From the word go, Poker Club promises to offer an immersive Poker experience using realistic graphics and animations. To that end, I can say that the developers have succeeded in realizing this vision for it.
Colors of a Gambler
I played Poker Club on the Switch. It’s pretty much the perfect console for tabletop games and card games. Easygoing, relaxed experiences are ideal for the portable, comfy form-factor of Nintendo’s latest hit console. With this in mind, Poker Club fits the console like a glove, and while the transition wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, you’ll find a solid package for all your card game playing needs.
Even with the Switch version being noticeably downgraded compared to the versions on more powerful consoles, I was still impressed with how reasonably it carried its overall aesthetic. Besides some texture pop-in that you’re likely to notice at the start of a given match, you’ll be sure that you can drink in the intoxicating atmosphere of a gambler’s life whether at home or on the bus.
Straight Up Real
This dedication to realism doesn’t stop at just realistic graphics, however. Besides that, you’re given well-done and well-researched animations to accompany these character models. While good animation is to be expected for a game such as this, I think I do need to take a second to praise how true-to-life these animations are. In real life, Poker is a game where any key piece of information you can parse from your opponent, whether on purpose or accident, can change the state of the game in its entirety. As such, players and dealers often go to extraordinary lengths and use some very particular methods to keep their cards close to their chest. Many games that feature Poker often flanderize or idealize this, but here, you get total authenticity.
Sweetening the deal is the game’s pleasantly robust character creator. It’s not the most in-depth one I’ve ever seen, but it’s more than enough to create someone at least relatively close to your own image if that’s what you wish. Furthermore, through use of the game’s virtual currency that you earn through playing, you’ll unlock new outfits, accessories, and even playing boards that further encourage you to flaunt your poker face. It’s quite effective in building up that competitive, high-stakes culture that characterizes real-life gambling.
A Full House of Features
Poker Club is positively packed with different modes on offer. Be it competitive play where you gamble virtual money in tournaments or against specific players, casual play with friends, and various game modes like Texas Hold ‘Em and Blackjack. While Poker is still the main draw, as the title suggests, I was surprised at the variable number of experiences I could have anyway. If you want an all-in-one package for you and your friends, this game ought to have you covered.
But let’s say you don’t know how to play Poker, but you want to learn? Well, the game features a surprisingly in-depth tutorial prompt as soon as you boot the game up for the first time that will teach you different styles of play like Freezeouts or Holdouts. It also will teach you terminology and lingo that you’ll need to know to get anywhere. Though in a game as notoriously competitive and rigorous as Poker, your best bet in accruing experience and knowledge in the game is still at the dealer’s table. The best place to do that would be in the game’s online modes.
I was reasonably satisfied with the online performance of the game. It’s missing the things you would expect in a real-life gathering like snacks and drinks, but technology isn’t quite there yet, so I’ll excuse it. In my roughly 5 hours of playtime online, I did run across the occasional hitches and connection drops, but these were rare. It was otherwise very smooth throughout. Since it boasts full cross-play and cross-saves across all consoles it’s currently available on, any prospective players ought to have little trouble finding full matches within a matter of moments. There isn’t any local multiplayer, but considering what Poker is fundamentally, it wouldn’t really work. The lack of wireless multiplayer for the Switch version is disappointing, though.
Implied Odds & Ends
Players additionally have the option of competing in the PCC Poker Tour, which is the game’s de facto campaign mode. Here, you’ll compete in challenges that progressively become more difficult as you work your way into richer and richer tables, wherein your stakes will increase progressively as buy-in becomes more expensive. It adds a good layer of tension to each new challenge, as should be the case in competitive Poker. Outside of this, there aren’t any features for those looking to go it solo. I wouldn’t say that’s really a bad thing given the game’s nature, but it could cause players to hit roadblocks if they’re trying to gain money while not being skilled at the game. The money earned from this mode will go back into buy-ins and various other things that fuel the game’s economy.
Featuring a surprisingly well-maintained economy, you’ll wager virtual money to buy-in at boards and spend it to unlock things for your avatar like accessories, clothes, and boards. It’s not a particularly in-depth system, but I feel it does a good job at maintaining that enticing ebb and flow that makes gambling so addicting for many. Mercifully, the game also features absolutely no microtransactions to speak of, a common pitfall for games with their own economy and virtual currencies. So if you were worried about players paying their way ahead of others, rest assured, the playing field is completely even at all times.
There is one snag in this economy, however: the Daily Rewards. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this. Do as the game asks and you’ll be given extra rewards for it, usually virtual money. These tasks often include things like winning the game a certain way or doing a certain strategy a number of times in one match. For purists who would prefer to play Poker normally, you might be at a disadvantage when it comes to collecting funds because you just want to play the game normally. Not a huge deal overall, but it might end up getting in the way of your enjoyment depending on what you value in a Poker simulator.
Taking the Slow Road
Everyone who’s watched or played Poker knows it’s quite the slow burn of a game. Most decisions made are ones that must be carefully thought over. With this in mind, some games can take upwards of an hour. For many people, this is a big turn-off and is seen as a barrier to entry. While on one end, I respect Poker Club’s dedication to maintaining this aspect of the game, on the other, it’s the reason I have so much difficulty playing through the game more than I wish I could. Every single action and every animation feels slow and plodding, and with no comfortable way to speed things along, you’ll be watching the same animations play out the same way several times before the end of a match. This is the biggest thing holding Poker Club back.
When you enter a game, you’re in it for the long haul more often than not. Even with players who make split-second decisions (purposefully or not), prepare to spend dozens of minutes in a match watching your player and the other players do the same things over and over again. I’m not sure whether this was to adhere to the game’s sense of realism or not, but it ultimately hurts the otherwise very flexible and controlled environments you can play in. Exacerbating this is the game’s lack of easy drop-in and drop-outs for matches. Expect yourself or your opponents to have lost a good chunk of virtual coin just because you opted out of a match out of boredom.
Lastly, this is an issue that pertains only to potential Switch buyers: load times. They could be much, much better than they are. I’ve had them last anywhere from 10 seconds to about half a minute. Over the course of a few sessions, it starts to add up and grate, especially with the aforementioned issues with the game’s slow speed. You will most likely get used to it before long, but it’s something you’ll have to be ready for if you want to play it portably.
I was surprised by Poker Club, because my initial impressions of the game were not very strong. I found the online challenges to be frustrating and the game’s overall speed to be tedious. But as I continued on, I had reconciled these problems without really even noticing. That’s not to say that these issues are not pervasive to the entire experience, but because I had merely grown numb to them. Much like taking a seat at the gambler’s table for the very first time, many frustrations will pass as you take in the easygoing, yet exciting atmosphere of this common pastime.
Though it could be better, Poker Club is a charming and lovingly crafted recreation of one of the most popular pastimes around.
POKER CLUB IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Ripstone Publishing for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt