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By Chris De Herrera 
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Black Jack Pro Review 
By Allen Gall, Copyright 2002
Revised 4/23/2002

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            Not being one who visits casinos a lot of plays a lot of card games, I wasn’t sure what to expect when G3 Studios asked me to review their new Black Jack Pro game for Pocket PC.  I thought it would be worthwhile to review this product from the perspective of a gamer who’s approaching this type of game as a newbie.  Being the open-minded person I am, I decided to jump into the game, wade through it, and see if purchasing this game was—please excuse the coinage—worth the gamble.           

Diving In

            Since I’m a typical male in the respect that I think I can figure anything out without directions, I thought I’d simply install the game and learn as I went along.  Starting the game was a breeze—simply create a player and you’re instantly taken to the black jack table.  (The game is saved automatically—just tap on the player’s name to resume a previous game.)  Playing the game is easy—just tap on the chips to determine the amount of your bet, tap the “Place Your Bet” text at the bottom of the screen, and you’re playing black jack.  Game functions such as “hitting,” “standing,” “splitting,” and “doubling” are handled via a menu which appears at the right of the screen when appropriate.  Although I was intrigued, I was losing money rather quickly and was never really sure of what was going on.  Instead of stumbling through the game (as what the manual calls a “clueless basher,”) I figured it was time to go over the game’s documentation.

Learning the Rules

            When it comes to documentation for computer software in general, you’re never really sure what you’re going to get.  Sometimes the help is built into the program, sometimes it’s a text file included in the distribution, and sometimes there’s very little documentation at all.  With Pocket PC software, help is often included in a simple text file accessible in the program packaging or within the program itself.  Most Pocket PC games are pretty simple and don’t require extensive documentation, although slightly more complex titles (such as Rebound) opt for HTML-based help files with indexing and screen shots.

            I was very pleased to find that Black Jack Pro’s documentation was in Adobe Acrobat format, which is ubiquitous in the software industry for more sophisticated documentation projects.  The documentation briefly discusses the basics of interacting with the software, then goes into a fairly detailed introduction to black jack, including the “basic strategy” of the game.  Generally, the documentation is decently written (with screenshots) and provides an adequate primer for someone completely unfamiliar with the game.

Getting into the Game

            After poring over the documentation, I dived back into the game.  The game’s options screen gives the player a considerable amount of flexibility.  In addition to allowing you to customize sound settings and even configure the game for left-handed play, this screen allows you to select (sometimes subtle) rule variations used in different casinos.  There’s also a “tutor” option, which acts as a sort of coach.  Instead of just telling you what you should do, this option points out your mistakes as you make them, forcing you to think along the lines of the basic strategy outlined in the manual.  I found

this tool to be valuable.

A lot of thought went into the game play options in Black Jack Pro.

           Some gamers would rather be told what to do before making a mistake, but such a method shortcuts the player’s thinking and is really more of a crutch than a learning tool.  After playing the game for several days, I think I would prefer the corrective approach over a “hint mode” that simply spoon feeds players the correct response.  For more sophisticated players, the game offers assistance with one and two-level “counting,” a quasi-statistical way of determining the balance between your cards and the house’s in order to minimize losses and maximize wins (this technique is discussed in detail in the manual).

            I’m beginning to see why people in casinos can make (and lose) large amounts of money at the black jack table.  The game is addictive.  Once I had learned the rules, I found myself playing for hours at a time, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always wondering what was going to happen next.  G3 Studios put a lot of effort into making the game playable: everything in the game takes place via an intuitive point-and-tap interface, and there’s even a “speedbet” option that allows you to quickly replace your last bet.  Should your player run out of money (which happens a lot), simply tap on your player name, and you’re taken to the options screen where you can advance yourself more money. 

Sights and Sounds

            Part of what makes a game like black jack (and casinos in general) so appealing in “real life” are the external stimuli—bright lights, noise, and constant action.  All of this contributes to create an environment that casino owners know is very effective at drawing people in and getting them to spend money. 

This environment is difficult to reproduce on a handheld computer, but G3 did a commendable job of replicating a casino.  Overall, the game has plenty of the flashiness you’d expect to find in a casino, and most of this can be found in the actual game play.  To start, the table itself is rendered in 3D and looks just like the real thing, although you can’t see a lot of it because of everything on the screen.  The actual game play (dealing  the cards, drawing, etc.) is all smoothly animated, and the dealer consists of a pair of disembodied hands clad in white gloves.  When they’re not dealing cards, the hands move back and forth ever so slightly, just as a pair of human hands would.  Above the dealer’s hands, a logo spins intermittently.  The combination of these effects gives the game a very organic feel.

Black Jack Pro goes to great lengths to create the illusion you’re in a casino.  With graphics like this, it’s easy to suspend disbelief.

The auditory output of the game is also excellent.  If you have all the sound effects enabled, you’ll hear a satisfying “ding” whenever you make a play, and if you have tutor mode enabled, you’ll hear a buzz indicating when you’ve made a mistake.  You’ll also hear lots of ambient background noise, which is just what you’d hear if you were playing the game in a casino.  You’ll also hear a feminine voice narrate major game events (when you or the dealer bust, when you make black jack, etc.)  The game’s visual and auditory output, combined with its addictive game play, makes Black Jack Pro a very addictive and fun game.

 

The Bottom Line

           If you’re a black jack player and own a Pocket PC, you need to have a copy of Black Jack Pro on your device.  Expert players will like the game’s various rule settings and the ability to change options such as the table limit and number of decks in the “shoe.”  If you’re not a black jack player, you might find it intriguing anyway and would do well to check out the demo.  The game’s documentation will allow you to quickly get into the game, even if you don’t know your way around a black jack table.  Although there’s no difficulty setting, the tutor mode should be enough to let you learn the ropes.  I was able to get into the game pretty quickly, and I have a feeling I’m going to spend a lot of time this year with Black Jack Pro.

            Black Jack Pro is available for all Pocket PCs at a very reasonable price of $12.95.  A downloadable demo is also available at the game’s Web site, www.g3studios.com/games/bjpro.

Allen Gall is a freelance game reviewer and the games editor for Pocket PC FAQ. If you have a game you'd like Allen to review, you can e-mail him at [email protected] pc faq.com

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