When we first heard that Full House Poker would be at the tail end of XBLA’s spring showcase Block Party alongside the likes of Beyond Good and Evil HD, Torchlight and the spiritual successor to Contra, we were a bit skeptical. After all, how does a virtually unknown poker title fall in with blockbusters like these gems? To our pleasant surprise, the answer is very well.
The primary gameplay of Full House Poker isn’t very different from other standard Texas Hold ‘Em poker games. While the button layout differs, it feels pretty standard to real life poker tournaments. Players have the option to hit, hold and fold in normal play with the added bonus of fast forwarding once they have folded out instead of being forced to watch the rest of the hand play out.
One added feature is the ability to play with emotion. Using the left or right triggers, players can bluff their confidence or anxiety about the moves they make in hopes of both the computer or real life opponents may buy into. Using this creatively can give players an advantage if they properly taunt their competitors into bad plays to take the pot.
Added to Full House Poker however adds the concept of experience points and leveling to poker. Now, don’t worry. This isn’t an RPG-like system where going up levels will earn players perks or special abilities that make players better at poker. Instead, it works as a reward system. For every hand a player deals in on, they earn experience.
Winning hands earns further experience along with risky and smart plays that pan out in their favor. As levels increase, new titles, decks, tables, decor, avatar costumes and game rooms themselves unlock. Not counting in game avatar costumes, there are already 93 unlockable rewards for players to attain.
While there is no big story behind the gaming of Full House Poker, the presentation helps set it apart from other titles. On top of the already discussed Leveling and experience system, there are some interesting aspects behind Full House Poker. The first is its Pro Takedowns mode. Players open up opportunities to play against higher level Pro players, each with varying degrees of skill and playstyles in order earn experience and unlocks as well as bragging rights.
Also new is the Texas Heat mode which puts players in a 30 minute game where they try to rack up as much money as they can for their bank roll along with experience bonuses that change by the day.
The idea of a constant bank roll that players must monitor to enter higher level tournaments is one that has been seen before but works well in Full House Poker. Players need not worry if they aren’t poker aces though as there is an ATM they can go to in order to get more cash if they go bust.
If you like the rounded, brightly colored style of the avatars, then Full House Poker will visually appeal to you. Like other avatar friendly games, there is nothing gritty or dirty like you may find in a real poker room. Instead, the game takes place in a plush Playboy Mansion style party surrounded by other well dressed avatars. Your wolfman costume may look slightly out of place at this table but that’s okay. Playing against a parody of Uncle Moneybags from Monopoly and a hippy, anything goes at the Full House Poker table. One quick feature of note is that the animations at the table get quickly repetitive and are quickly cycled through over just a few hands.
The sound design Full House Poker is pretty much a non-factor in the game. The choice of sound effects are pretty much to be expected on top of ambient background music. It is a little strange seeing the avatars reactions to each other and how the cards fall with no voice or sound associated with them however. It does bring players slightly out of the experience.
Full House Poker does a good job of doing what it sets out to, being a fun community style poker game for the XBLA world. For players who have already invested in one title in the past like Texas Hold ‘em, there may not be cause for a second but it is worth playing for new players. There is a entertaining casual feel behind Full House Poker which makes it accessible for any players, though it will take actual poker skills to win games and tournaments. Make sure to check out the demo when it comes out tomorrow.
XBox Live Arcade (also available on Windows Phone 7)
Developer: Krome Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00)