World Championship Poker (PS2)

World Championship Poker
PS2 (2004)

If you don’t watch much television and haven’t been to the mall lately, you may not have realized that the game of poker is back in vogue in a big way. Between Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments being broadcast around the clock on cable television and retailers like Wal-Mart and Toys ‘R Us adding dedicated poker sections to their stores, the resurgence of poker is evident everywhere. All you need to join in on this current wave of fun is a deck of cards, a few friends, and your change bucket. But in case you don’t have a deck of cards or any friends, you can use the change from your bucket to pick up Crave Entertainment’s World Championship Poker, available for both the Playstation 2 and Xbox. And with a MSRP of only $19.95, hopefully you’ll still have some change left for when you do finally get a real deck of cards (and some friends).

For a budget title, World Championship Poker covers all the bases and offers players everything they could want in a single-player console-based card game. While the game plays several different variations and flavors of poker, the default mode is the currently popular Texas Hold ‘Em variation. Players ready to jump into the action can join a quick game at a table, sign up for a world tournament, or go online to face fellow human opponents. But before you hop into a game, you’ll first need to create your own character.

World Championship Poker’s create a character section is one of the most advanced avatar generators I’ve ever seen. After working through the easy choices (ethnicity, weight, hair color) you’ll get to choose your way through screen after screen of details. Everything from eyebrow width to style of teeth can be customized. The only frustrating part of the engine is that it doesn’t do some seemingly simple tasks. For example, players can choose one of about ten different hats, but you can’t change its color. Other than that, the character creation engine is quite robust and should allow almost anyone to create an avatar that resembles themselves (my son recognized mine immediately as me).

Once you’ve got a body, it’s time to sit it at a table. If you just want to get a feel for how the game works, you can select Sit at a Table and jump right in to a game. The goal of Sit at a Table is to be the last person, well, sitting at the table! This is accomplished by putting the rest of the jokers at your table out of the game, one at a time. In all honesty, the AI isn’t that tough to read, although sometimes the computer plays so terribly that it’s tough to figure out the type of hand they have. If you do end up needing a little help, R2 will bring up your helpful online advisor. Once you’ve aced this portion of the game, it’s time to move on to the World Tournaments, configured to play through just like the real thing (single elimination). One cool thing about World Championship Poker is, even if you’re out of a hand (or a game), you can continue to watch your AI opponents play through the rest of the hand. Just like in real life, to become a poker king you’ll need to watch how your opponents play and see the outcome of each hand to learn their particular style of play.

Both the Sit at a Table and World Tournament modes are single-player only. To play against another human being, you’ll need to pack up your cards and head online. Not only will you appear in the online poker tournaments with your customized avatar, but if you own a PS2 Eyetoy, the game will actually show your face in the game as well – cool feature! Both the PS2 and Xbox versions of World Championship Poker support online chatting as well, if clubbing your opponent verbally is more your style. Either way, online play is where the real action is. The only thing WCP is missing is a PayPal option for betting real cash. That’s probably just as well, as several of the games I played online just consisted of people sitting around jacking up the pot for no reason.

Consider yourself a diamond in the rough? You may want to forgo the games altogether and check out World Championship Poker’s tutorial section. All the variants of poker from normal five-card draw to Shanghai and Crazy Pineapple are explained here, as well as winning poker hands and some basic poker lingo. More slang terms are presented during the game’s loading screens.

World Championship Poker isn’t without its quirks. Your cyber opponents sometimes look a little zombie-ish a’la Madden 2001. The voice acting is mostly limited to short comments like “I’m folding” or “I’ll check.” The game also has a strange “Press X to Continue” policy. There’s almost always something in the corner of the screen where that message appears, so when the game informs you to press X, half the time I miss the message and end up staring at the screen, wondering when something’s going to happen.

Quirks aside, I heart this game! The lack of a two-player mode is surprising, but I suppose if you have friends in real life, one of you probably own a deck of cards. It’s easy to blow this game off as a simple budget title, but let’s call a spade a spade; World Championship Poker is a great game at a great price, especially with its online gameplay and friendly tutorial mode. $20 is less than the amount I lost the last time my friends and I got together to play poker, so I say the game is definitely worth the price. If you’ve watched World Series of Poker on television more than once or ever wished you lived a little closer to a casino, be sure to pick up World Championship Poker. And watch out for Flack405 online.

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