Publisher: FCI (designed by PonyCanyon)
Genre: Sports (Billiards)
Year of Release: 1988

Date Reviewed: 2-13-99

I’ll not mince words: the retro-gaming public has no shortage of reasons to hate the team of FCI* and PonyCanyon. Most ordinary (read: sane) game production companies would have been content to defecate upon their reputations with either Hydlide or Super Pitfall. This imbecilic alliance, however, saw fit to churn out both of those titles, and in so doing aroused the contempt and skepticism of many a consumer. It thereby came about that, whenever either corporation was involved in the creation of a game, most every learned gamer thought it prudent to stay away. In the case of Lunar Pool, however, such a reaction proves to be one of those curious cases in which “prudence” is nothing more than dogmatism. Still, one cannot overlook the subjectivity of the matter. Had LP not been created by a company whose repute stemmed from two of the biggest abominations ever to grace the NES market, I might not be so inclined to praise it. The game is not without its chinks. However, those blemishes do not prevent me from bestowing upon Lunar Pool the not-so-illustrious distinction of being the “greatest game originally made** by PonyCanyon and FCI.”

I have never heard a flat confirmation that this game takes place on the moon, but the varying levels of friction could be explained as different intensities of air pressure -- as though competition is waged between two residents of a space station, or something to that effect. That hardly factors into the actual game, though, since one never sees anything other than the tables. Though unique, LP is, at heart, a sports-based game. If there is a plot, it is discussed only in the instruction booklet (which I don’t have), and not of any noticeable consequence.

Unfortunately, LP suffers from the same visual malady that characterizes many other games based on such sports as pool -- a lack of variety. The tables themselves are varied in design, but that factors more into the play control and general innovation than it does into the game’s visuals. Play is waged on numerous tables, but they are all bordered by the same gray rail and comprised of the same green surface. In addition, each table is imposed over a background that is vaguely lunar in appearance -- or, at the very least, covered with craters. Those are similarly invariant, however -- each comprised of one of a very shallow array of colors. Frankly, the best facets of this game’s appearance -- in that they are in some way beyond “aveerage” -- are the balls themselves, only because of some vague highlighting which prevents the impression that this derivation of billiards is played with discs instead of spheres.

The soundtrack is similarly impeded by the lack of any potential for variety. In fact, there are only three songs, per sé -- that is, excluding a couple of brief chords that play when one completes a table. The opening is passably composed, if wanting of a more present treble section. The “configuration” song is, all in all, the equivalent of the one previously mentioned -- not a bad tune, but altogether too bassy. Unfortunately, the melody -- if it can be so termed -- that dominates play does not uphold even the menial quality of the rest of the soundtrack. In essence, it is an endless repetition of the same instrument, consisting entirely of sixteenth-notes. It fits the setting, albeit, but any number of other approaches could have been equally suitable and felt more like actual songs.

However, the general interface more than compensates for Lunar Pool’s nondescript audiovisual quality. Aroused both by sixty available tables and over one hundred different degrees of friction, a prevalent sense of variety rises out of the ash created by the game’s generic appearance and sound. Not only does LP graduate from the visage of being self-repetitious, but variety actually becomes the game’s primary selling point. Imagine that -- boring audio, generic visuals, and it still manages to be robustly diverse and, at heart, unique. Obviously FCI had something up its sleeve of which contemporary game manufacturers are hopelessly ignorant.

The way the game controls can be aptly described as a hybrid of pool and miniature golf. Much of the time, the ball one needs to hit will be separated from the cue ball by a partition. Thus, much of the player’s game consists of bank shots -- which, in this vehicle, involve ricocheting the cue ball off of umpteen rails (hoping it gets out of a self-made prison, in some cases) in the effort to strike the target ball at the proper angle. Unobstructed shots play much more simply, but some fundamental knowledge of the angularity of billiards is still necessary (though not to the degree that it could have been, as the “aiming cursor” rotates precisely enough to allow a wide margin for error.)

Because the tables are quite small in proportion to the balls themselves, the reaping of successful results from wild bank shots occurs as often as it does not. Moreover, setting the level of friction in the vicinity of 100 can prevent scratching without significantly compromising the frequency of such feats (although it does remove the fun of watching the balls slide around infinitely after taking a shot.) My only real gripe in this category is that the “power” gauge fills and empties on its own. That is, it is constantly charging and regressing as the player lines up his shot, forcing him to wait until it reaches the desired intensity. However, that is only irritating when the meter has to wind around its entire cycle just to get where one wants it, and I suspect that those with more patience than I will hardly care.

Unbeknownst to most first-timers, the ability to dictate the level of friction enables one to either curb or intensify the challenge. However, there are pros and cons to any available choice. Too much friction lessens the amount of time the cue ball will spend ricocheting off the rails, thereby rendering ditch efforts somewhat ineffective. Too little friction begets endless post-shot rolling, which very often results in a scratch. Given the way in which lives are assessed, though (a missed shot is one-third as detrimental as a scratch, and can be redeemed by sinking a ball before one’s “life” runs out), the former is usually preferable to the latter.

Also irritating is the tendency of the ball to get stuck in what I previously called “self-made prisons.” Such situations result when one chases an object ball into an enclosed area with a small opening, only to find that a perfect angle is necessary to get out of the little cell and sink a ball in the same shot. The slightest error in aim will also cause one to miss the cleft, confining the cue ball to that area for multiple shots. Since the achievement of high scores relies on making shots in succession, these streak-ending Leavenworths-in-miniature both frustrate the player and produce repercussions in the actual game.

In all practical capacities, Lunar Pool is flawed. However, one must consider that it is the brainchild of a corporation noted for agglomerating infinite flaws into a crude mass, encasing said mass in plastic, and summarily having the chutzpa (or stupidity -- I can't decide) to call it a video game. LP destroys that stereotype, and proves innovative to boot. Some romantics might, for that reason, venture to claim that FCI and PonyCanyon are vindicated by this game. I can’t quite bring myself to that, though. One above-average title cannot efface the ravages of Hydlide. Still, the creators of Lunar Poll rose above their history to fashion a unique experience -- one typified by pocket billiards as it has never been played before. Who needs more rectangles, anyway?

* Before playing LP, one might be led to think that the acronym refers to the company’s many employment opportunities “For the Creatively Inept.”

** I actually like Ultima: Exodus better -- hence the insertion of “originally.”

Plot: not considered
Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 4
Play Control: 7.5
Challenge: 5
Intangibles (innovation): +1.5

Analytic Score: 7.3 (rounded)

Personal Score: 7

Pretty, huh? Yeah, I really love emulation.

This ROM was of an earlier version. In the released one, the pallette and overall appearance are a bit more refined.

Call me superficial, but I like to see what I'm shooting at.

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