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Pool Party Review (Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Switch & PC)

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Pool Party Promotional Art

In spite of my best efforts to evade the temptation of being yet another victim in a bubblegum-centric ice-breaking ordeal, I, too, have recently found myself back at the helm for another series of tediously sprightly mini-games. It wasn’t all that long ago, to be fair, that Feather Party hit the block, which means that the fresh scent of unparalleled enthusiasm for the art of stoking sibling rivalries is still, annoyingly, at the forefront of my best interests. This time, however, it’s a new type of “party” game. Naturally, it sports all of the same bells and whistles that comprise the vast majority of its alternatives—soccer, pinball, and arena free-for-alls, to label just a few—all of which share one major purpose: to conjure everlasting memories between those who participate, and those who merely want little more than to obliterate a walking, talking indestructible ball. Cue the Pool Party.

Pool Party, for those who’ve yet to take the plunge and experience all of its unruly moments firsthand, is a local co-op party game in which players take to the squeaky quarters of a world where mini-games are commonplace, and kicking artifacts into the toothy grin of a fluorescent ball is, you know, acceptable. It isn’t all that different from what you’d usually find in, say, Party Animals or Super Smash Bros., minus the fact that, where you would normally play as cattle or cathartic humans, you instead take on the role of—you guessed it—pool balls. If that’s the sort of thing that you wouldn’t mind hurling yourself into, then be sure to read on for a few pre-purchase advisories.

It’s Happy Hour

Soccer mini-game (Pool Party)

Pool Party begins in a similar fashion as its peers: a selection of quick-fire mini-games open themselves up to you and your friends, and essentially invite you to participate in a few rounds of soccer, tennis, sumo wrestling, and pool. Aside from these core modes, it also includes a few other modes: a nifty free-for-all battle, which allows you to thrash it out in an arena-type battle; Idol, which serves as a “King of the Hill” sort of thing; and Jinxed, which tasks you with lifting a curse, and passing it along to another player before the timer runs out. Suffice it to say that, if you have played, well, any other party-like co-op game of this caliber, then you’ll no doubt have already seen the vast majority of these modes in some way or another.

To say that Pool Party is an emulation of another game wouldn’t be too far from the truth, as it does, indeed, equip a lot of the same elements and physics-based gameplay mechanics. For the most part, rounds consist of two teams either knocking other players out of an arena by sliding, rolling, and kicking, and scoring goals by, well, doing the exact same thing that you’d do in the slightly more competitive modes. It’s an easy game to pick up and play, I’ll say that much, and so, if you had your doubts about its simplicity, then, you know — don’t. Of course, it does bear a certain learning curve, but to say that it’s practically impossible to overcome within the first hour of playing wouldn’t be accurate.

For the record, Pool Party isn’t a game that’ll appeal to die-hard gamers, as it is, if anything, a beginner-friendly entry point for the genre, meaning inexperienced players are far more likely to enjoy it.

The Art of Rolling

Tennis mini-game (Pool Party)

Pool Party is a physics-based game, and so, naturally, each player has to consider their options before deciding whether or not to attack, defend, or evade oncoming projectiles and other obstacles. As you are, of course, a pool ball, this essentially means that your go-to method of action is mostly tied to rolling—a command that can be applied and altered by changing your position, or using an obstacle as a launch platform to switch course. It’s like bowling, in ways: you roll from one side to the other, and do all in your power to collide with other participants in the hopes that something—anything might lead to their defeat. Again, it isn’t a difficult thing to wrap your head around; on the contrary, it’s mostly luck-based — which is bound to ruffle a few feathers amongst fellow competitive gamers, for sure.

Granted, there aren’t all that many mini-games to shovel through in Pool Party, which means that you’ll probably grow a little weary of having to pluck the same cards from the deck shortly after completing your initial batch of rounds and unlocking a couple of new threads. As with any party game, though, there is always room for a little more, and DLC is often the best option for its creators to peruse in order for it to remain relevant. Will it be around long enough to see a second wave of content? Honestly, it’s hard to call, what with there already being dozens upon dozens of close alternatives that strive for the same ideology. Here’s hoping, though, that it at least sees the light of a new chapter — if only to further hone its current collection at the bare minimum.

Pool’s Closed

Arena battle free-for-all mini-game (Pool Party)

There is one major drawback that I can’t help but address: the mechanics — they’re not that imaginative. The issue here is that, once you have managed to play your first web of bouts against your friends, the control patterns can soon begin to feel a little lackluster and monotonous. It doesn’t help, either, that each game, despite having completely different titles and win criteria, is mostly the same as the others on the wheel. Sure enough, each game does feature its own colorful design, but apart from that, they don’t often stray all that far from the main A-to-B blueprint. In a typical scenario, you’ll likely find a bite-sized arena, a ball, and a team comprised of bots or real players — and that’s about it. The rest of the process, as you can probably imagine, pretty much speaks for itself.

On the bright side, Pool Party does at least have some amount of consistency in the fluidity of its keystone gameplay aspects. Now, I’m not going to say that it’s a picture-perfect system, but it is, when all’s said and done, a system that at least recognizes your inputs and allows you to get a little creative with your chosen execution style. In spite of all of that, though, it can often be as simple as relying on sheer dumb luck to score a goal — a method that I, as much as it pains me to admit, happened to find equally as effective as, say, aiming down the sights and deploying any form of actual planning or effort. With that said, I can’t say that I was expecting anything more from a couch co-op party game.

Verdict

Pool table mini-game (Pool Party)

At face value, it’s easy to forget that Pool Party is an original game. Don’t get me wrong, it does make a genuine effort to give itself the hallmark features of a good game, but often resorts to playing it safe by operating on an almost identical wavelength as its counterparts. This isn’t to say that it isn’t a fun game — because it is, and it definitely serves its purpose as an opportunity for people to enjoy a vast collection of mini-games and other nifty incentives. With that said, I’m not about to pretend that Pool Party is an original concept; on the contrary, it’s a concept that we’ve seen numerous times before, and one that, despite having countless alterations and add-ons, still hasn’t managed to break free from the traditional blueprint that was originally conceived long before its arrival.

If you’re able to excuse the lack of creativity in the design, and subject yourself to yet another series of bouts that are, more or less, exactly the same as those that have featured in previous incarnations, then you’re likely going to find a lot of entertainment value in Pool Party. However, if you’re after the next “big” thing, and something that possesses enough original material to keep you second guessing, then you might as well add Pool Party into a hat, and give it a good old shake before choosing one at random. This isn’t a new game by any stretch, and so, if it’s a treasure trove of fresh ideas that you want, then honestly — take your pick, as the choices are immeasurable at this point.

Pool Party Review (Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Switch & PC)

A Temporary Holiday Romance

Pool Party doesn’t exactly do anything to reinvent the wheel, much less tamper with its design to incorporate any sense of originality or natural-born beauty, but the fact that it does, in all fairness, play well, and has the appropriate bells and whistles to steal an hour or two of your time, makes it a holiday romance worth holding out for.

Jord is acting Team Leader at gaming.net. If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.