Republished with permission of gamepeople.co.uk game reviews.
A search for ‘poker’ in the iPhone App Store will swiftly confirm that the iPlatform has not escaped the craze. A multitude of apps for playing on various online free-play sites, calculating the maths, timing your home tournaments or even watching manga girls take their clothes off as you beat them. It seems that whatever floats your (full) boat, something with a poker tie-in is probably available.
Unless you’ve just got out of a coma or back from a deep space mission or some such, then you’ll probably have noticed the astronomical rise in popularity of the game of poker over the last few years. Ever since, in fact, an amateur player called Moneymaker became exactly that by turning $40 into $2.5m at the 2003 World Series of Poker, it seems none of us can get enough of the game. Once the risky preserve of Wild West gunslingers and riverboat hustlers, since the exposure boom and the growth in online casinos, poker now supplements the income of bored housewives, study-shy students and time-rich pensioners the world over.
Given the role that televised poker has played in feeding the frenzied phenomenon, and the popularity of the poker variant known as Texas Hold’em among top players and TV producers alike, it is perhaps unsurprising that the three big poker games in the App Store are all Hold’em based and bear the branding of a successful TV franchise: World Series of Poker: Hold’em Legend, World Poker Tour Texas Hold’em! and Poker Superstars III.
Poker Superstars III
In you have the honour of being invited to take part in a season of the show alongside Antonio Esfandiari, Kassem ‘Freddy’ Deeb (whose name is incorrectly spelled ‘Kassam’ on the player info screen), Eli Elezra, Jennifer Harman, Jeff Shulman, Mimi Tran, Cyndy Violette, Ted Forrest, Todd Brunson, Barry Greenstein and the Hollywood actress turned WSOP bracelet winner Jennifer Tilly (also misspelled as ‘Jennfier’, oops). While this opposition is certainly world class, they are perhaps not the most well known personalities in the game, and it is certainly interesting to note the absence of Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth Jr., Gus Hansen and Phil Ivey who all played in the third season of Poker Superstars, but presumably command too high a fee to have been included.
As the latest inductee into the illustrious setup, you can choose whether you’d like to hone your skills in a Single Round (a six-handed sit-‘n-go) or take on the challenge of the whole season. In Season Play you battle through six elimination matches (which award points depending on where you finish), then hopefully through the playoffs and semi finals to the grand final. The initial games are six-handed, but as you progress you play four-handed and then heads-up as you close-in on the title.
The layout of Poker Superstars is clear and bright, and the decision to follow in the footsteps of the previous releases on other formats and have simple photographs of the players faces rather then animated avatars seems to me a wise one. The interface is also simple and well laid out, with the necessary information about blinds, any action that has occurred and the size of the pot all clearly displayed in sensible places. As the action comes to you, four boxes appear on the screen allowing you to fold, call, raise or shove all in.
When you touch on the raise box, a clear screen appears showing a poker chip that you then slide along to increase the amount you wish to raise by. The touch controls are all pretty crisp and generally things are positioned so that mistakes are unlikely to occur. One oddity is that the boxes are ordered ‘Fold’, ‘All In’ ‘Raise’ and ‘Call’ from left to right which seems to make less sense than say ‘Call’, ‘Raise’, ‘All In’ ‘Fold’. One slight annoyance is the amount of nagging tutorial information that appears on the screen when you first start out, but this soon clears once you’ve played a few rounds.
As for the quality of play, well you definitely shouldn’t expect the standard to reflect that of the actual players concerned. However, seeing as they are some of the world’s best, this is neither surprising nor particularly undesirable. That having been said, it is slightly disappointing that there is only one difficulty mode and no obvious variation in tactics or playing style across the different characters.
I found the AI to be relatively easy to beat – winning the first season I played in – and observed several trends that you would be extremely unlikely to find recommended in any decent sit-‘n-go guide. I very much doubt I would be able to steal five sets of blinds in a row with the lowest stack on the table if I actually played with Greenstein, Brunson, Harman, Shulman, Elezra and Forrest. Or that Ted (or any profitable player) would call for almost his whole stack with K4o, with a larger stacked player behind him, when I shoved an A 4 9 rainbow board after having raised pre-flop from under the gun (I had 99, and correctly suspected Elezra had AK).
Overall, Poker Superstars III is a fast-paced, clearly presented and , if slightly limited by its pretty restrictive format and questionable AI. However, given that it’s currently on sale in the App Store for 59p, I’d say it was a good choice for the novice/improving player looking for some poker glam to brighten up their lunch break.
World Poker Tour Texas Hold’em!
starts promisingly, with a slick, WPT video giving way to a clear, nicely built menu all topped off with a welcome voice over from the Poker Ambassador himself, Mike Sexton. There pretty much ends the positive things I have to say about the game.
