If you've been to Vegas like I've been to Vegas, then you know that a single weekend of unlimited booze and money flying out the window like ticker tape can be enough for a whole year. If, however, you're itching to gamble on a regular basis, then partaking of some innocent money-wasting in a desktop parlor game may be a more healthy alternative. Dozens of these casino simulations are introduced every year - Sierra's Hoyle Casino and Casino Deluxe, and Masque's Casino Pak are just a few recent examples. All provide stimulating gambling entertainment without the risk of losing your shirt - but what makes one of them different from the next? Answer: interface. Lately, the finest parlor sim in terms of game selection and clear graphics has been Hoyle Casino. But Virgin Interactive's latest place-bet, Golden Nugget, comes close to giving the excellent Sierra title a run for its money.
Much like Hoyle Casino, Golden Nugget lets you explore the parlor floor frame-by-frame until you come to a table that inspires you to throw down your hard-earned bucks. Tables include Blackjack, Poker, Craps, Pai Gow, Baccarat, Slot Machines, Video Poker, Keno, and even the Big Spin. In Golden Nugget, you'll find almost every game you'd find on a real parlor floor. Ambient noises, such as croupiers calling out bets, people murmuring, and slot machines chiming, crowd the air.
But you're not here to take in the ambiance - you're here to gamble. At the click of a mouse button, a little tray rises from the bottom of your screen displaying your chip collection. Select a set number of chips to be used for each bet placed, and you're set. Subtle additions - such as the adjacent gamblers' arms reaching over the table to place bets, the dealer's reprimanding reminders that "these are not your chips" or "that bet has to be a multiple of six dollars" all contribute to a fairly realistic casino atmosphere. Of course, if you're into more straightforward playing, you can always turn your opponents' comments - and arms - off.
As a gambling simulation, Golden Nugget is a notable accomplishment because of the hyper-realistic atmosphere it creates. But Golden Nugget's bells and whistles - contestants calling out bets, cut-sequences of spinning roulette wheels and tumbling dice - only detract from the simplicity of the individual games, eventually becoming more of a disruption than a diversion. There's even an interactive mystery adventure included in the game starring the original Batman, Adam West. In the adventure, you're treated to film clips of the ex-caped-crusader telling you about the suspicious personalities fellow poker contestants. Though this entire segment seems more an afterthought than the centerpiece of the game, it will confirm the belief that Adam West is truly a bizarre actor.
If your Vegas yens are satisfied by excellent "being there" realism, then Golden Nugget is the gambling sim you've been looking for. If you just want to play the games, stick with Hoyle Casino.