On Cue

Reviewed by Paul Rixon


Issue 31

Jan/Feb 88

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1-2 players

1 joystick

Not one game but two this time from Mastertronic in a package aimed at all you green baize enthusiasts out there who are too tired to hazard an expedition to the local snooker hall and haven't enough room for a real table due to all that precious Atari equipment!

ON CUE completes the hat-trick of snooker simulations for the 8-bit Atari and also includes Pool as a separate, though virtually identical program. No need for me to explain the rules, suffice to say that all the regular ones apply and Mastertronic have included a vague outline of these on the inlay. Dealing with Snooker first, the table is not green as you might expect but black for reasons of clarity, and as with 'Steve Davis Snooker' by CDS, this choice of colouring works well and is preferable to the bright green of the first Atari Snooker simulation by Thorn EMI. In case you're wondering how the black ball is distinguished from the black table, this is achieved by a white circle around its circumference. The yellow and brown balls look suspiciously like different shades of green to me, but otherwise all are reasonably recognizable (unless you've got a black and white television of course!). A rather blocky cushion in bright red has an adverse affect on the visual 'feel' however.

Playing a shot involves positioning a small cross-hair cursor over the point at which you intend to aim the cue ball, setting the desired ball-spin and power level, and finally hitting the trigger whilst simultaneously crossing your fingers in expectation that the ball may, unusually, travel in the required direction. There's no telling really, so you might as well adopt my own established strategy of hitting the cue ball at full power into the object ball and hoping that it will end up in a pocket!

Talking of power, the program seems to assume an exceedingly over-cautious attitude towards its use. Consequently, even at full blast the cue ball struggles to travel the length of the table. It also has the annoying habit of suddenly accelerating after a collision, which doesn't say much for the realism but admittedly comes in handy on occasions! Nine levels are available at which to play the computer – level one ensures a computer blunder every time whilst level nine won't give you a look in if you so much as dare to miss a single pot! At times the computer is a little long-winded in deciding on its shot, although perhaps this is intended as a touch of deliberate realism?

You can always choose to play against a human opponent – although you'll have to share one joystick as there is no provision for a second one to be used –or you can watch the computer battle it out against itself. No prizes for guessing who the winner will be, but if you can re-create some of the 'impossible' pots the computer is capable of you should give up arcade games immediately – there's a hefty cheque waiting to be won at the next international competition! If not, never fear, for there is a chance to get your own back, as an edit facility enables the setting up of balls in any desired formation and game continuance from this point. This opens up all sorts of possibilities, such as re-living famous situations, practicing your potting technique and of course, setting up the table in your favour in an attempt to beat the computer! When you can't beat 'em, cheat 'ern!!

Pool is based around the same program as Snooker, except of course that the balls are coloured in accordance with the game requirements, and all of the appropriate rules apply. I discovered a slight bug whilst messing about in Pool edit mode when I suddenly found myself with four cue balls on the table, followed shortly afterwards by an irreversible lock up, although I've tried this option since without any such drama so it would not appear to be a major problem.

Having compared ON CUE snooker with 'Steve Davis Snooker' it is apparent how remarkably similar the two games are. The CDS game still holds the edge over ON CUE in my opinion, due to the latter program's cosmetic inferiority and lack of a table-speed facility, although with the added bonus of Pool and a price one third that of the CDS game, ON CUE represents excellent value for money.