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Review: Poker Night At The Inventory

29 Nov, 2010, 06:52 | Posted by: Tingler
Telltale’s latest Pilot Program title is a hark back to their first ever game, the pleasant Telltale Texas Hold ‘Em, except this time you’ll be playing against four famous gaming and internet characters who have never shared the screen before now (except the Heavy wearing Max’s head in Team Fortress 2 of course).

We dutifully review it within just a week of its release! Wow!


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Okay, let’s get this out of the way: I am not a professional poker player. I have played a lot more Telltale Texas Hold ‘Em than I ever have played cards in real life. I don’t even know if three of a kind beats a straight. But I do know missed opportunities when I see them. Poker Night At The Inventory has several that hold it back from greatness.

The main attraction is getting to interact with four famous characters as they interact with each other for the first time, playing a hand of poker with the player (YOU!). The setting is The Inventory, a secret club where gaming characters hang out when not taking part in their game. The roster consists of Max, Strong Bad, the Heavy from Team Fortress 2 and Tycho from Penny Arcade.

While they’re your gaming partners I was happy to see Tales of Monkey Island’s Van Winslow as a guide to the club and general game announcer. I was hoping he’d turn up to be an unlockable poker player, but sadly not. In fact I was hoping that any of the characters making cameos in the background – Flint Paper, Sam, Pom Pom, Monty Muzzle, etc. – would suddenly pop up and say “mind if I cut in?”

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“I am not a moonlighter!”

Missed Opportunity No. 1: No Unlockable Extra Characters. Why the hell not? Granted, they’d have to pay the voice actors, but what about Van Winslow? Matt Chapman’s already playing Strong Bad, so why not Homestar Runner? They’ve got Max and Tycho, why not Sam and Gabe? They could’ve got any actor from Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse to do a few extra lines surely, as they must have been making the two games simultaneously? It really would’ve been nice to have unlocks worth playing for (although TF2 obsessives will buy it for the secret items for that game), and extra characters to play against would’ve added some much-needed longevity.

(As a side point irrelevant to the review, I’m prepared to bet – not All In perhaps, just about a thousand or two – that the beloved Guybrush Threepwood was originally planned as part of the team. I’m guessing the situation at LucasArts prevented that and Telltale put in either the Heavy or, more likely as he’s not really a game character, Tycho.)

While the others seem to fit naturally, Tycho is in many ways the odd man out of the squad. The Penny Arcade Adventures are really loosely referenced once (he mentions a liking to shotguns), but otherwise he’s both not a major game character or in a Telltale game. He is also by far the least fun to play against. He’s infuriatingly smug, a poor loser, and often replaces actual humour with swearing. I’ve got nothing against swearing, but when you’ve got Max, Strong Bad and even the Heavy making witty complaints and Tycho just goes “f**k this s**t” I began to regret his inclusion. He does have some funny lines at least, admittedly.

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“Who knew cards were capable of sodomy?”

Fortunately the others hold up better. Max and the Heavy in particular are hilarious and consistently fun. Strong Bad feels a little out of his element here, but is at least fun to play with and has the best comment upon elimination – simply a very long “noooooooo!”

The game itself is solid, even if the hands get occasionally predictable and the comments begin to repeat. It feels the same as Telltale Texas Hold ‘Em, and I guess that is probably the source of much of my disappointment. As an update to Telltale’s first game with established characters replacing the old stereotypes it’s acceptable, but as a new game or sequel? There’s not enough here, and it certainly doesn’t build on their first Poker game.

Missed Opportunity No. 2: Multiplayer. I know Telltale haven’t done this before, and I don’t know if I can even count it as a con as the whole appeal of the game is playing against famous characters, but why not? It’s a multiplayer game, there should be some sort of online multiplayer option. I won’t hold it against Poker Night, but that’s definitely a Missed Opportunity.

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“So Max, you’re one of those Pokemons right?”

Missed Opportunity No. 3: Other Games. Granted, this is ‘Poker Night’, but why not an unlockable Blackjack, Car Bomb, Bluster Blaster, or that Strong Bad ‘Maps & Minions’ board game sitting on that table there? A round of poker’s fun, but even for $5 there’s not much here that wasn’t in Texas Hold ‘Em. Some options and variety other than new decks or tables would’ve been appreciated.

If you don’t own Telltale’s previous poker game and want a replacement for Solitaire or Plants Vs Zombies, you could do a lot worse than Poker Night at the Inventory. Despite it just being Telltale Texas Hold ‘Em with famous characters, it’s definitely enjoyable for the odd hand.

I hope it does well and Telltale continue to add more non-adventures to their catalogue, and I doubt anyone will regret picking it up. With just a few additions however, I would’ve called it essential. Shame.

Chris ‘The Tingler’ Capel, November 29th 2010

PROS: Funny, interesting location, good banter, and an entertaining game of poker.
CONS:No multiplayer, unlockable characters or other minigames, Tycho’s infuriating, just Telltale Texas Hold ‘Em with new characters

SCORE: 3 SKULLS
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What does everyone else think about this?

