Hustle Kings Review
Game: Hustle Kings
Developer: VooFoo Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: Sony Entertainment Network (Reviewed on PlayStation Vita)
This particular cue sport has never really ventured out of the pub or dimly lit pool hall. Whilst its bigger brother has been entertaining people on mass for years with such memorable moments like; Dennis Taylor potting that black, Cliff Thorburn’s first ever Crucible 147, the character that was Alex Higgins, or the poor Jimmy White who was, “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”. The Mosconi Cup has never been able to drum up as much enthusiasm over on this side of the pond.
The same could be said in the realm of video games, although neither sports has ever engraved their name into the sports video game tablet of greatness. Neither snooker or pool have ever blazed a trail within the sports game genre such as the likes of Tiger Woods, FIFA and Madden have done, suffering from certain gameplay mechanics that, in some ways, are unavoidable. In late 2009, Hustle Kings came out on the PSN and was pretty well received by fans and critics, but how does the game translate to the pocket PS3; the PS Vita?
Firstly, it’s pool. There’s no fancy storylines in the career mode, no arbitrary plots about love or any type of nonsense like that. In Hustle Kings, there are a number of game types to play such as; 8 ball, 9 ball, various trick shots and much more to keep the pool fan entertained. There’s a ton of stuff in here, with some custom made games that add to the enjoyment such as ‘Beat the Clock’ challenges. The extensive training mode is really useful as this game is a complicated affair if you really want to progress in your playing style. Without training mode, you’ll miss the tips on how to swerve the cueball, make plant shots, jump shots and all the other skills that will make you a pool king…a HUSTLE king…I crack myself up.
The career mode is really fleshed out. It contains 8 separate leagues that have 6 isolated events in each, all consisting of different game types. Each league is unlocked once you win a certain number events in prior leagues and the difficulty ramps up pretty swiftly. This is a good thing as the AI in the earlier stages tends to make really peculiar shots that boggles the mind, but in the latter events, the AI’s nonsensical potting becomes less and less. Hustle Kings also has its own in-game currency called, HKC. HKC is acquired if the player performs a certain skill shot, pots a ball, or wins a match. Within Career Mode, the later leagues will have entry fees for events, which is where your HKC comes into play. You can also put the in-game cash to use by purchasing new game packs, avatars, new sets of balls and new cues. However, your fake monies will not be able to get you everything Hustle Kings has to offer. There are also a few other game packs and chalks that require the player to fork out real dough on the PlayStation Store to attain.
Some of the actual pool playing aspect is really well materialised in Hustle Kings. It combines the touch feature of the console, with the buttons. The player is represented as a floating cue which you move around the table by either dragging along the screen with your finger, or using the left analog stick. To make a shot, there is a cue on the right hand side of the screen that must be pulled back and – depending on your cue method – pushed forward for power and accuracy. The right analog adds the desired spin on the ball, whilst chalk is applied to the cue by pressing an on screen button. The chalk’s relevance is questionable. Not because it doesn’t effect a shot, but because if the cue’s tip needs it, the game prompts you, making sure you know that the time has come to use it.
There are three ways to view the table, the regular camera behind the cue, a top down view of the table, and ball cam. Ball cam is the innovation here as the other two are standard views in numerous snooker/pool games. Ball cam uses the Vita’s ability to move around the table via its accelerometer, giving you a view of any particular ball on the table. This is nice, but the same thing can be achieved in ball cam using the right analog stick. Whilst sitting down playing Hustle Kings, I’m sure you’d prefer to stay seated to see where a certain ball might be headed post shot, rather than contort your body by moving the Vita around. Ball cam has other problems too, like not being able to adjust shots whilst looking in that angle. Top down view and the normal camera are used for the most regular, run of the mill shots, but when trying to line up a swerve shot, or jump shot, ball cam is essential to scope whether the cue ball will miss that black you’re trying to avoid. It’s annoying, in that regard, that the player must keep hitting that right trigger countless times to change camera when performing shots of a higher difficulty, but overall, the gameplay is fluid and sleek.
I know I said that pool wasn’t massive over here, but Jesus, the pool halls that these players perform at, are dead! Lifeless, neon corpses of buildings that add no bit of atmosphere to proceedings. A buzz of the old style pool halls with chattering members of the public would’ve been nice in Hustle Kings. All you hear is music and the slapping of pool balls. The music is a strange smörgåsbord of many popular genres of the last couple of decades. From hard hitting techno, to something that sounds like it came off of 2001 by Dr. Dre, the music produces one of those head scratching moments. It could be a really important shot, one more pot and the money is yours…then, all of sudden, the game goes from finger clicking lounge to some up tempo funk that mimics the Grange Hill theme superbly. The on the table action however sounds terrific. I’ve never thought I’d say this, but…the sound of balls slapping off of balls has never sounded better. The realistic clicking, depending on the cue balls velocity, is really nice. The pool halls, although devoid of feeling, look really well and the graphical prowess of the game is shown when in ball cam and viewed in its fullest when you realise you can see every scratch and indent on the balls, as well as the cloth on the table.
VERDICT: Hustle Kings uses some of the Vita’s new features nicely like using the cue, but ultimately, the traditional button presses work best in most cases where touch or tilt is optional. There are so many different game types within the title that gives the Hustle Kings fan so much longevity. It looks nice even if there is no buzz and the on table sounds are far greater than the stock-type music that’s heard throughout. Essentially, it’s a pool game. If you like pool, you’ll really enjoy it, if you don’t like pool…you still might find yourself enjoying it.