While some students major in philosophy, and others in physics, there probably aren't many who go to college to get a degree in pool sharking. Well, if any institute for higher education were crazy enough to start such a program, its professors would do well to invest in Virtual Pool 64 as a multimedia teaching aid. While this game lacks extras found in other titles, it has a solid graphics/gameplay engine as close to the real thing as you'll find anywhere.
This title comes packed with nine game types to choose from: 3-Ball, 6-Ball, 8-Ball, 9-Ball, 10-Ball, Rotation Pool, Straight Pool, Bank Pool, and One Pocket. You can use these games to run tournaments, practice, or play a single match. For those who'd rather make their own rules, there's a free-style mode. In addition, a shark-skins mode requires you to clear a table of three, six, and finally nine balls in the fewest strokes possible. Suffice it to say, there's enough variety to satisfy virtually every player's needs.
In terms of control, all the buttons on the controller are put to use - a surprise for a pool game. The analog control used to measure the power behind a stroke works extremely well, although it's rather easy to put too much juice into a stroke and send a ball flying off the table. Fortunately, all the analog sensitivity and button configurations are fully adjustable, so control is not a concern.
Visually, the presentation of the pool table and balls is excellent. Even at the maximum zoom, the balls don't break up or reveal jaggy edges. Thanks to the N64's processing power, the game's practice mode has an option to "see" the projected paths of every hit ball on the table, which is a great way for learning how to calculate the right angle to sink a ball. On the minus side, the pool hall backgrounds are severely bland and not rendered to the same standard. Also, the less-than-inspiring music sounds straight out of a low-budget skin flick and should be turned off at the first possible moment.
But for all of Virtual Pool 64's realism and features, it still comes up lacking because the game offers no incentive to play other than for love of the game. One can only beat "John Q. Balls" and other faceless cheesy-name opponents so many times before the fun wears thin. This game lacks opponents with personalities and deep pockets for betting (Pool Hustler), as well as an engaging story mode that gives players a "quest" as incentive to keep playing (Backstreet Billiards). It also lacks any dedicated modes to test skills specifically on trick shots, which seems rather odd considering that it's a staple in other pool games.
Virtual Pool comes off as a top-notch simulation but a boring game. It's the video game equivalent of a college textbook: great to learn from but not really exciting to read. For anyone wanting to learn more about pool table physics - ball aiming, angles, and so forth - to help them with their real-life skills, this game is a sure-fire choice. It's also a great choice for anyone looking for a great-looking multiplayer pool game. Still, if this title had a little more personality and "fun" extras, it probably would've gotten a much better score.