Travelling often for work has shown me no matter how many amazing advancements we make in the medium of video games, there's a certain comfort in the classics. As I walk down the center aisle of a cramped airplane, my eyes can't help but spot dozens of iPads lit up with simulations of your garden variety card games—some solitaire, some poker.
Truth be told, these recreations of classic card games don't look much different than they did in the days of Windows 95 freeware—but, for the most part, they get the job done. With Prominence Poker, though, Pipeworks Studio is shooting to go beyond your standard card game presentation with an MMO world and RPG mechanics built around a fairly simple game. Think back to Telltale's Poker Night at the Inventory, and you should get a sense of Prominence's spirit: While it doesn't feature a collection of known characters trading quips with each other, Pipeworks' game features a similarly exaggerated style, with characters looking as if they just stumbled out of Team Fortress 2.
Of course, there's more to Prominence than just an interesting look. The plot has your (fully customizable) character entering the world of Prominence at the bottom, with four gambling gangs—represented by the four suits—standing between you and The Mayor. And your rise to the top evokes memories of Rock Band and Guitar Hero: While you start playing in shabby laundromats, climbing the ranks has a measurable effect on the classiness of your environments.
For the most part, Prominence's RPG mechanics reward players with cosmetic improvements, as well as the chance to play against more difficult opponents for higher rewards. Instead of tampering with the rules of poker, Pipeworks Studio has overhauled a very basic game by focusing on one aspect digital poker often gets wrong: Reading other players. Since all of your actions in Prominence Poker—even wavering between choices—play out a specific animation, watching other players carefully can be vital for success. Someone who looks at their cards too often, for example, could be forgetful, unsure of their current chances, or simply bluffing. And if you want to avoid being read on your next turn, you can always run the risk of pre-setting a bet in advance. Pipeworks' visual style definitely helps with this aspect of poker: With their exaggerated features, the expressiveness of Prominence's characters reads extremely well on a TV screen.
Prominence handles its free-to-play monetization in a fairly straightforward way, with a single currency (chips) that can be earned in-game, or purchased in bundles via the store. But you don't necessarily have to spend a dime to play: Prominence players receive daily bonuses just for logging in, and a single-player mode also exists for those looking to work on their poker skills without losing the farm. Above all, Pipeworks is striving to create a positive environment by encouraging players to be nice to one another: During play, you can receive experience bonuses by buying other characters drinks, food, clothing, and accessories.
Honestly, there's only so much you can do with poker in video game form, and, based on a quick tour of Prominence, it looks as if Pipeworks has done a fine job dressing up this incredibly basic game. Though whether or not it ends up being a worthwhile experience depends on how well Prominence fares when exposed to the potentially negative qualities of an online community. Currently in closed beta on Steam, Prominence will also be headed to the PS4 and XBox One at some point in the near future.