Poker Video Games – The best and the worst

Do you like the thrill of poker but hate the din of a live poker room? Do the ambient noises of those around you fidgeting distract you from your A-game? Or maybe you can’t hide that big smile when you get a good hand. Whatever your reasons are for not playing live poker, poker video games might be a great thing to check out.

Winning big in a virtual tournament and then shutting the console off as if nothing had happened is the gaming equivalent of typing ‘LOL’ to a friend while stonefaced and bleary-eyed on your morning commute. While researching this article I had to search google for ‘top 10 poker videogames’ and the Wiki list read like a suggestion list for people who both played and enjoyed Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge.

You might find yourself asking “Mike, there are so many poker games and they all have similar names, which one is the one for me?” and frankly, I don’t know what to tell you. The names are never too wildly imaginative, generally falling somewhere between ‘World Poker Championships’ for consoles, where a new updated iteration of the game will appear annually like Fifa or Pro Evo, or something like ‘Vegas Trip: Champions’ or a similar combination of sporting words.


Sexy Poker

Sexy poker is a strip poker game created by Gameloft and released for mobile platforms in Fall 2004. A version of the game was released for the Nintendo Wii which had the admirable accolade of being the first M-rated game on the console. The object of the game is, you guessed it, for players to win enough hands to have female players remove articles of clothing, with the end goal being a fully nude model for your hard work. The models are portrayed by either Anime style artwork or just still photographs.The original game was followed by a string of sequels, each sexier than the last. Highlights of the series include the famous ‘Sexy Poker Manga’ and the critically lauded ‘Sexy Poker Top Models.’ After a minor hiccup involving the Australian Classification Board, a notoriously strict governing body, the game was sent back to the manufacturer to have all nudity removed for the worldwide release, not just for Australia. Will people look back in years to come, amateur internet archaeologists searching through archived websites for screenshots of the original in-game nudity? Probably not. Nintendo Life magazine called the Wii version of the game “a letdown for fans of both poker and sexiness”, later going on to say that the games only mainstream appeal would come from young teenagers or people downloading it as a joke.

Sexy Poker also lacks multiplayer functionality, which you’d think would be a staple of any competitive game but when the prizes are scantily clad anime girls, maybe it’s better to play alone and save yourself the embarrassment of saying “damn, I’ve already seen this one!”


Full House Poker

Full House Poker was published by Microsoft Game Studios in conjunction with Krome Studios for the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7 in March 2011. Early reviews of the game were positive, including a whopping 8/10 score from IGN.

The game offered TV-style poker tournament events with season-length tournaments running. These tournaments could be populated by up to thirty human or computer controlled players. The avatar shown when players sit at the table acts as their in-game representative and is highly customisable. Outfits and shaders can be unlocked by winning games or using real money. Although the wacky avatars can give a childish presentation at first, delve a little deeper and find a clever AI and some excellent tutorials for first time players familiarizing themselves with Texas Hold’em rules. No matter what part of the game you’re playing, grinding against the computer in the single player mode or fleecing your friends blind online, you always bank experience points for playing. Experience Points can be traded for avatar customization and different unlockables like chip protectors, table decor and costume pieces.


Poker Face Paul

Poker Face Paul is a series of four games released for the Sega Game Gear in 1994. The four playable game types are Solitaire, Poker, Blackjack and Gin. Two versions of poker are available; standard five card stud played against computer controlled opponents and then video poker, which is played alone. The objective remains the same as five-card-stud, which is to assemble a winning hand. The player receives a certain amount of money allotted for each hand they assemble. Not the most innovative rethinking of the game but not terrible for 1994. Maybe I’ll give the gin a try instead, and I don’t mean the game.

The series of four games were released to a lukewarm critical reception. GamePro magazine gave ‘Poker’ a mostly negative review and absolutely slated Blackjack and Solitaire. In fact they were so put off by how average the previous three games were, there was no official review written for Gin. If there’s one thing that brings a tear to my eye, it’s something left unfinished, so here is my review of gin: strong taste, those who imbibe are prone to fits of melancholia, let down by lack of multiplayer 5/10.


Vegas Stakes

Vegas Stakes is a gambling video game released in Spring 1993 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and later for the Game Boy in 1995. The plot of the game is simple; turn your $1000 into $10 million across different virtual casinos. Pretty much a standard Vegas weekend away, albeit one with less margaritas and post-hedonism anxiety. The SNES version of the game hosted a multiplayer feature unique to the console but poker couldn’t be played since everyone could see everyone else’s cards! The Game Boy edition of the game instead featured a computer controlled partner to accompany the player.

For the social, Vegas Stakes for the SNES boasts four ‘friends’ of the player, introduced at the very beginning. The player and his fellowship can be seen speeding across the desert en route to the strip. Cliff, Maria, Isabelle and Raymond are suspiciously eager to begin gambling. “There are places you can turn for help, Cliff. You never have to go it alone.”

If a player goes bust and loses their entire bankroll, the game is over. Attention to realism or what? It’s a pity the game wasn’t programmed in an era of borderline affordable VR technology, that way developers could have rounded out the experience by letting players experience the silence in the car journey home as the friends roll out of the strip and towards the airport, sweatier and more hungover than before.

The game features blackjack, poker, craps and various other casino games. When the player wins $100,000, the Laurel Palace casino is unlocked. A total of five casinos are featured in the SNES version, while only four made it to the Game Boy version.

Aside from high stakes gambling and all the other frenzied risk taking high-octane madness of Las Vegas, the player will also have various interactions with the computerized friends and other casino patrons, including one encounter where a casino-goer attempts to pickpocket the player under the guise of wiping dust off his shirt. The dialogue choices you give the patrons of the casino will effect the random encounters you have with NPCs throughout your play-through.

Platform-reviewing powerhouse and current nostalgia favorite for the X-genners Nintendo Power praised the SNES version for its realistic casino games, its competitive multiplayer and its compatibility with the then cutting edge Super NES Mouse. However, the review later went on to state that more variety in the game would have been nice. Variety? Nonsense. All those casinos look the same from behind my mirror lens sunglasses and gaudy orange baseball cap!


… and finally

Poker Night at the Inventory

Poker Night at the Inventory is one of the only modern games featured on this list, released in late 2010 by developer Telltale Games. The game features crossover characters from four different franchises: The heavy from Team Fortress 2 with his permanent stubble and bullet bandoleer wrapped tight to his Goliath frame, acidic ubernerd Tycho from the Penny Arcade comic, floppy eared Max from the Sam and Max franchise and luchadore mask-clad email-enthusiast Strong Bad from the Homestar Runner series, burninating everything in his path.

This one features not only casino games and competitive poker, but also a narrative . The Inventory, of title fame, is a secret club built underneath a video game storage warehouse. Poker Night is a poker simulation with the player as an unseen participant controlling one of the four characters, Each player begins with a bankroll of $10,000 and the goal is to be the last player standing. The game uses no-limit betting and increasing blind bets as the game plays on. At some point during the game, one of the NPCs will offer up one of their possessions as a wager and these can be permanently acquired as unlockable avatar cosmetics. The game keeps track of the player’s progress (hands played, hands won) and unlocks bonus card art or alternative table artwork.

The game received favorable reviews and spawned a sequel released in 2013 on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade. The sequel featured new characters from well-known franchises like Mad Moxxi from Borderlands and the Turrets from the Aperture Science Testing Facility in Portal.

If reading this article brought back painful memories of going bust at the WSOP final table from the comfort of your own sitting room, let us know in the comments. Tell us about your poker video gaming experiences, good or bad!


Mike at GGPoker


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