World Championship Poker for the Nintendo DS dishes out a heaping helping of value for a relatively inexpensive price. It includes 10 popular poker variations, four barroom side games, an extensive career mode, and a multiplayer mode that allows up to six players to participate using only a single game card. There are a few nagging problems with the way tells and reads are handled for CPU opponents, which could potentially sour the single-player modes for some people. Otherwise, this collection of Vegas-style card games is just the thing for players who are looking to brush up on their poker skills.
The game's fine if you're planning to play with other players...
The game includes 10 different poker variations: Texas hold 'em, double-flop hold 'em, pineapple, Omaha hold 'em, Omaha hi-lo, seven-card stud, seven-card hi-lo, baseball, five-card draw, and deuces wild. That's a fairly diverse selection and pretty much covers all of the major games that you'll see on TV or down at the local casino. Blackjack and video poker are included as well. So are air hockey and darts, although these last two are only available while playing through the career mode. Basic tutorials are also provided for each game in the collection.
Single-player modes include quickplay and career. You can play a one-off round in the quickplay mode, which offers five different difficulty settings, but you'll probably enjoy yourself much more if you participate in games within the framework of the career mode.
In the career mode, you start out as a rookie rounder that's trying to work your way up from the tables at a lowly redneck casino to the world championship tournament that's being held at a ritzy high-roller establishment. There are four casinos in all. Each one offers a full range of stand-alone tables and a cluster of tournaments that are specific to that particular location. The bet limits and CPU skill levels increase as you move up in the rankings, but the real highlight of the career mode is the ability to create your own custom character and use your winnings to buy new accessories and upgrades for it at the gift shops located inside each casino. You can put together your own custom player model by selecting from dozens of different body, clothing, and accessory types. Many of the accessory items on sale in the shops don't have any practical use, but it's still a nice ego booster to see a new stereo or plasma TV sitting in your character's inventory. Upgrades can be bought that will improve your character's ratings with regards to luck, game face, intimidation, and skill. You need to invest a ton of money to see discernable results, but eventually you'll begin to notice that you're getting better cards and that the CPU isn't calling your bluffs as often.
For the most part, the CPU does a good job of playing by the numbers and will fold, bluff, or check-raise when the situation is appropriate. Chip leaders have a tendency to be aggressive and will make bets to try to force out hangers-on, especially in three-way or heads-up play. The maximum number of players that can be at a table is limited to six, but you'll run across more than a dozen different opponents as you visit the various tables and make it through tournament-elimination rounds. Each opponent has his or her own play style and habits, which you'll gradually catch onto the more you play. The only obvious flaw regarding the CPU artificial intelligence is that it has a nasty habit of calling pre-flop all-in bets. But if you're risking it all like that, the chances are good that you won't survive to see the next hand.
One of the most important aspects of poker is the ability to watch your opponents play and gradually uncover any patterns or telling behaviors that they may have that will tip you off to their hands in the future. The CPU opponents in World Championship Poker have their own play styles and habits, just like real people do. Unfortunately, some aspects of the game's design get in the way of the player's ability to read opponents and figure out patterns. First off, you can't watch hands that you're not involved in. When you fold, the game immediately fast-forwards to the outcome, which means you don't get to watch your opponents make bets, raise, or reraise one another or see the subsequent flop, turn, and river cards. As it is, the outcome display is poorly organized. It only shows the hands that were made as a result of putting the best combination of hole cards and community cards together, which makes it impossible to tell what an individual's hole cards were or in what order the community cards appeared.
...but maybe you should just get a deck of cards, instead.
Another major gripe against the game's design is that the visual behaviors displayed by CPU opponents are entirely for show and don't mean anything. The developer put the 3D capabilities of the DS to good use by giving each CPU player a variety of different hand gestures and facial expressions, but they dropped the ball by making them random instead of associating them with the players' habits. Some of the animations are pretty funny, particularly the cowboy who sometimes tips his hat and yells "yee-haw," or the old man who sometimes takes a drag off a portable oxygen tank before making a move. It's too bad that they do these things just as often when they're about to fold as they do when checking or making a bet.