NINTENDO DS REVIEW: WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POKER DELUXE SERIES

Unless you've been living under a rock, or in Pennsylvania, you already know that one of the fastest-growing sports in the world is tournament poker. Although I loathe to call it a sport you can see why many people are embracing this phenomenon. First of all you don't have to workout and you can even drink beer and eat subs while you're in competition.

All you need to get started is a basic understanding of the rules and strategies. The rest you will pick up on your own.

World Championship Poker for the DS can help you learn these rules and develop your own style. If you're a beginner you have to know one thing: There is no substitute for playing the game in person. Even internet poker doesn't interest many of the professionals because there's a special advantage to being able to interact with the players at the table. You can engage them in conversation and try to learn something about them or even attempt to put them off their game with some annoying comments. But probably the most important aspect is being able to real another player' tells. These "tells" may be facial tics or nervous mannerisms that may indicate when a player is bluffing or has a great hand. This aspect of poker should never be underestimated because if you're not using in a game it's going to be used against you.

I won't go into rules of poker, you can learn that in the manual or on the net. There are 12 variations of the game including the most popular, Texas Hold'em where each player is dealt two cards and makes the best hand out five community cards that all of the players share. The strategy comes in when betting. You can fold, call, raise, check or go all-in which means that you bet it all on one hand. The AI is likely to follow you with that call more often that you would think. You can't be too aggressive in this game because you're likely to lose it all. Just ask me.

You will be able to see your opponents in full color but they won't give you any tells. The animations that they perform may look promising at first but they just repeat the same thing whether they've got a great hand or they're bluffing. When cards are revealed only the best hand of each player is displayed. You have to keep track of the holes and community cards which is almost impossible since you have other things to concentrate on. This may seem like a huge flaw to experienced players but in real life you don't always see your opponents' cards. Not that it would make much difference in this game since each AI player mixes up their play so much that they don't fall into any specific category such as aggressive or safe player.

As in real poker tournaments you will start out small and hopefully end up as the big winner. Starting in seedy casinos for a handful of bucks you will eventually work your way up to better casinos where the pots are bigger. You'll move from table to table as you win, taking on bigger and better opponents.

Players can customize their characters with an assortment of outfits and accessories with money that they earn in Career mode. You can also increase a character's attributes to make him more poker savvy.

AI players aren't perfect but at least their unpredictability will keep you alert. Using the wireless network with only one copy of the game, the game allows six players to take part in the poker tournament. You can't bring in customized characters or even name the ones onscreen so you have to remember which one you are which can lead to a little confusion from time to time.

It's nice to have the touchscreen which lets you get right to the matter at hand such as raising and folding without hesitation although there is a slight delay between commands and results. The 3D characters add some personality to the game and the sheer variety of poker games adds a lot of depth and replay value. There are even some unlockable gambling games such as Blackjack in addition to some really cool mini games. There are two slots available for saving in the Career mode but you can't save in Tournament mode while the tournament is in progress.

There are a lot of good poker games on the market including plenty available for free on the net. The wireless mode is certainly unique but it would be a lot cheaper to just buy one deck of cards. World Championship Poker does give you some direction and guidance in addition to a decent challenge. It will sharpen your skills if you're a novice but aficionados will likely shake their heads at some of the obvious flaws.

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System: DS
Dev: Sensory Sweep
Pub: Crave
Release: April 2005
Players: 1 - 4
Review By Dean
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
3.0
GRAPHICS
3.0
CONTROL
4.0
MUSIC/FX
2.5
VALUE
3.5