ESPN Poker Club
ESPN Poker arrives on handsets to fulfill a major mobile gaming void - the hold 'em poker simulator!
ESPN Poker Club from Capcom Mobile is a decent entry in the very, very crowded mobile poker space. Hitting neither highs nor lows, I don't see how many poker fans could be unhappy with the title, especially since it features online play. But neither can I recommend it too heavily over all the other titles available.
The game's offline campaign mode is its biggest differentiator. Gamers are actually given the opportunity to make their own avatar (in the form of a disembodied head), and customize it in dozens of different ways. I made mine a bald, pale white guy with a ridiculously huge mustache. You can use your poker winnings to buy more accessories for your character, including piercings, different hats, and unusual hairstyles. Although some might see it as a little superfluous, I found it to be a nice touch. It gives the hours "wasted" playing digital poker a sense of purpose, and if you ever run into anyone online wearing that $50,000 pirate hat, you know to tread lightly.
The campaign also has a nice progression to it. You begin in "town," playing tourneys at a coffee shop, the office, the frat house, etc. After clearing them all, the Casino district is opened up, with tourneys available at several fictional mega resorts. Finally, the "World" level of competition is made available, with tournaments on six continents. While it's interesting, nothing is really done with this idea. The table looks exactly the same no matter where you're playing, and you'll face off against members of the same pool of CPU players in every match.
The poker action itself is solid, and all actions & menu options intuitive. The interface has a clean design, ensuring that players can see their own cards, money total, who is in and out, and any other important details at just a glance. Some Hold 'Em variations are included including pot limit, heads up play, and more. Only Hold 'Em is present, though. I know it's popular - it's the only game of poker I play in real life - but is it too much to ask for some other poker variants? Once the card engine has been completed it can't be too difficult to include, say, Omaha or 5 Card Draw.
It could just be my imagination (my poker skills might be getting rusty), but Poker Club's AI seemed to put up more of a challenge than most other poker titles. I witnessed the AI check-raise, and make other smart poker decisions. It still isn't perfect, however. I also witnessed the AI drop hundreds into a hand, only to fold during the last round of betting when it only had $5 left. Oddly, there's no option to skip the AI's "thinking" time. The pace of the game isn't too slow, but after a playing a while most gamers would probably rather skip right to their bet/check/fold decision and skip the AI's rounds.
I was able to hop online and into a match with no problems, although the pace of a human-filled game is way too slow to be much fun on handsets. It isn't Capcom's fault - console poker games with online play are slow-paced as well. It's just the nature of the game. But at least on consoles you're sitting on your couch or recliner.
ESPN Poker Club is as I described it earlier - competent, albeit unspectacular. If you don't already have a poker title on your handset, feel comfortable giving this one a download.
What's Hot: Innovative career mode, decent AI
What's Not: Slow Pace, just Hold 'Em