Unlike the other two, WPTTH! is seemingly intended as primarily a platform for online free-play, but it also offers an offline AI mode, and that is the mode I mainly explored. You have a decent amount of options as to what sort of table you want to play at: you play anything from six-handed down to heads-up, with limit, pot limit and no limit games available and a choice of blinds from 5/10 to 5K/10K. The variable blinds act presumably a difficultly setting, although I found that the level of play was so infuriatingly bad at the lower levels (think sub play-money tables online) that often the lower level games were harder to beat than the higher ones and certainly more demoralising. However, what is even worse than the level of play in the dreadful 5/10 game (new players for goodness’ sake don’t mould your style after these total donks) is the almost unbelievably annoying interface.
The table layout is more similar to the kind of thing you’ll be used to if you’ve ever played online (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?) with small, mildly animated sprites sat round an oval table seen as if from above and behind the (invisible) dealer’s back. As the cards come out, the first thing you will notice, is the ridiculous sound that accompanies each fold, which is enough to set ones teeth on edge – and as such is a microcosm of the whole experience.
When the action arrives at you, two tabs appear in the bottom right hand corner, you press one to check/call (depending on if there is a bet to you) and the other to raise. When you select raise, a giant brass wheel appears beneath the table, which is supposed to make scrolling through your possible bet sizes quick and easy. In reality the wheel is tediously slow to use if you scroll carefully along it, and if you flick it, it is far too sensitive and the value you’re selecting zooms all over the shop. Give that often what you want to do is 3 bet or bet half or all the pot, it would be far simpler and more sensible if those common bet sizes don’t form the basis of the bet interface. The one mildly pleasing aspect of the interface is the way that you fold your hand by flicking your cards away, but given that this same mechanic is employed far more reliably in our next game, we can hardly lavish too much praise on it here.
At all but the highest blind levels the play ranges from moronic to unspeakably dull, with mass limping, min raises into massive pots and endless checking to the raiser, all par for the course. The worse aspect, by far, however, is the strange way the game deals with the end of hands. It handles showdowns very poorly, with the whole board being dealt before any cards are shown (an inaccuracy that, to be fair, Poker Superstars III also shares) and then, the cards having appeared for a millisecond, it cuts away from the table to a screen simply listing all the cards held and the win/loss of each player in the hand. It’s a frankly bewildering and absolutely unnecessary way to deal with the most exciting element of hold’em poker. Another oddity is the fact that if, for example, everyone folds to a raise pre-flop, you get to see not only the raiser’s cards, but also what the board would have been if it had been dealt – another totally unnecessary, clunky feature, which increases a sense of unreality, and can only serve to lead learning players into bad habits.
If you’re looking for a game with a straightforward interface and an enjoyable, challenging AI against which to sharpen your game, with World Poker Tour Texas Hold’em! you couldn’t be further from in luck. Even if you want it mainly for the multiplayer mode, and the online community that grows up around it attracts a decent standard of play (which I doubt it will), this dreadful app will still be one to avoid given its extreme clunkiness. It’s frankly a total waste of an eye-watering GBP2.39.
World Series of Poker: Hold’em Legend
The cream of the crop is definitely . For starters, you actually get a proper game, with a sustained sense of purpose and progression and a decent amount of different options. Essentially you are a starting out player looking to make a name for yourself and build a decent bank roll as you work your way up from the humble setting of the local bar to the bright lights of Vegas and the World Series proper. You can play in sit-‘n-gos, multi-table shootouts, circuit events and of course, when you get there, the WSOP itself.
The visuals are really impressive, with crisp video intros, lush menus and well rendered venue screens all adding to sense of quality. When you get to the table, everything works well and is clear and easily understood. Although the betting setup is not as simple as the scheme I proposed above, WSOP:HL manages to make the innovative flick to fold and bet-size scroll wheel ideas thoroughly usable. Not only is the interface pleasingly well thought-out, but the AI works well too, with realistic shifts in subtlety and skill as you rise up through the various games. While the World Series itself doesn’t present quite the challenge it would in real life, it does offer a satisfying and fairly realistic feeling big-event experience that makes the slog to get there feel worthwhile.
Something I wasn’t sure about at first, but warmed to over time was the way that low level players give off ‘tells’ which manifest themselves as exclamation or question marks next to their cards. Obviously you can’t invest too much in the ‘read’ – a bad hand can easily become a good one with help from a miracle turn card, and just because the player has a weak hand, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll lay it down to a raise. It’s a nice idea, but it might seem more realistic if you had to learn the ability to read the tells over time, rather than being able to pick up on them from the start.
World Series of Poker: Hold’em Legend offers much more scope in terms of gameplay than its nearest rivals and delivers far superior results in terms of its interface. It’s not a perfect game or flawless poker trainer, you will find the odd strange play or annoying quirk here and there, but for the money I’d say it offers the deepest and most enjoyable off-line poker experience out there right now. What is more, seeing that it also offers an online multiplayer mode and a Bluetooth heads-up challenge for its GBP2.99 price tag, it’s got to be the current best buy in the App Store for poker game fans.
Image credit: Steve Roberts