World Championship Poker Review

People looking for a multiplayer poker game for the DS should jump on this one. Solo players, meanwhile, will need to take a few nagging design flaws into consideration.

World Championship Poker for the Nintendo DS dishes out a heaping helping of value for a relatively inexpensive price. It includes 10 popular poker variations, four barroom side games, an extensive career mode, and a multiplayer mode that allows up to six players to participate using only a single game card. There are a few nagging problems with the way tells and reads are handled for CPU opponents, which could potentially sour the single-player modes for some people. Otherwise, this collection of Vegas-style card games is just the thing for players who are looking to brush up on their poker skills.

The game's fine if you're planning to play with other players...
The game's fine if you're planning to play with other players...

The game includes 10 different poker variations: Texas hold 'em, double-flop hold 'em, pineapple, Omaha hold 'em, Omaha hi-lo, seven-card stud, seven-card hi-lo, baseball, five-card draw, and deuces wild. That's a fairly diverse selection and pretty much covers all of the major games that you'll see on TV or down at the local casino. Blackjack and video poker are included as well. So are air hockey and darts, although these last two are only available while playing through the career mode. Basic tutorials are also provided for each game in the collection.

Single-player modes include quickplay and career. You can play a one-off round in the quickplay mode, which offers five different difficulty settings, but you'll probably enjoy yourself much more if you participate in games within the framework of the career mode.

In the career mode, you start out as a rookie rounder that's trying to work your way up from the tables at a lowly redneck casino to the world championship tournament that's being held at a ritzy high-roller establishment. There are four casinos in all. Each one offers a full range of stand-alone tables and a cluster of tournaments that are specific to that particular location. The bet limits and CPU skill levels increase as you move up in the rankings, but the real highlight of the career mode is the ability to create your own custom character and use your winnings to buy new accessories and upgrades for it at the gift shops located inside each casino. You can put together your own custom player model by selecting from dozens of different body, clothing, and accessory types. Many of the accessory items on sale in the shops don't have any practical use, but it's still a nice ego booster to see a new stereo or plasma TV sitting in your character's inventory. Upgrades can be bought that will improve your character's ratings with regards to luck, game face, intimidation, and skill. You need to invest a ton of money to see discernable results, but eventually you'll begin to notice that you're getting better cards and that the CPU isn't calling your bluffs as often.

For the most part, the CPU does a good job of playing by the numbers and will fold, bluff, or check-raise when the situation is appropriate. Chip leaders have a tendency to be aggressive and will make bets to try to force out hangers-on, especially in three-way or heads-up play. The maximum number of players that can be at a table is limited to six, but you'll run across more than a dozen different opponents as you visit the various tables and make it through tournament-elimination rounds. Each opponent has his or her own play style and habits, which you'll gradually catch onto the more you play. The only obvious flaw regarding the CPU artificial intelligence is that it has a nasty habit of calling pre-flop all-in bets. But if you're risking it all like that, the chances are good that you won't survive to see the next hand.

One of the most important aspects of poker is the ability to watch your opponents play and gradually uncover any patterns or telling behaviors that they may have that will tip you off to their hands in the future. The CPU opponents in World Championship Poker have their own play styles and habits, just like real people do. Unfortunately, some aspects of the game's design get in the way of the player's ability to read opponents and figure out patterns. First off, you can't watch hands that you're not involved in. When you fold, the game immediately fast-forwards to the outcome, which means you don't get to watch your opponents make bets, raise, or reraise one another or see the subsequent flop, turn, and river cards. As it is, the outcome display is poorly organized. It only shows the hands that were made as a result of putting the best combination of hole cards and community cards together, which makes it impossible to tell what an individual's hole cards were or in what order the community cards appeared.

...but maybe you should just get a deck of cards, instead.
...but maybe you should just get a deck of cards, instead.

Another major gripe against the game's design is that the visual behaviors displayed by CPU opponents are entirely for show and don't mean anything. The developer put the 3D capabilities of the DS to good use by giving each CPU player a variety of different hand gestures and facial expressions, but they dropped the ball by making them random instead of associating them with the players' habits. Some of the animations are pretty funny, particularly the cowboy who sometimes tips his hat and yells "yee-haw," or the old man who sometimes takes a drag off a portable oxygen tank before making a move. It's too bad that they do these things just as often when they're about to fold as they do when checking or making a bet.

