The Hustler (2010)
But we aren’t talking “Simple John” simple, but rather easy to understand and execute. A pool player of any level can understand the strategy in placing the cue ball so your opponent is snookered after playing this game. Given that I wasn’t exactly sure what a game of snooker was (let alone how to snooker someone else) after playing this game, says a lot about how good of a teaching tool this game can be.
Hustle Kings is, at its core, a pool simulator. From trick shot challenges to online tournaments, the entire world of pool is at your disposal. The game will walk you through the very basics of how you control the game and interact with your shot. Players can even choose how they want to actually hit the cue ball, using the Skill Meter (which requires good timing) to a simulation of following through on the pool stick itself.
The game does a good job of showing you how to position the pool stick so you can make the shot that you want to take. What’s more is that you can even see where your shot will send the first ball you hit as well as the cue ball. It is an excellent tool for beginners, although later on you will be hard-pressed to find it.
However, as much as it will walk you through how to take your shot, you will be on your own when it comes to how to play certain games. Some games of pool are very straight-forward in their rules, like in 9-ball where you just need to hit the balls in order to win. A game of cut-throat is played a little differently, and the game doesn’t ever explain to you that you shouldn’t hit certain balls. You can basically knock yourself out of cut-throat without ever realizing that you are screwing up. The in-game menu will give you a general idea of how to win a certain game, but these blurbs aren’t as helpful as the other training features.
In general, Hustle Kings will hold your hand until you get the gist of how the games’ physics work. This is very helpful for anyone that wants to take their knowledge from the game and apply it to the real world… of pool. That is to say, you probably shouldn’t take your in-game experience and try to hustle some 20-somethings at a pool hall.
Aside from the training aspects, there is in fact a few ways to play. The game has a career mode where you slowly take on different AI players at various games and skill levels. Early on, the computer will deliberately miss shots so you can take another turn, but later it will crush you if you perform an illegal break. Losing to the computer is made more painful because you will lose out on any entry fee that you paid. It might not sound bad, but even at the amateur level, you will be setback and forced to win more games so you can start over. The punishment is harsh at times, even to a fault, but it won’t be a debilitating experience for most. You will likely play another rookie match and then give it another go.
For those who want to play with real people, there is a nice array of multiplayer settings for both online and local play. Up to 16 people can compete in a virtual pool tournament, so for all of you hipsters out there, that may be a selling point in and of itself. Sadly, a lot of the local games need to be unlocked through career mode. Online, however, it is anything goes. Whether jumping into a quick match or creating your own lobby for players to chat with and challenge other players, there is a lot to be had. Thankfully for the winners of the games (and not so much for the losers), your funds carry across career and online mode. This game is about scoring big with combos and trick shots, so no matter what mode you are in, every shot counts toward your bonus cash.
Given that the major focus of the game is winning tons of cash, I still have some issues with the in-game store. Sure, you can buy a new pool stick for way too much money, or even get yourself another avatar. That is all fine, but where the game jumps the shark is with buying 99-cent chalk items from the PlayStation Store. So if you wanted better accuracy, there’s a chalk for that. Oh, and there are only 40 uses per chalk item (save for the standard blue chalk which is free and unlimited). It really is disheartening that after all that you get from this game, they try to rip you off like EA normally does with buying in-game currency in their games. Buying something that is finite and digital has no place on my hard drive, and hopefully not yours.
Despite such a slap in the face, Hustle Kings is a great package made more attractive by its graphics. From the elaborate halls you play in to the fancy billiards balls you smack around the table, this game looks mighty fine for a PSN game. The game also sports several music tracks spanning several genres of music, and none of them are all that annoying. Yes, the soundtrack is both catchy AND nonthreatening!
Hustle Kings is a surprisingly well put together package, made more unexpected by the slew of underwhelming Sony-exclusive PSN titles that have come before it. No amount of gimmicks (come on, buying virtual chalk) can detract from how good a game it is. I would be interested to see if Sony revamps this game later down the line with the launch of the Motion Wands, but that is probably a darker territory that nobody wants to go down (except Wii fanboys). Needless to say, it is nice to see a pool game worth playing, and with the depth of content and stat tracking, it will keep the hardcore player busy for a while.