There isn’t a platform on the planet without some form of pub pastime compilation. Simulating the excitement of otherwise social sports such as snooker, pool, and darts has been a fascination among game developers since programming boffins realised that computers could be employed for more entertaining applications than solving the seven hundredth digit of pi. Unfortunately, no title’s quite managed to capture the feeling of being down the boozer with a bevy of Budweiser swigging lager louts – and Indoor Sports World, indie developer Super Icon’s valiant PlayStation Vita attempt, maintains that tradition.
As the name cleverly disguises, this is a title dedicated to the athletics that can be enjoyed with a beer belly. You’ll tour several different deserted – but undeniably pretty – arenas, showcasing your skills around various tables and oches across a slew of popular game types. Whether you’re playing your way around the clock on a dartboard or scoring big breaks on the baize, there’s actually plenty to sink your teeth into here. An endearingly presented Arcade mode – accessed via a ‘TimTim’ satellite navigation device – offers numerous one-off matches against proven tavern tyrants, while the Season section sees you outplaying groups of pretenders in leagues and ladders.
It would be a decent progression system if it was better paced. While we played our way through the initial pool tournament without even needing to reapply the chalk to our vintage cue, we quickly came unstuck in the next tournament when the title decided to match us up against an army of Earl Strickland impersonators. The same thing happened in the Arcade mode, where we puckered up for a swift victory on the air hockey table, only to find our stabilisers removed in snooker and the ever helpful aiming guide locked behind the bar. It’s possible to progress, but the learning curve is so steep that it’s pretty off-putting.
Fortunately, the Exhibition mode allows you to play at your own pace – and you’re going to need to use it if you want to increase your skills to a level that will get you through the main campaign. Here you can toggle between different rules, locations, and difficulties, allowing you to chug without needing to chunder. All of the activities make heavy use of the touch screen, forcing you to make forward and backward motions to toss your darts or slide your finger around the screen in order to control your puck in air hockey. The controls work reasonably well in the abovementioned activities, but you’ll quickly opt for the d-pad in billiards. Unfortunately, even when using the buttons, you’ll find the camera is often stationed far too close to the balls, making you feel like you’re wearing Dennis Taylor’s magnifying glasses when you bend down to take a shot.
Worse still, it’s debateable whether these so-called sports are actually fun in a digital format. In the real world, we can’t throw a straight arrow to save our life, so the idea of a game helping us to feel like Phil Taylor without the awkward groping scandals is appealing – but in reality it’s all a bit dull. Air hockey, for example, is at its best when played against parents in a partially dilapidated Blackpool arcade, but the endless rallies here don’t convey that same sense of shared entertainment. Sure, you can play multiplayer, but without the faint whiff of stale urine it’s just not the same.
At least the locations look better than the stained carpets of Lancashire’s hottest holiday destination, with environments based upon a posh penthouse, slick jazz club, and, er, the London Underground. The problem is that the empty rooms are so lifeless that only a nightclub populated purely by John Virgo could have less atmosphere. Admittedly, the 8-bit arena’s chiptune soundtrack gives it a bit of panache, but you’ll still hover around the oche feeling like you’re going Gangnam Style at a nursing home’s Christmas party. The lack of ambience is somewhat mitigated by the incredibly shiny balls, which have reflective surfaces so strong that they could easily double as functional mirrors in the dressing rooms at a beauty pageant.
Practice up and progress through the abovementioned campaign and you’ll unlock new equipment for your kit bag, allowing you play with a pink puck rather than a bog-standard red one. These unlockable trinkets don’t really add a whole lot to the experience, but there are a lot of them across all of the activities, and they at least give you a reward for your progression. You can also buy additional items for a pittance of real world pennies via the PlayStation Store, with the promise of more goodies to come in the future. Finally, a comprehensive stat tracking section allows you to keep tabs on your pot percentages and more.
At around the same price as a pint in a popular city centre, there are worse ways to waste your money than on Indoor Sports World. However, that doesn’t mean that Super Icon’s portable pub pastime simulator comes with our stamp of recommendation. Poor campaign pacing, occasionally clunky controls, and a general lack of atmosphere spill sticky liquid all over this release’s sometimes gorgeous graphics. It’s just about worth a punt if you’re a pool or darts die-hard – but even then, there are better options already available on Sony’s flagship handheld.