Full House Poker Review (Xbox 360)
Xbox Live Arcade has plenty of board and card games, but some of them have skimped when it comes to features and presentation. Full House Poker doesn't pretend to be anything that it's not, and it excels within the confines of the digital download world.
Full House Poker plays like most other poker games — that is to say, it plays like poker — but it does so with a sense of fun and smoothness that is often absent in other similar budget releases. You can set up tournaments for up to 30 people, and table games support up to 10 players. You can set the bet timers and buy-in for these games, and you can also alter the format (aces being high or low, for example). One small gripe is that you can't change when the blinds go up or by how much, and this can cause tournaments, especially online, to drag out far too long.
There are plenty of smart little touches, like the ability to bet with aggressive or passive animations, pre-loading decisions (for bets and check/folds) and a nice rumble and sound effect when it's your turn to play. It's also kind of neat that you have to stand up and look at a player to see their detailed stats, which leads to some silly avatar staring contests.
The bankroll is handled well, with players able to take small cash advances if they get too far in the hole. You still have to unlock the ability to play higher buy-in tournaments, and you can't play them unless you have the chips, so it's a fair balance that prevents human players from getting too casual with their virtual money. That said, people will be pretty casual, as this is still fake money.
Everything looks and sounds quite simple in Full House Poker, but it is all presented with plenty of charm, color and silliness. You can unlock new cards, tables and rooms to play in, and the game also supports avatars so that you can have Master Chief playing against a giant bear if you like. There are many fun little touches in the game as well, such as gravity-defying chip tricks, angry or timid behavior when placing bets and plenty of funny idle animations. The sounds of the poker rooms all lend to this goofy atmosphere as well, and the funk/jazz soundtrack keeps the action hopping along.
There's not a whole lot to do on your own here, with basic table and tournament games against the AI being open to you. All of these games feed into your persistent player stats and unlocks, so that is a small reason to slog through some AI-infested tournaments.
You can also hunt for a bit more bankroll and a couple of achievements through the “Pro Takedown” mode, but this just basically involves going heads up against one AI opponent. Each AI player has slightly different betting tendencies, but most can be bullied. You'll also unlock some new tables and decorations from this, as well as some new duds for your player.
The online features of Full Hose Poker are easily its biggest asset. You can quick match to find a variety of table and tournament games, or you can set up a private match with your own settings (buy-in, turn timers, game format, players per table, etc). Bankroll and leaderboards are tracked well, as users can compare their lifetime bankroll, XP and rank points against friends and the world.
The “Texas Heat” mode is an interesting experiment, as it provides a somewhat-live game show experience for an online poker tournament. The idea is that you and some friends can enter into 30-person tournaments where there are three tables (diamond, double diamond and triple diamond) that represent chip leaders. You end up competing against these 29 other players but also against thousands of other players who are playing at the same time. There are some good television-style presentation elements here, and there are also persistent player unlocks, with achievements for each “season” of the show and XP rewards for players who do well on each episode.
The only downside to the online offerings of Full House Poker, including Texas Heat, is the presence of some annoying connectivity issues. The game does allow for a small server list when browsing for tournament games, and these do show connection strength and player count, but none of this seems reliable. In particular, Texas Heat matches have players dropping all the time, with AI drones taking over in their place. In general, the game plays fine online, but initially getting connected can be a chore.
Full House Poker is a fun little poker game that features some wacky presentation and well-thought-out online modes.
Learning Curve: Your knowledge of poker will obviously help or hurt here, but the game is loaded with tutorials, clean presentation and encouragement.
Control Scheme: It's quite easy to bet what you want and do what you want at the table (taunts, tricks), and you can even queue up actions ahead of time.
Visuals: The game is colorful and well-presented, with Avatar support and goofy animations that you can perform at the table.
Audio: A decent soundtrack that fits the atmosphere as well as poker chips that sound right.
Value: Full House Poker has got legs, with some decent thought put into the multiplayer offerings as well as some unlocks to keep you going.
Score: 7 (Good)