Backstreet Billiards has absolutely nothing to do with the Boys of the same name, but both seem to have the power to entertain for hours on end. Although ASCII's pool sim won't cause preteen girls to scream and swoon, it should have plenty to satisfy anyone looking for a pool game that serves equal helpings of realism and fun.
For starters, this title offers the widest variety of games to play on either a pool or carom table (like a pool table, but no holes). All the biggies are represented on the pool side: 8-Ball, 9-Ball, Rotation, Basic Pool, 141 Continuous, Bowlliards, Cutthroat, 5-9 (a 9-Ball variant), and One Pocket. For carom players, the game has 3-Ball, 4-Ball, Free, One Cushion, and Three Cushion.
What sets Backstreet Billiards apart from the pack is its many gameplay modes. A speed mode times you as you try to clear the pool table. A trick shot mode lets you attempt fancy shots, which get progressively tougher. There's also a practice mode.
The best mode, however, has to be the story mode. It's essentially a mini-adventure game in which you must recover your father's cue stick by beating computer opponents. Although it's a bit on the short side, the story mode lets you build up a character via hidden items, such as good-luck charms, and ability upgrades.
The control borrows a bit from golf games: Once the angle and hitting locations are determined, a power meter comes up. You then time the button press to ensure the correct power behind the stroke. For the most part, this is an effective way to mimic real-life pool play. It also supports up to four-player games with or without a multitap, which is a bonus for those looking for a multiplayer pool sim.
The game's developers slicked up the game with plenty of eye candy, such as rendered FMV as you enter a new pool hall, anime-style opponents, and surprisingly detailed pool table backgrounds. The pool table and balls are also presented well enough. The music is acceptable, if not too memorable. Fortunately, this game has a "virtual jukebox," an option to play pool while listening to any music CD (yes, even those Backstreet Boys) so you can create your own atmosphere.
Still, the game could be even better if it stole some features from its competitors. The ability to play for money and bet on games/shots might have added an extra dimension to the story mode. In the practice mode, there's no view option to see the expected path of a ball you're planning to hit, to check if you've got the right angle on it. Finally, while the game supports Dual Shock vibration, it doesn't support analog control. It would have been nice to have an option in which stroke power is determined by the stick, as is the case with Virtual Pool 64.
Backstreet Billiards is a decent simulation and, more importantly, a fun gameplay experience that stems from its many diverse play modes - and it has enough goodies to give it replay value. It's the most complete pool-simulation game around for the PlayStation.