Actua Pool is a sports simulation video game developed by British company Gremlin Interactive as part of their highly successful Actua Sports series of sport simulators of the mid-to-late 1990s. Actua Pool, a pool (pocket billiards) was originally released on the Microsoft Windows platform and the Sony PlayStation home console in 1999; these versions were also published under the name Pool Shark. The game was very well received, praised for its realistic physics engine and challenging AI opponents, although the game spawned a sequel which was not as successful. In 2007, Actua Pool was ported to the Nintendo DS handheld game console, under the title Underground Pool in North America.
Actua Pool is a pool simulation game with dozens of game modes, including eight-ball, nine-ball, three-ball, ten-ball, killer rules, cutthroat rules, bank rules, speed pool, one-pocket, various foreign styles and traditional snooker rules. There are dozens of venues, unique individual opponents and even different-shaped and unique tables are also available to unlock.
In one player mode, called "Hustle Mode", the character must hustle your way through smoke filled bars, casinos, pool halls and nightclubs and aim to black ball up to 18 challengers of ever-increasing skill across a range of challenging tables. There is an interactive tutorial if the player wishes, and the player can learn hundreds of trick shots from the tutorial. Each individual NPC opponent has its own unique appearance, voice, mannerisms, playing style and difficulty, and winning tournaments unlocks new NPCs to play against and venues to play in. The last opponent is the Devil himself, who you will play in Hell on his very own pool table and play for your very soul.
There are also the traditional two-player modes, as well as three-player, four-player, and so on. Any number of players can join in, and tournaments for up to 16 players are also available in which the NPC's can also be included. Player characters are completely customizable, and stats (such as accurracy and shots potted) tally up an individual player's ability.
Venues and opponents
- Candy's Bar is a diner and bar at a roadside location in the United States accompanied by easy listening music. The opponents there are a trucker named "Slim Chance" (the poorest player in the game), and Candy Girl, a very skilled waitress and also the owner of the venue (expert level). The unique unlockable table of this venue is a hexagon corners table.
- The Croc Shack is a beach hut and bar by the sea in Australia with calypso music. The opponents there are "Wipeout", a blonde Australian surfer (professional level), and "Boom Bruce", a Crocodile Dundee-type character (master level). The unique unlockable table of this venue is a square eight table.
- The Pit is an American motorcycle club/truck stop featuring rock music and a jukebox. The opponents here are Ed Case (amateur level), a stocky and bald biker with anger management issues, and an orange-haired female punk named Chopper (expert level). The unique unlockable table of this venue is a square sides table.
- Paradize Hole is an graffiti-painted, underground hip hop club in New York City. The opponents there are "TikTok" (professional level), an up-and-coming African American hustler, and his mentor, the suave and dapper pimp known as "Nu Jack Hustler" (master level). The unique unlockable table of this venue is a diamond sides table.
- The 1815 Club is a conservative and traditional English club frequented by members of the British army. The 1815 Club is located inside an antique country house in the English countryside, and features classical music. The opponents here are Lt. James Jasse (professional level), and the elderly monacled individual identified only as "The Colonel" (master level). The unique unlockable table of this venue is a hexagon sides table.
- Neon City is located in Tokyo and features bright neon lights, a transparent plastic pool table and a techno soundtrack. The opponents here are a Japanese woman called Idoru (amateur level), and a man known as "Sayonara Kid" (expert level). The unique unlockable table of this venue is a square corners table.
- Elysian Fields is a casino in Las Vegas. The opponents are Alvis Burger, a blonde Elvis impersonator (professional level), and Al Cheeseman (master level), a tacky ex-gameshow host with a devoted following who follow him everywhere. Cheeseman's supporters cheer or cry depending on his performance, and since he is one of the best players in the game, they are usually clapping and laughing. The unique unlockable table of this venue is a diamond corners table.
- Z Generation is an American strip club which in appearance is not entirely unlike the Neon City venue, including neon lights and a transparent pool table. The opponents here are an sultry blonde woman named Tiffany (amataur level), and a blonde suited man named Gary No One (expert level), a cocky yet skilled player who is apparently obsessed with New Wave music. The unique unlockable table of this venue is a triangle corners table.
- Philly Joe's Pool Hall is the penultimate venue of the game in "Hustle Mode", and in which the player must go up against Philly Joe, the owner of this pool hall and the opponent with the best stats in the game. Philly Joe is also stated as being the undisputed champion of all previous international pool tournaments. This venue is actually played on Philly Joe's own table in his penthouse suite. The unique unlockable table of this venue is a dog-leg corners table.
- Judgement is a unique level actually played in Hell. The pool table is suspended in the air above a pit of fire, with screams echoing from below, and the player challenges the Devil himself who appears as a floating, bald man with a goatee in a red suit. The Devil's stats are simply listed as ??? due to his supernatural abilities on the table. He cackles manically, and his head spins on his shoulders. It is not uncommon to be "7 balled" on this last level, so saving beforehand is recommended. The unique unlockable table of this venue is a pentagon sides tabe.
At its initial time of release Actua Pool was enjoying impressive sales and was also critically well received, and had above-average ratings in almost all reviews. The graphics of the game were generally considered impressive at the time of release, and the game physics engine was praised as very realistic, and the AI fairly advanced for a pool game.
In 2007, U Wish Games released another updated version for PCs.
In 2007, the game was re-developed with enhanced graphics by Frontline Studios, published by Zoo Digital Publishing and ported to the handheld game console Nintendo DS. This version is known as Underground Pool in North America. This version enjoyed good sales, but was not as well received critically as the original game. It has been noted that the uniqueness of individual opponents has been lost in this version, as are all the different variations of rules available, as there are only two different games in the DS version whereas the original had dozens.
A sequel was released in 2004 for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 2 entitled Pool Shark 2. Pool Shark 2 was developed by Blade Interactive and published by ZOO Digital Publishing. The "Actua" title was not included as the Actua Sports series had become defunct some years previously, as had the original developers Gremlin Interactive, and therefore Pool Shark 2 is not actually part of the same series of the original. Although Pool Shark 2 had better graphics then Actua Pool due the advances in game technology, the sequel was not as critically well received as the original, and did not enjoy good sales like its predecessor.