Obviously, you don't have worry so much about CPU AI, outcome screens, or simulated tells if you're playing against other human beings. You can just look over at your friends to observe their mannerisms, and it's not too much of a bother to ask people to call out their bets or to inform folded players what cards are coming up on the flop, turn, and river. The multiplayer mode in World Championship Poker lets you set up single- or multiround play against as many as five other players. Each of the 10 different poker games, along with blackjack, is available for play in this mode. Best of all, the game supports single-card download play, which means you only need one game card in order to link as many as six DS systems together.

In addition to taking advantage of the system's wireless game-sharing feature, World Championship Poker also makes good use of the system's dual screen, touch screen, and ROM save features. The upper screen shows CPU opponents, their bets, and (depending on the game) the cards they've put down. Meanwhile, the lower screen shows your cards and your bets. You can control the game using the stylus or by using the D pad and buttons. If you use the stylus, you can make bets, fold, or discard by tapping the appropriate spots on the lower touch screen. If you use the D pad and buttons, you can cycle through those same spots just as easily. For some reason, there's a one-second delay between when you input a command and when it's actually reflected onscreen. This can be annoying at first, but it doesn't really hurt the game in any practical way. Progress made in the career mode is automatically saved after every round or gift shop transaction. There's no way to save the game in the middle of a round or during a tournament, which is a bummer if you don't have enough time to invest in a long game or if you're interrupted. There are two different save slots, which is great, because it means you can alternate between two custom characters or you can share the game with another member of the household.

The graphics in World Championship Poker are mighty fine.
The graphics in World Championship Poker are mighty fine.

Shockingly enough, World Championship Poker is also no slouch when it comes to graphics and audio. In fact, it's one of the better-looking DS games out there right now. The 3D-modeled computer opponents are exceptionally detailed, both in terms of costumes and body animations. Subtle details such as jewelry and clothing patterns are easy to pick out because the textures and polygons are sharp and clearly defined. When you're seated at a table, the game shows your opponents in a first-person view on the upper screen. The viewpoint cycles from one opponent to the next while they consider and place their bets. During that time, you can watch them fidget, check out their eye movements, and see their facial expressions change. The casinos are also fully 3D. Using the D pad, you can walk around inside the casinos, enter the various rooms, and step up to the tables to see what games are offered.

What's more surprising is that there's an environment outside the casinos too. In order to visit another casino, you actually have to walk down the street and step inside it. While wandering the streets of Casino Lane, you'll also uncover bonus areas, such as a video arcade or tattoo parlor, where you can throw down some of your hard-earned winnings to play air hockey or ink up your custom character. Each casino has its own specific theme, which is clearly evident in the decorations and furniture situated inside. The Western casino, for example, has a Wild West-style bar and player piano, along with a couple of cheesy paintings of dogs playing poker. The Amazon casino is packed with trees and vines, and has a river running through it. The other two casinos represent Greek and modern themes, and you can pretty much imagine how they're decorated.

The background music that plays inside each casino is fairly pleasant. A variety of different atmospheric noises--such as people talking, glasses clanking together, and chips rustling when they hit the table--bring a touch of authenticity to the experience. There's also a ton of speech in the game. The dealer asks for bets and subsequently announces when he's laid down the flop, the turn, and the river cards. CPU players will make comments like "bow down to me," and they'll call out when they have a full house or nut hand. Individual CPU players have a habit of repeating the same phrases over and over, which does have the tendency to become annoying during long rounds or tournaments.

You'll find different casinos, a handful of poker variants, and even some unlockable bonuses, if you're lucky.
You'll find different casinos, a handful of poker variants, and even some unlockable bonuses, if you're lucky.

Overall, World Championship Poker for the Nintendo DS does more things right than it does wrong. It includes a healthy selection of different poker games and makes good use of the system's dual screen, touch screen, and wireless multiplayer capabilities. If you're looking for a portable poker game to play with your other DS-owning friends, then you needn't look any further than World Championship Poker. Whether or not you enjoy the game's single-player modes, however, will depend on your ability to forgive the design flaws that make it nearly impossible to establish reads and tells against CPU opponents. Aside from those nagging aspects, the CPU is smart enough and challenging enough to make this an excellent game for beginners and intermediate players looking to brush up on their poker skills.

The Good

  • Healthy selection of different poker games
  • CPU plays smart, especially on higher difficulty settings
  • Career mode actually has some depth to it!
  • Wireless multiplayer only requires one game card
  • Beautiful 3D player models and poker rooms

The Bad

  • Hard to figure out patterns since folding leads right into results screen
  • Random player animations make it impossible to establish tells
  • CPU has a habit of calling pre-flop all-in bets

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