TV POKER, from Senario, brings Texas Hold’em from the card table to the TV set. The system comes with a small “console” and six controllers, and allows for one to six players to play against each other or the computer. I spent a bit of time trying out the solo play mode, as well as with a few groups of friends, including my weekly poker buddies.
The unit is nicely packaged, with one section containing the console, and the other the six controllers. Setup is easy, the only parts you must provide are the TV set and the batteries (4 AA, not included) – the console has AV cables built into the unit, which was a nice convenience. The controllers easily plug into the console, in fact the connectors seemed to use the same interface as the old Atari 2600 – probably not intentional, but a nice homage nonetheless.
The controllers are lightweight, and have a simple LCD interface and a single LED to indicate whose turn it is. Only two buttons are used for the gameplay, “Select” and “OK”, which for the most part, are exactly enough.
I referenced the Atari 2600 before in a positive way. Unfortunately, when it comes to the graphics and sounds, TV POKER is a reminder of those times. The graphics are very lacking, even for a game that doesn’t really need to emphasize graphics. I don’t really think this is a major criteria for making a quality game, and in fact, I believe that most modern video games are too visual effects driven and lacking in gameplay. However, the poor quality of visuals in TV POKER made it feel somewhat cheap. Not quite janky, but a little too close for comfort.
Sound effects (again, NOT important in the grand scheme of things) were almost comical. The background music sounded like someone was playing the soundtrack from Seinfeld, in reverse and n the wrong key. The digitized “crowd noise” was a nice plus, although it did get on my nerves after a while, and while you can disable it, you must make the decision before the game starts. I recommend muting your TV volume and playing something else in the background. Or just whistling.
For new players, or for very casual situations, the game play is good enough. As I watched each new user interact with TV POKER, they were generally able to pick up a controller and play with no instruction. The gameplay is very straightforward, with the TV screen showing the “public” action, such as the size of the pot, whose turn it is, and the community cards. Your controller’s LED lights up when it’s your turn, and the LCD screen displays your hole cards. Interaction is pretty easy, you push the “Select” button until the action you want to take is highlighted on your LCD screen, then push “OK”. That’s pretty much all there is to playing TV POKER.
Here’s our problem area. The gameplay has some problems. Some of them are based in the user interface, and are mere nuisances. The more serious ones have to do with the logic of the poker play itself. For the on-screen interface, my biggest complaint is that, when it’s your turn to act, the display does not tell you how much the current bet is. In fact, there is no way to find this out. This fact, combined with the sluggish response of the controller, caused us to have a lot of erratic folding and calling “all-ins” during our test games. Once we caught on, we worked around it, but it was very annoying, and a glaring mistake in the user interface design. Also, I found it odd that you could only see your hold cards when it was your turn – at all other times, your LCD screen remains blank.
The bigger issues have to do with flaws in the poker game. If you are purely looking at this for lighthearted play, or want a fun intro to the game, they can probably be overlooked, and you should continue to the next section. However, if you are considering this for any kind of “real” poker play, here are the most critical problems to the gameplay:
Let me start by saying, I really, really, wanted to like the TV POKER game more than I did. Some of my friends did get a big kick out of it, and said they would use it some fun play. For me, I felt the unit just had too many problems.
At the end of the day, as a frequent poker player, I found the novelty of TV POKER insufficient to get me to switch from a deck of cards and my poker chips, but I can see the unit achieving some good success. Especially right now, with the game leveraging some of the most popular trends around.
If you are up for some fun, want a new toy, and aren’t playing much poker already, then absolutely, give it a shot.