Poker is a game that has gained a lot of ground over the past decade or so and that may have a lot to do with the rising popularity of video games and how accessible it can be because of them. There already is a poker game on XBLA appropriately titled, Texas Hold Em’, but its bland style was a major turn-off for a lot of gamers so another option was certainly welcome.
Full House Poker gets right what a lot of other poker games get wrong. It has style, flash and doesn’t become dull and boring to listen to and look at after only a few hours. In the single player mode, you can chose from several different scenarios, such as simple short man poker or much larger multi-table elimination tournaments. While those games take a little longer, they definitely up the intensity level. You also have several different options when it comes to the scoring rules that you want to use, as well as wager limits and buy-in options.
The interface and ease of use are probably the most enjoyable things about Full House Poker. It uses your Xbox Live avatar as your in-game persona and previously purchased marketplace content comes in with you. The addition of the avatars and the colorful theme make this a game that not only poker players can enjoy to get in to, but casual fans as well.
If you’re a big fan of the ‘sport’, just playing the game is likely more than enough to keep you going for months at a time, but for the more casual fans something a little extra is needed to keep the carrot in front of your face. Full House Poker has that with a fully realized leveling system. As you rank up and complete specific objectives, you unlock new decks, tables, nicknames, chip tricks and even avatar outfits that are exclusively used in-game.
The ranking system is particularly noteworthy because it tells you why you’re gaining XP as you complete each task. Small notifications pop up in the lower corners of your screen mid-hand letting you know what you’ve accomplished and how much the feat is worth. There’s a lot of them too, so even if you’re having a rough night, you’re still very likely to be progressing forward and unlocking new stuff.
When you decide you’re ready to start bluffing human opponents, you can take your game online in tournaments that support up to 30 players, around the clock. There is also a unique mode called ‘Texas Heat’ that plays out like a live show, with players trying to gain as many chips as they can over a set time period. Unfortunately, due to the time constraints of these shows, we were unable to participate in one before writing this review.
The online portion works very well. It’s easy to get in to games and the streamlined interface and leveling system from single player properly carries over to multiplayer games. You can specify rule sets and the number of players when jumping in to a game, and you can even set up private matches for even more customization. The only issue with the online portion is that sometimes the game doesn’t repopulate rooms very quickly when players leave and if you’re looking for packed tables, this can be an issue. You can get around it by quitting and specifically looking through game listings to find full games, but as incompetent players quickly rage quit after losing 1,000 chips when going all in with a 10-high hand, it would be nice if the rooms just refilled without delay.
When thinking about Full House Poker’s weaknesses, it’s actually less about what the game doesn’t do right and more about what it doesn’t do at all. For instance, the name ‘Full House Poker’ would lead you to believe that there might be several different kinds of poker you can play but it’s actually only Texas Hold Em’ and Texas Hold Em’; there are no other game variations to choose from, online or offline. Granted, these are far and away the most popular forms of poker out there but the enthusiasts will likely be disappointed by the lack of options.
It would also be nice to see some clarification when it comes to why one hand wins over another. If you’ve played a lot of poker, you’ll likely know what all the technicalities mean but it can be a little overwhelming for newer players. This is especially a problem when two players get a similar hand. Rather then telling you why one player won over another with the exact same hand, it simply announces a winner and moves on. Even a small notification to go along with the winning hand would’ve done wonders here. To be fair, there is a help section that might provide insight for some, but hands on training is much better than reading a wall of text and it doesn’t seem like it would’ve taken much more effort to make scoring education more accessible to new players.
- XP system keeps you moving forward
- Large tournaments are a blast
- Interface and theme are both top notch
- Texas Hold Em’ is the only game you can play
- Scoring tutorials could have been better
After all the chips have fallen, Full House Poker stands as a good poker game and it’s the best we’ve seen on consoles so far. However, with just a tiny bit more work on scoring clarification and game mode customization, it could have really gone over the top. Regardless, 800 Microsoft points is fairly cheap by today’s standards and if you’re a fan of hold em’ or are looking to get in to it, this is definitely your best option.