Snooker was a big part of my life from the age of around 12 to 18. I played three or four times a week and my dream was to become a pro. As I got older I knew I could never be a pro, but my love of the game continued. I was a massive fan of Virtual Snooker and Virtual Pool on the PO and then World Snooker Championship on the PlayStation 2. I was pleased when SEGA announced that the game would be making its way to the PSP, but also a little worried about how the handheld would handle the game. Thankfully World Snooker Challenge 2005 is a solid port, with only a few changes over its home console brother.
One of the nice things about World Snooker on the PS2 and Xbox was the cue control using the analogue stick. Although a little awkward at first, the analogue stick soon became like an extension to my arm. One of the PSP's most talked about issues is its rather strange analogue stick, but it works pretty well with World Snooker, although it's by no means easy to get the hang of. Power shots are easy to pull off, as are soft shots thanks to the aid of the left trigger, but it's the shots in-between that cause most problems and take some practice to get right. The problems with the analogue stick may well cause some players to switch to the old style power metre to set shot strength, but I feel that those who stick with it will get the most from the game.
Although never going to be anything spectacular graphically World Snooker looks very sharp on the PSP's screen. The frame rate gets a little choppy when you break off or when lots of balls are flying around the table, but this in no way hinders the game. Player animations are present, but I find they get in the way so tend to turn them off, something I also do with replays. The game's sound effects are clean and crisp, but the in-game music is dire and I don't think much of the commentary either. It's not so much that the lines they come out with are bad, but more to do with the fact that the game slows down dramatically with it on, with prolonged pauses between each shot. When playing exhibition games there is no commentary and the gap between shots is perfectly acceptable.
Many people think that the player AI in the PS2 and Xbox versions is too harsh and that computer opponents give newcomers no chance. I do agree with this criticism and have been on the receiving end of some painful defeats, but the same is true of Snooker in the real world. As a professional player you must take the chances that you are given or your opponent is likely to make a frame winning break. This won't happen as much down your local club, and perhaps a club player difficulty should be included in future versions, but you are playing as a young up and coming pro and the route to the top is a tough one.
'Easy mode is far too simple and I was knocking in hundred breaks after only 30 minutes with the PSP version.'
Instead of changing the AI ability, you have the option to make the game easier for yourself by altering the aiming aids you are given. On easy you get a nice long line coming from the object ball in both normal and overhead views. At the other end of the spectrum, hard mode gives you a tiny line that is only available in normal view (an overhead aiming line is only present on easy). Easy mode is far too simple and I was knocking in hundred breaks after only 30 minutes with the PSP version (I have played the PS2 version extensively though). Because you can move the PSP around you can actually position it so that you are looking right down the line of the shot in overhead mode. This makes it far too simple to pot difficult shots and is a bit of a cheat. In the real game you don't get this luxury, so anyone who wants to bump up the challenge should move to medium difficulty, as the lack of an overhead aiming line makes things much harder.
The main single player mode has been changed slightly over the version on the home consoles. Rather than playing in the Professional Snooker tour you are instead made to play through a series of challenges at different events and are even given a number of retries should you fail to beat your opponent or pass the challenge. I really can't see any reason why the tour mode was not included in the PSP version, but the challenge mode is still pretty good fun.
As well as the standard game of snooker, a number of other games have been included, such as Pool (8 and 9 ball), Billiards, Bar billiards and Snooker Plus (Snooker but with two extra colours on the table). Of these games I would think most people will enjoy Pool, but only those that have previous experience playing Billiards and Bar Billiards will really appreciate these games being included.
If you're totally new to Snooker there is no need to worry as a comprehensive coaching mode is included along with a rundown on all the rules. In coaching you will learn all about spin and positional play as well as helping you understand how to use the aiming aid. There are a variety of table set ups to practice with, plus a shot by shot coached match with Dennis Taylor.
I was quite excited when I saw an online mode in the game's menu, but was later disappointed to discover that although labelled 'online' it is in fact just AD HOC and is therefore limited to local wireless play. Still, multiplayer works well, but after playing the single-player game you will be frustrated at not being able to skip through your opponents shots as they knock in a frame winning break - such is the reality of snooker.
I really love this game and it works great on the PSP, but there is one issue in particular that really annoys me. As with the home console versions there is a problem to do with the use of the rest and spider. Sometimes when reaching down the table, where you would need to use a rest, the game decides that you must use the spider when there is clearly no ball in the way to infringe the shot. Using the spider gives you less control over the cue ball and limits your shot options. This tends to happen at least once a frame and I really hope this is fixed in any future games in the series.
Despite some twitchy analogue stick cueing, loading issues, lack of a proper career mode and that irritating spider problem, I really have enjoyed playing World Snooker Challenge 2005. I expect most snooker fans will buy this game even without my approval, but the fact that it works remarkably well on the handheld makes it well worth a purchase, even if you already own a home console or PC version.