Review: Pool Rebel
On the face of it, Pool Rebel should be just about the most mature pool game on Symbian - it's certainly the title with the longest heritage, starting life back in the days of Windows Mobile (most recently in 2008). However, though I was impressed by the options all round and by the physics, Pool Rebel just isn't ported as well as it could be to Symbian, with too much wasted space on screen and with on-screen action that's, at times, eye-strainingly small.
Version Reviewed: 5.2
Billed as 'the most realistic pool game simulator - whether a beginner or a pro, Pool Rebel will keep you occupied for hours on end'. Which sounds good, though your eyes would be somewhat hurting after the aforementioned hours. But we'll get to that shortly.
What we have here is a full pool simulation (with '8-ball, 8-Ball UK, 9-Ball, 14.1 Continuous and One Pocket' variants), in which you can play on your own, against another human player, against the AI and (best of all) against online opponents (across all different Pool Rebel platforms).
When you first start up the game, you're led through a number of helpful tutorial screens, complete with 'try it now' exercises. All very neat, though the age of the game (again, more of which later) shows in some of the terms used: 'Soft key [A and B]', 'stylus', and so on.
Into the game proper, power is set for your cue with the right-hand-side slider, as you might expect, with cue angle tool at the top, if you need it, plus a rather nicely variable cue ball spin control - the amount of skill you can put into each shot, if you're something of a pool shark, is really impressive. Aiming is done by dragging the cue ball aiming line around or by popping up a little 'joypad' nudge control and in principle there's easily enough here for the discerning pool game fan.
As the balls roll and bounce, the physics of spin and contact seem accurate enough and, as with my favourite in the genre, Micropool, you can attempt - and pull off - ambitious positional shots that you'd aspire to on a real table. Because Pool Rebel adheres strictly to American pool rules, there's a little too much ball and pocket nomination present here, but at least the game helps by auto-nominating for you most of the time.
There's tremendous flexibility in setting up a custom game against the 'CPU'. The default 'aim lines' are shown above, but you can reduce these or even turn them off if you want a tougher challenge - or even make the lines 'full' to make the game much easier. Four levels of aiming granularity are added to by the optional activation of 'expert' mode, in which an animated randomising bar is presented before every shot - golf style, you have to tap to stop this in the centre if you want to play a perfectly accurate shot, according to the aiming line set. In practice, this expert bar just gets in the way and is visually intrusive - best simply turn down aiming help if you want a harder game, etc.
Pool and snooker games often fall down by not being hard enough, i.e. the computer opponents aren't good enough to challenge you once you get the hang of things - Pool Rebel manages well here, though you do have to set the computer's skill level to 'five' (stars, out of five) in order to really have a chance of losing.
I was pleased to see that the 'Online game' module brings in players from all other Pool Rebel platforms - it's somewhat disappointing on a new Symbian game with online capabilities, to see noone to play against throughout the review period - here there were always multiple games to take on. Although playing online is much slower in that you have to wait for a human opponent to fiddle around in the interface to set up a shot (often a good 20 seconds or so per go), this is compensated for by having to pit your wits and skill against something other than a silicon chip and an alogorithm.
However, there's a fundamental problem with Pool Rebel. If we were talking about a game on a 10" tablet screen, there would be no issues with the graphics - every ball, every detail would be clear enough. But we're talking Symbian. 3.2", 3.5" and 4.0" screens and, if you look at the screenshots above, you'll wonder why there is so much wasted (wood effect) space. Surely the table and balls could have been made a good 20% larger, with a slight rearrangement of the ball controls?
The reason for the wasted space lies, ultimately, in that this is a port from a much older version of the game. Below are two screenshots: on the left, the original Windows Mobile version of the game (designed for stylus control, incidentally), from the mid 2000s. Note the way the table fits the available screen height exactly. Pool Rebel was then ported to the iPhone, shown below, right. Note that some screen bloat is starting to creep in.
Finally, we have the port to Symbian's nHD screen. I realise that the aspect ratio of each screen is subtly different, but the priority in each port should have been to maximise the table size and then fit in controls as needed - the current Symbian version is a good pool simulation that's rather crippled by having to squint to make out subtle details and to aim shots accurately.
As a game developer myself back in the 1990s, who had to adjust titles numerous times to take into account different screen resolutions and aspect ratios, I know it can be done - it just takes a little more work.
Add in the spurious references to interface elements from a bygone age (e.g. 'Soft Keys') and cue control which is, in truth, still optimised for the needle sharp point of a plastic stylus, and you have a less than natural fit for Pool Rebel on a Symbian smartphone.
I'd class (and bearing in mind that I'm something of a connoiseur of the genre, so this should be taken as a compliment) Pool Rebel as 'playable' on Symbian, especially if you have a 4"-screened X7 or E7 device. But I do worry that the in-game detail is just going to be too small for most people's vision.
Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 3 May 2012
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at