The unusual single player mode, called "pocket", requires that the player clear all the balls off the table in a limited number of shots, as well as achieve a predetermined score. The player earns points by sinking balls, sinking balls on consecutive shots, and sinking balls in numerical order. On occasion, a pocket will light up, and if the player sinks a ball into that pocket on that shot, a bonus will be earned in the form of points or extra shots. In the two-player "pocket" mode, the game plays similarly, except the two players take turns; if one player does not pocket a ball or scratches, control of the ball changes to the other player.
There is also a two-player nine-ball mode.
A variety of trick shot challenges are also available to the player(s), to earn additional points or extra shots, requiring the player sink all balls into select pockets using a single shot. The player may put various spins on the ball, such as left and right Template:Cuegloss, and perform Template:Cuegloss and Template:Cuegloss.
In reviewing the NES version, Computer Gaming World declared it "far and away the best billiards simulation ever published for any system." The features that went beyond realistic pool were especially praised as enhancing the game's play.
The game had three sequels, Minnesota Fats: Pool Legend (released as Side Pocket 2 outside the United States) in 1992 for the Sega Genesis, Side Pocket 2 for the Sega Saturn, and Side Pocket 3 for the Sega Saturn and original PlayStation.[clarification needed]