Casual Challenge Players’ Club shows adding cute anime girls doesn’t always make a great game

“Arcade-style pool game” is not something I knew that I particularly needed in my life until quite recently, but thanks to several games of this type — specifically Data East’s Side Pocket on Evercade, its mildly lewd arcade spinoff Pocket Gal, Team 17’s Arcade Pool on the A500 Mini and the Billiards game in Nintendo’s 51 Worldwide Games — I’ve developed a real taste for it. So when eastasiasoft announced that it was bringing Casual Challenge Players’ Club, an arcade-style pool game with anime girls in it to Switch, I was, of course, interested.

Unfortunately, Casual Challenge Players’ Club is not a very good pool game, and its inclusion of anime girls is superfluous at best, making the entire package feel like a bit of a waste of time for everyone involved. Which is a shame, really, because the concept is solid — it’s just almost every aspect of the execution that lets Casual Challenge Players’ Club down.

Casual Challenge Players' Club

Let’s start with the anime girls. They appear as part of some visual novel-style sequences that provide some context to the game’s main mode. The game’s protagonist, a non-descript white-haired chap who we’re given no reason whatsoever to care about, has apparently been invited to an extremely exclusive pool club — so exclusive, it seems, that none of its members know how to play pool properly — but first has to prove himself with a series of challenges on the baize.

These levels are divided into three distinct levels, each of which is hosted by an anime-style girl with the exact same facial features but a different haircut and clothing, making it abundantly clear that they were almost certainly created with some sort of generic anime girl creation software.

These anime-style girls do not have names, nor do they have any personalities whatsoever. They are there for no other reason than to look vaguely nice. And as the true waifu connoisseur will gladly tell you at great length, there is much, much more to making a compelling anime girl character than simply making her look nice.

Casual Challenge Players' Club
At least change the eye colour

So we’re not off to a great start, and things get even worse when you realise that it’s impossible to press a button to advance the text more quickly — a standard feature in pretty much every single visual novel since the beginning of time. Instead, each line of dialogue simply sits around on screen until it’s good and ready to advance — and no, of course there isn’t any voice acting to go along with this. You just either wait, or hit a button to skip the entire sequence. Which, honestly, you might as well do, given how little character these scenes have to them.

Then we come to the pool action, which appears to have been put together by someone who assumes that all pool is played on a polished chrome table on a planet with an incredibly thin atmosphere, meaning that the slightest tap of a ball causes it to go careening across the entire table at rocket speed, pinging around like a pinball until it eventually comes to a stop.

Oh, and the controls for the pool action have such significant input lag that if you press the button when the power meter is full, by the time the game registers it, said meter will have wrapped back around to near-zero power, meaning many a wasted shot.

Also you can’t put spin on the ball in any way, the aiming line is imprecise, the animations on the balls are poor and not a single one of the different modes in the game is in any way “proper pool”. And the music sounds like it was downloaded from a late ’90s MIDI repository. And I want a sandwich. The last bit isn’t relevant, but I thought while I was complaining I might as well slip it in there.

Casual Challenge Players' Club

The main game mode consists of three main levels of five tables each. The first of these tables is a score challenge, where you get 100 points for each ball potted, plus 50 points per ball you pot on consecutive shots, and 100 points per remaining shots you have after all of the balls have been potted. This is similar to the “arcade pool” implementation found in games like Side Pocket, but lacks the additional depth of being able to pot the balls in numerical or colour order, as well as the escalating bonuses for longer “combos”.

Once you’ve cleared this initial score attack table, you’re then presented with a series of simple pool problems in which you have six shots to pot all the balls from their predefined positions. Fail to do this and you get a “Game Over” — though you can simply continue from where you left off from the main menu. Which reminds me: to go along with the inability to advance more quickly through the visual novel dialogue sequences, you also can’t skip the main menu’s intro animation, which is extremely annoying if you find yourself having to repeatedly retry the level.

Other game modes include a Versus mode, in which two players (there’s no CPU option) face off against one another to score the most points using the “100 points per ball plus combo bonuses” rules; a “Black Ball” rule in which all you have to do is pot the black ball first; and a “Like a Master” mode in which you must clear the three score attack tables against a time limit, carrying over your additional remaining shots to the next table.

Casual Challenge Players' Club

That’s right, there’s no standard 8-ball or 9-ball rules on offer here, nor any of the myriad other standard pool variations you might expect from a game like this. And the inability to play a simple versus match against one of the nameless anime girls seems like a strange omission, given that they’re presumably intended to be one of the game’s main selling points.

Casual Challenge Players’ Club is a good idea, executed extraordinarily poorly. There’s definitely scope for a pool game with a narrative — in fact, it’s been done before, if you check out the excellent and vastly underappreciated Backstreet Billiards on PS1, which couples a full-on adventure game with 3D pool action — but Casual Challenge Players’ Club does not provide that in any way, shape or form. Couple that with the atrocious physics of the pool action and the inability to just play a simple game of pool, and you, regrettably, are left with a game that really is not worth bothering with.

Casual Challenge Players’ Club is available now for Nintendo Switch and PS4/5. Thanks to eastasiasoft for the review code.

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Pete Davison
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