360 XBLA Review - Full House Poker

17th March 2011 - Poker has never been properly represented in the gaming world. A lot of games include smaller, mini-game type poker mechanics, and full fledged poker titles are usually sloppy messes with little entertainment value. From Aussie developer Krome Studio’s now comes Full House Poker, an Xbox 360 exclusive Arcade title that looks to change everything you expect from a poker-based video game. Read on to find out if it succeeds…

Full House Poker is, somewhat obviously, a poker game - Texas Hold ‘Em Poker to be exact, which happens to be the most international recognized variation of the game. But what is accomplishes perhaps more so than the poker itself, is being a complete social experience. All of the gameplay takes place in and on the poker table - you simply play poker. But Krome have very successfully managed to make a usually patience-requiring, time-straining game of cards very social and enjoyable to gamers of all ages - assuming they know the rules.

Throughout playing both on-and-offline, you can earn yourself Chips (money) and XP (for levelling), the later of which unlocks new challenges for Single-Player, new items to customise your Poker Lounge with, and other goodies like new outfits for your Avatar and some show-off Chip moves (like you see in the movies!) that can be used anytime in-game.

The game is designed to replace the hyper-innovative 1 vs. 100 (which we never actually received here in Australia!). How it looks to do this, is the MMO Texas Heat mode, which looks to have players from all around the globe competing in large tournaments (not just a standard multiplayer single-table game - but that is still an option) across many separate tables and cutting down the competition one player at a time. While I didn’t get a chance to properly test this mode out, it looks like its going to rocket the game to being a massive hit, seeing as how popular the game of Poker is becoming the world over.

The game caters to those not already in-the-know with Texas Hole ‘Em, giving easy to follow video tutorials and a good steady learning curve that goes well with the steady difficulty to levelling up - you wont level up if you aren’t any good, and the opposition isn’t very good if you don’t level up. Speaking of them being good, though, I was pleasantly surprised to see how good the AI is. So good in fact, that using the games aggressive and timid ‘tells’ actually becomes a valuable commodity even offline. Different players have different play styles - some bluff, some never, some play aggressively and actively raise, some only fold. Its very detailed and one of the most impressive feats of the title by far. They can even become wary of any bluffs you try to constantly pull and seemingly learn your play style during the longer matches. Its almost identical to playing real people.

One of the main selling points is being able to play as your Xbox Avatar. This is integrated into the title very efficiently, giving a true sense of individuality and social networking into the online multiplayer. It’s a shame that the game awards players very easily a super-awesome Poker Hoodie (complete with sunnies), which is already proving to make each table look like a bunch of poker-fanatic clones. Tip: if you want some individuality when the game launches, don’t don the hood. The Chip Trick animations are quite cool, also.

Another great notable point, is the detail in the unlockable customisations that you can apply to your poker table and environments (restricted to Single-Player, or Multiplayer host). As you level up, you continue to unlock increasingly surreal and cool Card Decks, Table Skins, Seat and venues. While quite minor, it simply lends itself successfully into making this a very easy-to-play, easy-to-look-at title that comes across ever so innocently.

I found it a slight bit disappointing that Full House Poker doesn’t include a commentary track - not only would this help newcomers get a hand of the game, but would provide a bit of comfort over the repeating Jazzy soundtracks the game likes you play. All up, with no voice acting, little effects and lacking music properties, Full House fails to raise to pot in the audio department.

Its come to my attention that a lot of people don’t actually like, or know how to play poker. Obviously, those of you who fit that description wont find much value in this title. However, for those of you  who -like me- respect, adore and live for the game, you will find supreme value in this little 800 Microsoft Point XBLA title. There’s a lot of entertainment and value in this shiny little package, and with the promise of Texas Heat mode, surely some extreme longevity. I mean, seriously, Poker never goes out of style, and this is as good a poker game can get.

For the life of me, I can’t think of a poker title that even comes close to the quality of Full House Poker. It has every thing you could want out of a poker game and more, with MMO attributes and wonderful Avatar integration. It’s a shame its not all there, with a let down of the audio department and some minor hiccups. But this is an absolute must have for poker fans, and definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in learning the game at all.

AAG SCORE: 8.5/10

+ Perfectly paced poker mechanics
+ Great Avatar integration
+ Promising Texas heat mode
+ Astonishing AI

- Lack of commentary
- Completely missed audio


Reviewed and Written By John Elliott