A clever reimagining of pool for mobile
Having turned his hand to solitaire, chess, crosswords, and then solitaire again, prolific indie developer Zach Gage most recently set his laser focus on the classic bar game pool. The result? An addictive high-score chasing billiards game with an arcade feel.
Pool games have been rife on iOS since the dawn of the App Store way back in 2008, but Gage was never entirely sold on the concept of slow match-ups against an all-powerful computer opponent. So in Pocket Run Pool, there’s no opponent at all – instead, snappy solo matches see players trying to perfect their shots and beat their previous high score.
Where other pool sims go overboard with fancy 3D graphics and complicated controls, Pocket Run dials the detail back to offer a simpler, more refined gameplay style. Swipe anywhere on screen to aim, and pull back on the pool cue to fire. There are no power meters or spin adjustments here, but the tactility of firing the cue by hand is satisfying and requires a similar deftness of touch to real-world pool.
The main gimmick of the game, from which it derives its name, is the concept of the Pocket Run. Every game starts with a set of balls numbered from 1 to 13, while the six pockets around the table are each labeled with score multipliers. Every sunk ball rewards points based on both of these factors, so sinking the 13-ball in the coveted x10 pocket nets a whopping 130 points. The multipliers rotate after each successful pot, and move randomly after potting the 8-ball, so you’ll need to plan ahead to maximize your points.
It’s a really clever system that rewards strategy just as much as sharpshooting – though luck is also a factor, as an unfortunate break-off shot can make all the difference to a run. Occasionally the reliance on randomness can feel frustrating, but in fairness, good players can play smart shots to negate the effects of the random combo spins. In some ways, it’s this randomness that keeps you coming back for more.
If that’s all there was the Pocket Run, we’d recommend it – but there’s much more on offer than endlessly replaying the standard mode in search of the perfect run.
Pocket Run includes a smart take on multiplayer with insta-tournaments that run every five minutes. These are variants on the standard mode that pit players around the world against the same randomized break distribution to see who can score the highest in the circumstances. Ranking #1 in the world on an insta-tournament is highly satisfying, and rewards players with plenty of chips.
Wait – chips? That’s right, Pocket Run features that dreaded beast: virtual currency. In fairness, it’s implemented really well here and we actually think the game is better for it. Chips are mainly used for a crazy high-stakes mode that allows you to gamble on increasingly difficult conditions. These include additions like death balls, bumpers, timers, and so on – players who fare well at this mode can unlock more and more challenges. The virtual chips used for this gamble-fest can be earned fairly easily, though if you run out the game allows you to rebuy with real money or by watching an ad.
Speaking of which: the standard mode will always be entirely free, with the insta-tournaments and high-stakes modes available to anyone with enough virtual chips. A one-off $4/£4 IAP to support the developer will remove all ads from the game and add a fourth play mode, a weekly high-score challenge against a particularly difficult board. This payment system feels surprisingly fair; we’ve played all four modes a lot and haven’t required a single rebuy.
Overall this is an excellent, highly addictive game. What it lacks in realism it more than makes up for in smarts. We’re very pleased to see a well-considered solo alternative to pool hit iOS. Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to attempt just one more run…