Releasing this week on XBLA is Full House Poker. Now as you may or may not know, we’ve already seen a poker game or two on the XBLA, and a number of retail ones, so why release this? Well, aside from Microsoft hoping that Full House Poker will fill the void that was left by 1 vs. 100, they are also hoping to provide the ultimate poker experience with Full House Poker. By capitalizing on the mistakes of other poker and card games, Full House Poker provides gamers with one of the most rewarding, fun and enjoyable poker games yet.
This avatar based poker game fits quite nicely into Microsoft’s large collection of XBLA titles. Using your avatar, you can compete in a number of online/offline modes as you try to rank up, earn XP, unlock collectibles and sharpen your game. It’s probably safe to say that if you’re reading this review you’re familiar with the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em, so let’s skip the formalities shall we?
Setting the tone right away is the XP system. As you play, you’ll earn XP for a number of different things. Everything from simply being dealt in, to making smart folds to bullying someone out of the pot. There are a ton of ways to earn XP and no matter what skill level you find yourself at, you shouldn’t have any trouble ranking up. But why rank up you ask? Well, by earning XP you can unlock things like achievements, Avatar awards, chair, card and table designs, costumes for your Avatar to wear at the table, chip tricks to perform while playing etc. It’s no Call of Duty but there are about 150 things to unlock and the XP system is a solid incentive to keep people playing.
XP can be earned in both single player and online modes and there is quite a bit to choose from. For those lone wolves, you can find a ton to do in single player. You start of with a 2500 chip bank roll and as expected, you can always create your own room with your own rules and just work on honing your skills. You can play Tournament style or Standard. In both you can fast forward on hands you fold, which is a nice feature. The AI is pretty good and is great fun to play against. Playing against the computer in videogames usually isn’t something that many people do but I had no problem with it here.
The other single player mode is called Pro Takedown. In Pro Takedown you compete head to head against different AI pro players who all have their own style and unique way of playing. As you take them down and level up, you’ll unlock more to go up against. The first few are quite easy but as you move along, and unlock more pros to compete against, it gets a bit more challenging. That being said, if you’re even a decent Texas Hold ‘Em player in real life you shouldn’t have too much trouble here.
Once you’ve refined your skills in the single player arena, it’s time to hop online. Like in single player you can do Standard or Tournament and you can also choose to play in Ranked or non-Ranked matches, the only difference seeming to be that you can play around with the rules and customization a bit more in non-ranked. As expected, playing online with people is a great way to just kick back and hangout. If you have a good table with some chatty people than you can easily spend a few hours just playing poker and shooting the shit with your table-mates.
Lastly, there is a mode called Texas Heat. This is where Microsoft hopes to re-capture the magic of 1 vs. 100. Like 1 vs. 100, Texas Heat is a live scheduled show where you compete on XBOX Live in tournaments for a chance to win real prizes. The format is that of a 30 minute show and it plays out very similar to 1 vs. 100, or so it seems. It hadn’t gone live at the time of this review so I wasn’t able to try it out. But there was a video that showed how it works. It seems as if your ranking in the tournament is determined by how much XP you gain during the tournament. If you finish in the top rankings, you’ll enter the final table which will be featured for all to watch. Now the only problem with this is how many people will play? 1 vs. 100, at least for a while, had a lot of people playing because trivia is so accessible. Poker is far less accessible so you have to ask, will Texas Heat fill up?
The final feature that Full House Poker boasts is the Windows Phone 7 functionality. If you’re the owner of one, you can transfer your game onto your phone and play on the go, with your avatar, current bankroll, current XP, everything. You can earn XP and chips while out during the day and when you get home you can sync it back to your Xbox. No matter what mode your playing, everything feels very seamless.
The look and feel of the game is what you’d expect from an Avatar based affair. It has that blocky/cartoony style which actually fits in well with the game. The HUD is easy enough to use and controls have been simplified. Video and text tutorials pop up everywhere explaining the different features and options in the game and menus are streamlined and easy to navigate. The game really does offer a great social poker experience. It’s fun and has a lot of character to it, but the problem is, how long can it really last?
I don’t know about you, but if I’m not playing poker with real money, it becomes considerably less exciting. I’ll make moves I would never make if there was money on the line and I’ll find myself being way more careless in my betting. It’s just not the same. I can see this game being fun for a while but how long can it really last? I mean how long do you see yourself playing poker for with fake money? Sure, there’s the whole social aspect as you can play online but even then, poker really isn’t that much fun unless you’re betting with real money and there is something on the line. Maybe I just don’t love the game enough, who knows? Either way, I found myself not being able to put that many hours into the game, at least not in one sitting. There are achievements and unlockables to keep you pressing forward but it just isn’t the same as real money, at least not to me.
Ultimately, the purchase really depends on firstly, how much do you love poker, and secondly, will you have friends playing it? If you have people on your friend’s list to play with, you can probably kill a couple hours every so often just playing online and chatting, and in that regard the game works. It’s a great pick up and play poker game that will welcome even the most casual poker fans. I just find it hard to really get into when there is no real money being put out. It’ll be interesting to see how the game does and if it sells well. What do you think? Place your bets!
Full House Poker was released on March 15th, 2011.