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  • Avatar
    Comment by: ThunderPeel2001 | Posted 05 Dec, 2010, 16:05 | Quote
    Well I've played it for approx 3 hours now, and I've turned off all the banter (I've heard it far too many times now), so all that's left is a nicely presented card game -- with insane AI.

    Still fun for a quick game, though.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: clone2727 | Posted 30 Nov, 2010, 12:43 | Quote

    Remi O

    I thought it was entertaining enough -- writing and all -- but way too easy to win. I got the distinct feeling the AI-controlled characters made their decisions randomly and not based on the cards they held.

    Personally, I feel that makes it 10x harder than if they knew what they were doing. You can't pull a bluff on them, and they go all in with garbage and a full house. I think the characters have some strategy, but the AI could definitely use tweaking...
  • Avatar
    Comment by: The Tingler | Posted 30 Nov, 2010, 02:09 | Quote

    Remi O

    I thought it was entertaining enough -- writing and all -- but way too easy to win. I got the distinct feeling the AI-controlled characters made their decisions randomly and not based on the cards they held.

    Still, worth it for the banter.

    Goddammit, thanks Remi, that was one point I forgot to mention: I am also similarly certain that characters bet for the hell of it rather than if they held good cards. I've had characters throw money at a hand when they didn't even have a pair. Sometimes they're impossible to bluff too, whether they have something or not.

    And thanks Squinky, glad I'm not the only one. Loved the Penny Arcade Adventures (apart from how badly organised they were and how boring the prose-only Episode 3 is), love the comic, but didn't love Tycho here.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Call me Squinky | Posted 30 Nov, 2010, 01:45 | Quote
    Don't worry Tingler, you're not the only one who thought Tycho was a douche. I was expecting more from him as a character, since I thought he was kind of cool in the Penny Arcade games, but in Poker Night he's an apathetic, self-important jerk. I also found that the animosity the characters had towards each other and me as a player put me off the game a bit at first. Still, it's not a bad way to spend a few hours.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: bgbennyboy | Posted 29 Nov, 2010, 19:00 | Quote
    I think it's a really nice little game and the tf2 unlocks are a nice addition.

    I think you're being way too harsh on the game. For the ridiculously cheap price you can't expect multiplayer or additional characters (which would require a hell of a lot of extra dialog).
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Remi | Posted 29 Nov, 2010, 17:15 | Quote
    I thought it was entertaining enough -- writing and all -- but way too easy to win. I got the distinct feeling the AI-controlled characters made their decisions randomly and not based on the cards they held.

    Still, worth it for the banter.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: The Tingler | Posted 29 Nov, 2010, 14:49 | Quote

    Logic

    I never played Telltale's 'Texas Hold ‘Em' (and I'd say the majority of people picking this up wouldn't have either) so the 'more of the same' thing wasn't an issue for me.

    Ahh, now I hope that I made it clear that if you haven't played the first game, you'll certainly find yourself satisfied. I can't see anyone actually disliking this game.

    As for Tycho, it is a personal thing, but the swearing in particular really irritated me as it was simply not humorous. On the other hand a friend of mine had no problem with him, but really detests Strong Bad. Rock Paper Shotgun had a scathing review and they even disliked Max!
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Logic | Posted 29 Nov, 2010, 14:02 | Quote
    I never played Telltale's 'Texas Hold ‘Em' (and I'd say the majority of people picking this up wouldn't have either) so the 'more of the same' thing wasn't an issue for me. I played this for the first time earlier today and really dig it. Slick and entertaining, and the poker itself is well implemented. I'm more than happy considering the asking price.

    Multiplayer would indeed be nice but I can see why they might have avoided it. If you let players become the characters, you have the incongruity of having two personae in the one character, and either the character's verbal speech has nothing to do with the player's own typing or speaking, or you have a silent character. Some kind of custom avatar system would be even more difficult, and near impossible to maintain the 'playing against people in a room' atmosphere the game is going for.

    If this is a pilot program game then more characters in future iterations (if this game is successful enough to warrant them) seems inevitable, and more card games (and possibly even multiplayer somehow) seem obvious ways to expand the formula. It wouldn't surprise me to see all of those things happen at some point.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: AlfredJ | Posted 29 Nov, 2010, 13:35 | Quote
    Hmm, I have to disagree with you about Tycho here. I thought he was written very well (and I'm not even a fan of the original comics). His personality came through a lot better here than in the PAA-games. I liked what Jake (or was it Vanaman?) said on the Giantbomb-quicklook: they saw this project like some sort of character study. And it certainly feels like that to me, as a player. It's all about the interplay between these characters, and I think Tycho being there (with his unique position in the gaming world) makes the game much, much more interesting. I don't even care that much about poker. It's just a nice little game to play while I'm listening to Strong Bad and Tycho fight over who has the more popular website.

    It's just written very, very well. It's a pretty difficult job to make these characters stay true to their respective personalities and universes while they're commenting on each other. I would even go so far as to say that Tycho is a better fit for a crossover game like this than Guybrush would be, even though I like Guybrush more as a character.

    So yeah, I'd love to see more Inventory-games in the future. Figuring out how all these different characters think about each other (and why!) is just so much fun.

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