If you haven’t played Texas Hold’em poker in the last four years, raise your hand.
Okay, well I’m one of those people who had never played the game, and I finally decided it was time I learned how. I decided that if I was going to learn, I wanted my game in handheld form much like the cards I would be holding at the real table. When Stacked with Daniel Negreanu hit the review table at the Gaming Trend office, I jumped at it. I put about fifteen hours into the game on my PSP, so lets take a look at the results.
This is the part of the game that really bugged me. I don’t feel that the developers did much to convert this game for the PSP hardware, and it showed. During gameplay, the game would pause frequently to load animations of players folding or betting. Also, it would frequently fail to update the player info quickly enough, making the player actions and how much money they had bleed into each other, rendering both unreadable about every ten seconds. Along with these glitches, the cards and table display are compressed so much that it is only really useful to look up at the alternate display of your cards (since they show your hole cards as rendered from the table viewpoint). The main menu and every sub menu have a similar jagged look, as if the content was lifted from the PS2 version and simply downsampled for the PSP. The overall look of the game is poor at best. I can’t say that I cared much for the sound in the game, aside from the dealer and what the other players had to say. Almost all of the background noise I found very irritating, especially the continually looped sound of poker chips being moved about. I found little reason to leave the volume turned up for any feature other than the voices. Thankfully, Stacked provides multiple volume controls, letting you set many of the levels separately. The controls for this title leave me little to speak about. Every choice you have is simply a menu choice of some sort. I found that I could use the shoulder butting to rapidly change my bet in No Limit games, but the overall betting adjustment either moved very slowly or too quickly for my usage. I typically went with the default bets provided, or All-In. So, up to this point I have been pretty hard on this title. Well, for it s faults I really enjoyed playing this game. I did learn one thing from it: Texas Hold’em poker is not quite my game. The gameplay options for the title vary greatly, beginning with the main menu. You can play quick games, online games, or a career mode. Quick and Online allow you to get right into a game with little need to fine tune anything. Career sends you to the casino with some money and the ability to play in various single table or multi table tournaments, advancing to the major tournament for that casino. Once you have placed in a tournament, other environments and events become available including two other casinos. Quick Games, Online Play, and the basic Cash games lets you just sit down at the table and play for awhile and then withdraw when you are done winning (or losing). The tournaments are a different situation as they represent a last man standing situation where you are hopefully the only person left holding chips. Even with the time investment, I found tournaments to be a fair bit more fun than just playing at a cash table. The game assigns personalities to the various AI players around the table, and you will get to know them decently well during the 60 to 90 minutes a single table tournament needs. The games went a lot faster when I found the setting that let me speed up and skip the rounds of a hand I was not in. This speed up option made the game very playable in a short time.
I would like to mention at this point that the game hard locked my PSP twice, and both times this occurred right at the end of a single table tournament. I was able to finish several other tournaments (single and multi-table) so I don’t think this was a consistant bug and I didn’t have time to try it on another PSP, or with a blank memory card. In the grand scheme of things, it only knocked a few points of the review score but is worth mentioning.
This is a solid poker title, and I really enjoyed learning and playing Texas Hold’em from it. The video tutorials started out really simple, but quickly moved on to more advanced play concepts, giving me a good basic run on the basics of playing poker. The best part of it was that it was very easy to navigate, letting me focus on the topics I wanted to.
Most of the replay value in this title is going to stem from the ability to play online. I was frustrated by one feature of the online component, as the game requires you to either start up in Infrastructure or Ad-hoc mode. If you want to change which mode you are playing in, you have to change the setting, then reboot your PSP. As there are other games that play Ad-hoc and Infrastructure without a reboot, I was a little annoyed at this. Most people will probably leave their game in Infrastructure mode, as Ad-hoc is only needed when there is not a wireless access point around. Online play used your current avatar to go join in games. It was easy to get into and was fun to be able to set up tournaments online and play them through to completion.
Quick play also made this title easy to sit down and play for short periods of time. The game did take more than a minute to boot up, and about 45 seconds to load a level but once the data was loaded there was little to no breaks in the gameplay. I enjoyed playing this game in short bursts, just to get a poker fix.