There’s none of the side-theatre in Snooker 19, though: just good honest baize buccaneering with 128 of the world’s top professionals.Playing online or against the AI, we’re sure we don’t have to go through the rules of the game here, but it’s surprising how often games as simple as pool aren’t executed well. In this game, you can choose from a selection of real-life pros and play a realistic snooker simulation.That authenticity is helped a bit by having Eurosports’ commentary duo speaking in hushed tones over the match, but it’s a bit of a shame that the more iconic voices of BBC coverage aren’t involved.
We’ve seen some real howlers in the world of snooker games over the years – which is probably why it’s been so long since we’ve had an officially-licensed title – but snooker aficionados should breathe a sigh of relief because Snooker 19 is a sturdy and confidently authentic recreation of balls and baize.Basically, a game of snooker involves you taking the white ‘cue ball’ and using it to sink the various other balls on the table. You begin with hitting a red ball, which is then followed by one of the differently colored balls (black, blue, orange, yellow, green, pink/peach). The player alternates between the two until they’ve sunk all red balls, which then leads to focusing exclusively on the colored balls. Each red ball is worth one point, but the colored balls each carry a different value and must be sunk in ascending order once the red balls are eliminated.The aim of the game here is to go through a full season, qualifying and playing in competitions such as the European Masters and the Paul Hunter Classic. After qualification, you play through each round, usually containing more and more frames, until you win or get kicked out, collecting the prize money as you go. The better you do, the more your rank increases. And, that’s basically it. If you play as a pro, you have to maintain your rank, while rising stars need to… erm, rise.
Shots that should be hard, such as those into the middle pockets from tight angles, are hard in the game. Keeping position is tricky, but if you know how to play snooker to a decent level in real life, you’ll at least know how best to approach shots in the game. Of course, you can change the difficulty to add various assists that help, including an on-screen guide that’ll tell you where the cue ball will go. This is of course great for those who are up against more experienced opponents. Conversely, if you’re a dab hand at snooker in real life and reckon you can take your skill into the video game, playing on the master difficulty removes all of the assists.It feels like you have full control over every shot, and poor positioning or a missed pot will always come down to your own personal execution, rather than unrealistic physics. There could have been more aiming aid options to be fair, but this is a minor gripe.Angle the snooker cue with the left analogue stick until you’re happy with your shot, then adjust shot power and shoot with the right analogue stick – unfortunately the controls are a little sensitive so it can become frustrating to fine tune your aim.The cue ball responds exactly as it should and you quickly become able to pull off the kind of positional shots that would have John Virgo purring like a satisfied cat. Equally, when you make mistakes, you generally only have yourself to blame – surely one of the best signs of a well constructed simulation.With that official licence, you get 128 of the world’s best players, face-scanned for some impressively accurate character models, alongside every single real-life venue from the official circuit. Physics mean everything when you’re getting ready to break on the table, and Snooker 19 isn’t ready to ‘snooker’ itself in this department (ahem). You can tweak so many aspects of your game, including holding ‘ZL’ to refine shot positioning and adding side or spin to the cue ball by pulling back the analogue stick to find the right amount of power.Despite being a shortened form, it includes 30 sub-headings, explaining the different aspects of the game. It’s great this guide is provided, but again, it’s all text. Plus, while the game introduces the core aspect of using the cue ball to shoot at the red and colored balls, it fails to mention deeper rules, such as fouls. Thus, I spent a lot of time during my initial few hours trying to figure out what not to do, as I was hit with fouls throughout.
You have to think not just about potting a red, but the position of the cue ball afterwards, and thanks to the realistic mechanics, you really can plan your shots around the table. The more we played, the better we got and we always felt like we were learning, which made us feel proud of our efforts when we beat our previous best or went up in the ranks.Graphics wise, the balls move incredibly realistically and they look almost photo-real (I love the ball reflections). The tables look and sound great, too. The player animations are a little janky, but the faces are at least good enough to be instantly recognisable. Snooker 19 isn’t a game with a FIFA-style budget, so manage your expectations accordingly, but when you get down to actually playing in the ball-striking view, you can’t fault it.The game seems to recreate our annoyance with our player sitting there drinking sparkling water, watching the game slip away. Then, out of no-where, even the most seasoned pro like Ronnie will miss the most basic shot and give you a chance to get back into the game. On the whole, the AI seemed pretty good, but it did have moments of being a little irritating or even feeling flawed.Occasionally, it would make one or two mistakes throughout the game, but these are so few and far between that almost every match feels unbalanced — at least to someone who is a complete beginner. Since I’ve never played snooker before in game form or real life, I was lost for a good while. Watching the AI (and a quick gameplay video) actually did help me, but I still felt jilted due to how much better the AI can play. There’s also support for online play, with standard ranked matches and regular tournaments (such as the Paul Hunter Classic, due to kick off this month). It’s a pretty standard set of modes, but the online tournaments easily stand out with the ability to earn special rewards based on your performance.
With an impressive number of facially-scanned pros and real-world snooker halls, and an incredibly precise simulation of striking the ball and setting up future shots, you’re treated to one of the best snooker games of the last decade. While still very rough around in the edges in terms of animations, commentary and accessibility, this is a must for snooker devotees who want an officially-licensed sim on Switch.Snooker 19 is a solid snooker simulation that will definitely appeal to fans of the sport. The relative lack of modes and some major oversights do hold it back, and so it is difficult to recommend unreservedly. It might be Lab42’s first attempt with the official license, but right now Snooker 19 feels too much like style over substance. Not so much a 147 as a battling 50 ending in an unfortunate in-off whilst amongst the reds.