spend actual money to purchase more coins, or buy extra powers like the ability to pull off more exaggerated spins, extend your aim, and increase your general abilities. These powers cost 99 cents for 5, or $2.99 for 20.
Though the extra skills add another layer of dynamic gameplay to your experience, I think you should skip buying different cues. They might look cool to an opponent, but having a fancy cue also implies that you play the game a lot while it doesn't bring much else to the table, literally.
Let's play pool
Though 8 Ball Pool never quit on me altogether, I did run into some hiccups. For instance, after I broke the rack and sunk a solid ball, the game paused with the message, "Waiting for server." By the time the game started up again, my turn had timed out, and my opponent had potted his or her own balls in, denying me a legitimate first turn.
The other problem I ran into happened more than once, and it involved the app stalling while finding an opponent. Usually, a little wheel with turning user avatars would spin until an opponent was found. However, there were a couple of times when the wheel would keep spinning indefinitely, and I'd have to go back a page to restart the process.
Aside from these minor problems the game is excellent. The physics are responsive and accurate, and you can even adjust the touch sensitivity of your pool stick. I especially like the realistic sound effects and the relaxing, steady pace. There are no distractions such as extraneous music or dialog boxes, and the interface is colorful but mostly uncluttered.
I also found the opponent matching system to be pretty fair. More often than not, our stats were on par. Though, I must admit that after my four-in-a-row losing streak, I started to have doubts (it turns out I just suck at this game).
There are some things I could stand to see added to 8 Ball Pool. For one, it'd be nice to have a chat function where users could type their own words instead of selecting one of the limited phrases the app provides. Also, there were times when, while adjusting the angle of my cue stick, I'd also brush my finger against the power meter -- certainly a danger of having all the controls crowded together on the screen. If I was careful enough to bring the power meter back to its resting state, I could keep from accidentally striking the cue ball before I was fully ready. But if there had been a toggle I could use to disengage the power meter altogether until the point when I was ready to use it, it definitely would have prevented a few misfires.
For a casual pool player, I was surprised at how addicted I became to this game. Due to the time limit, the games move quite swiftly, and I found myself often thinking, "Just one more game, and I can win some of my money back." While I admit that line of thinking isn't particularly healthy, each round of 8 Ball Pool never failed to get me somewhat excited or nervous -- especially when both my opponent and I had a shot on the eight ball. Whether you're an amateur or pro in real life, 8 Ball Pool is a polished billiards app with a lot of opponents to test your skills against and plenty of replay value.