Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / Developer: Microsoft Game Studios / Platform: XBLA

Full House Poker is the spiritual successor to the popular XBLA game 1 Vs. 100. Microsoft Game Studios had said they were going to apply what they learned from 1 Vs. 100, and you can clearly see the previous game’s influence. Unfortunately, this may end up being a double-edged sword, in that it will also remind people of the cancellation of a much loved game that they wish would’ve returned instead.

How much you’ll enjoy the game might depend on how you feel about Texas Hold ‘Em. It’s not too difficult a game to learn, but some might be turned off by card games altogether. However, for those who enjoy a little poker, this is a pretty fun version of the game.

The main difference from other poker games is, of course, the ability to use your Xbox Avatar. On top of that, you also level up your character as you play, earning different amounts of XP each hand depending on how well you do. As you level, you unlock customizations and chip moves. Chip moves are basically animations of little chip tricks your avatar can do, that you can trigger with the D-pad for fun. Customizations include in-game costumes for your avatar to wear (though none have been cool enough to get me to consider switching from my Secret current Agent outfit—from the Perfect Dark Collection) , different looks for your custom casino when you host a game, and a Title for your character consisting of a silly pun (my current favorite is Ante Social). These are all just surface things that don’t really change the core gameplay, but they can be fun.

There are several ways to play. Single Player mode is just you against a table of A.I. players, and a good place to get the hang of the game, with the added benefit of being able to “fast forward” through the rest of a hand if you fold. I also suspect it takes things a little easier on you, in that I noticed a recurring pattern where if I was dealt a bad hand consisting of a low card and a middle card, it seemed like four times out of five the resulting flop would give me two pair.

Pro Takedowns is another single player mode, but one that pits you against a specific A.I. player one-on-one. These battles award you with additional XP and in-game outfits, but each character requires you to have reached a particular level before you can battle then.

The main two multiplayer modes are Ranked Multiplayer and regular Multiplayer. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you in what way Ranked is all that different, other than that it doesn’t allow any customization of settings when starting a match. In regular Multiplayer, you can choose between Tournament (last person at the table wins) or Standard (anyone can come in and join at any time, if the game is public), and you can also have A.I. players fill in the remaining seats.

But the game mode that will perhaps have people missing 1 Vs. 100 most is Texas Heat. This has a 30-minute show format, with seasons made up of scheduled episodes. The goal of the episode is to be the person who has earned the most XP during the 30 minutes, and that will determine how high you ranked among everyone playing, and what sort of rewards you receive. The Spring 2011 season requires you to download a small bit of free DLC before playing, which adds three additional achievements to the game.

The only real frustrating aspect of Texas Heat involves lag. From what I witnessed, it appears that if anyone at your table is lagging, the entire table is sort of “paused” until the person either stops lagging, or leaves the table. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell who is lagging until they’ve left, and even if you could tell, there’s no way to vote the person off the table. Because each episode is only 30 minutes, it can get really frustrating watching time count down while your table is frozen. The only fix I found was leaving the game and re-entering.

Other than that, I only have minor complaints. For example, it was bugging me for awhile that my two cards on the table appear flipped upward. Your cards only appear flipped upward on your own screen, of course, but it gives the appearance that your avatar is letting everyone at the table see your cards. And why have them flipped up like that, when your HUD already shows you the cards? It’s both distracting and redundant.

But ultimately, I think the biggest misstep on the part of Microsoft Game Studios was to go with poker this time, instead of a reworked trivia game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of fun with the game so far, but I also already had a basic familiarity with how to play Texas Hold ‘Em. Trivia is more accessible to a much wider audience, because the all you need to know to play is how to push a button to pick your answer. Poker games have a smaller, more specific audience, and I think that’s going to end up being the main obstacle keeping this game from really taking off.

Full House Poker goes on sale March 16th, for 800 Microsoft Points ($10 USD).