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Poker News: March 20, 2006

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Texas Hold 'Em Poker DS

Texas Hold'em Poker DS is the second of Majesco's duo of casino games for the Nintendo handheld, released along side Golden Nugget Casino DS for the system. Like Golden Nugget Casino DS, Texas Hold 'Em Poker DS is a somewhat minimalist approach to the game design for budget gamers. But unlike Golden Nugget Casino DS, Texas Hold 'Em Poker DS clearly had a little more effort put into its presentation. Apart from offering a solid bout of poker on a variety of different rulesets, this Nintendo DS card isn't all that feature filled. All you're really going to get is the ability to play a streamlined set of poker games without much else to keep your interest.

Texas Hold 'Em is clearly the current craze of the casino, but it's completely justified because it's such a cool, social game that's easy to learn and comprehend - and not that easy to master. This Nintendo DS version, at the very least, follows the rules and some of the nuances, wrapping it into a basic and simplistic interface that's not confusing to the player. Calling, raising a bet, going all in…even checking your cards in-hand is handled by the touch screen, and unlike Golden Nugget Casino DS, every menu option can be activated by the touch panel.

In the game, you choose an avatar that will be represented as your player at the table. This player will be your puppet in the game, forced to reveal "tells" that may work against the other players at the table thinking you've got a good or bad hand. Tells can be toggled on or off - if you want a more streamlined, quicker paced game, turning them off will remove the animation sequences from the presentation. Because these character models are pretty creepy with awkward and clunky motions, they're not missed. However, if you actually want to affect the computer AI with a wink, a smile, or a hat adjustment, you'll have to deal with a slower pace. As you advance through the game winning tournaments you'll unlock additional players to control, as well as open up new locations, so sfthere's definitely encouragement in playing the game. Again, something that Golden Nugget lacks.

Even though the game's called Texas Hold 'Em Poker DS, there's a variety of other poker games in its roster, including the standard five card stud and five card draw. Odd, though, that the five card game works off the Texas Hold 'Em visual engine where you can't take your cards off the table, so it's pretty silly to see the ability to defy physics by peeling up all five cards off the table to peek at your hand. That's just a nitpick, but it still shows that the developer cut corners to bring this game to market.

Overall, the game has some decent poker routines. We have yet to see a "perfect" set of poker AI behaviors, but at the very least the computer opponents don't do too many stupid moves during your hand. They'll fold on some crappy hands, but bluff at others...but it's rare when they continue a crappy hand bluff all the way to the river. They know when they're beat most of the time.

There are some oversights in the presentation, including the inability to see your own cards revealed at the end of a turn, if you're one of the losing hands…something that makes it hard to check to see why an opponent beat your hand with the flop, turn, and river shown. Of course, the real biggie about the game is that it doesn't keep track of any sort of statistics. None. Zilch. Other than your bankroll and a good mental tracking, you have no knowledge of how well you're playing in the tournaments.

It's also a shame that the game requires a cartridge for any system that wants to play in a game. If anything, poker games should be the ones to take advantage of the Nintendo DS system's Download Play option, considering how little is needed in the way of graphics and sound for the social interaction.

Closing Comments
Texas Hold ‘Em Poker DS is no frills, but it’s more frill-filled than the company’s Golden Nugget Casino DS product -- also from the same development studio. It’s easy to play and still retains the fun of the Texas Hold ‘Em card design in a single player fashion. You still can’t beat the real deal, physical computer experience, which is why it’s a little upsetting that the design team didn’t take advantage of elements that would work better in a virtual setting – stat tracking being a key element that’s missing here. And a card game that doesn’t support the DS system’s single cartridge feature really shouldn’t be praised all that much. This is certainly a passable DS game, but it doesn’t get much better than that.

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