Within the first few seconds of World Championship Poker 2 Featuring Howard Lederer, you know you're in well-worn territory. The strains of digitized lounge jazz confirm that, hey, daddy-o, this here's a swingin' gambling game for hep cats with rolls of dough, dig? What, can't poker exist outside the shadow of Las Vegas and its cliches?
For that matter, WCP2 doesn't even break out of the shadow of console gaming. The length of loading times is only exceeded by the slow rate of play itself, and you can't turn off options or animations to speed things up. So, while good poker strategy says that you should fold most of your marginal hands and wait until you have really good cards before chucking some chips into the pot, you'll have to sit through WCP2's excruciatingly slow animations just to not play most of the time.
This frustration is compounded by the fact that you cannot stop and save in the middle of a career game. Considering that many people play handheld games for 20 minutes at a stretch, this lack of stop-and-go save functionality feels disappointing. (Sure, you can put the PSP into sleep mode, but you can't switch games without ruining your progress.)
WCP2 tries to make up for these shortcomings with personality ... and mostly fails there, too. In career mode, you can spend skill points to increase your bluffing power and intimidation, but you can also use your winnings to buy new objects for your "pad." Who cares? We came to play cards, not redecorate the apartment. The bluff/tell system is similarly goofy; every so often, the computer forces you to earn your right to keep a strong hand to yourself with an unenjoyable, reaction-time, analog-stick meter minigame. Ugh.
If you've got a Wi-Fi connection, you can play WCP2 with online PS2 gamers. (Pick an unusual account name - if you choose one that's already taken, you get a generic error). Six of the game's 20 poker variations are available only in multiplayer mode, but if you know what Lowball Deuce to Seven Triple is, you're probably not playing WCP2 on a PSP - you're in a real-life card room somewhere winning real-life cash.
The slow pace, poor voice-overs and lack of handheld convenience lends WCP2 a strong sense of "thank god it's over" whenever it's time to switch off the PSP - and no game should ever do that. The impressive AI is the main reason to buy this game, but we wouldn't choose the PSP version over the nearly identical PS2 edition - especially considering that the UMD is $10 more. And while it's great the two games share DNA, World Championship Poker 2 on PSP sticks too close to its console siblings to be a decent, palatable poker room.