Reviewed: January 22, 2005
Released: November 18, 2004
The earliest playing cards are believed to have originated in Central Asia around the 10th century, when the Chinese began using paper dominoes by shuffling and dealing them in new games. Four-suited decks with court cards evolved in the Moslem world and were imported by Europeans before 1370. In those days, cards were hand-painted and only the very wealthy could afford them, but with the invention of woodcuts in the 14th century, Europeans began mass-production.
As early as the sixteenth century, Germans played a bluffing game, which they called "Pochen." It later developed into a French version, called "Poque," which was eventually brought over to New Orleans and played on the Mississippi riverboats.
Americans began making their own cards around 1800 and in the 1830’s, during the Civil War the game was refined further into the game of Poker that has become a staple of Wild West culture. Whether you play for pennies, dollars, matchsticks, or clothing, one in five Americans regularly plays poker today.
There are several variations of poker and while five-card stud used to be the classic version played in basements and casinos around the country, a new rage is sweeping the country, Texas Hold 'Em Poker. Thanks mainly in part to massive cable coverage; Texas Hold’em has become insanely popular by kids and adults. Even ESPN is treating the game like a sporting event.
When something invades our culture with such ferocity you can be sure the gaming community is going to pick up on it and sure enough, no less than three casino games have hit the market over the recent holiday season.
World Championship Power is one of these new titles, and while it doesn’t offer the full complement of casino games, it does deliver twelve types of poker including the infamous Texas Hold’em. But just how well does a card game translate to your Xbox and why would you want to play against the computer rather than real people using real cards?
Crave has secured the endorsement of Howard Lederer, arguably one of the biggest names in professional poker. His confident smirk on the cover almost says, “I dare you to play this game”, and even though he offers 10-15 minutes of tutorial advise, that is about the extent of his involvement.
The opening menu offers you a few variations of gameplay; The Sit & Go is basically a pick-up game where you can drop in for a few hands without the pressure of a full-fledged tournament. Tournament mode is basically the career mode of World Championship Poker. You’ll start off at the bottom of the tournament ladder and work your way to the top, or at least as high as you can go before you bust. The more you win, the higher the stakes and you can eventually unlock new and bigger events.
These two offerings are both for single players only, because let’s face it; short of having your opponents turn their head while you peek at your cards, there is no way to have multiplayer on a single TV. You’ll need to create a profile, which includes creating a character using the standard composite sketch artists scheme that is becoming a standard for every game from Tony Hawk to EverQuest. There are literally thousands of possible combinations and if you work hard enough you can probably come up with a decent facsimile of your own ugly mug. At least this system gives us the luxury of lying to our online opponents rather than displaying our unshaven, stained t-shirt wearin’ visage using the PS2 EyeToy.
When you create a new character you get $1,000 of virtual money for online and another $1,000 for local play. These accounts are separate and non-transferable. Online play unfolds much like the solo play only the opponents are all real people huddled over their Xbox’s across the country, ideally smoking a Stogie and drinking a frosty one.
Whether you play online or off you have twelve variations of poker to choose from. Tournaments feature preset games but you are free to choose the type of game in Sit & Go and online play. Variations include, Texas Hold’em (need I go on), Omaha, Pineapple, Crazy Pineapple, and Tahoe, all of which are variations of Texas Hold’em to some degree. Then you have Double Flop Hold’em, Super Hold’em, Triple Draw, Billabong Poker, Shanghai, and of course the classics, Five-Card Draw and Seven-Card Stud.
I’m not going to go into the details or rules of these games. You either already know how to play or you can learn from the manual and the tutorial if you decide to purchase this game. But it all comes down to, “is this game any fun to play?”, and for me it just doesn’t cut it, online or off. I played this game for 1-2 hours for several consecutive days and at the end of each session I just felt that I had wasted a few hours of my gaming life. It was boring, methodical, and just not fun.
I think a big portion of this is that I play games to do things I can’t do in real-life whether it be pro sports, air combat, or infiltrating a terrorist base as Sam Fisher. When it comes to games like golf, bowling, and POKER, I can play these games just about anytime I want for real and have a better time doing it. I suppose, there is a certain type of gamers out there, a loner if you will, who might find some value to this title.
I even tried to approach the game as a learning tool, something to hone my skills for my next trip to Vegas, but the single-player AI is terribly flawed so you won’t learn any real-life strategies playing this game. At the end of my ten hours of review time the most fun I had was messing around with the character creator.
The graphics are serviceable and probably even good considering this is just a card game. They do go above and beyond on the fancy scenery for the various locations in which you will be playing cards, but all of that is just icing on the cake.
The characters are really good, both the ones you create and the AI opponents that are already waiting to take your money. The rest of the game is pretty much a green cloth table and a bunch of simple white playing cards.
The music is pretty annoying but not nearly as annoying as the speech. There are about 10 phrases that the dealer, or the narrator, or whoever the hell is talking says, and he says one of them after every play, every bet, and every time. Of course, this only plagues the single-player game and online play gives you the freedom to talk smack using your headset.
Assuming you like playing cards online then you’ll probably like this game. Personally, I enjoy getting my buds over and doing it for real, but this isn’t always an option for everyone. I can also see this as a great way to keep in touch with friends scattered across the country, play some cards, and avoid some long distance bills.
World Championship Poker debuts in the budget bin for $20 which is a fair price, but then you also have to consider that there are dozens of FREE online pokers games you can get for your PC, and some even have real cash payoffs. If you are serious about poker and want the chance to win some real money, you might want to skip the kid’s table and head straight to the adult game.
This is a tough sell for me. Perhaps the PS2 crowd might find some additional incentive, especially if they own an EyeToy and are still trying to justify that purchase. At least the Xbox gives you a bit of anonymity and you can pick your nose or scratch your butt (or vice versa) without anyone seeing.
I did have a few fun games online but most of them were plagued with sore losers, dropped connections, or people engaged in underhanded tricks to swindle you out of your ante. It’s very hard to find a group of serious players, but if you do there is some fun to be had.
So if you are resigned to playing poker on the Xbox, World Championships Poker is probably for you. Everyone else should probably spend that $20 on a deck of cards and a case of beer (legal drinking age assumed) and call your friends.