Hustle Kings (Only available on PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Network)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 to 256
Release Date: January 28th, 2010
PSN – Online Multiplayer
As a billiards enthusiast, I’m surprised by how distant virtual adaptations of the sport have been from my radar. The last game I played was the bizarre, yet fun Pool Paradise back in 2004. Lately I’m enjoying VooFoo Studios’ first game, Hustle Kings, a billiards sim published by Sony exclusively for the PlayStation Network. There’s no story to speak of, but I will answer whether or not the rest of the package is worth your ten dollars.
Before doing anything, the game offers a tutorial that I suggest taking advantage of. It teaches the finer points of the crazy trick shots, which require practice to pull off consistently. Thankfully the controls are well-done and easy to use. Feel free to skip on if you don’t care about the details… The left analog stick handles your cue, and the right exacts spin. A green line shows the path of the cue ball, and a yellow line displays the path of the ball in sight. It’s not so easy though since the latter doesn’t always reach the pockets. You’re also on your own when trying out for a combination because the line doesn’t extend through a second ball. L2 and the R2 control your power, and R1 toggles the camera. The default option is over the cue, but a top-down is available, along with a more interactive and very useful ball camera. It lets you see slightly behind any ball and look around. A fully controllable camera would’ve helped with bank shots, but that’s nitpicking. So crank up your desired power, cue angle and spin, two possibilities of pressing X let the ball loose. Pulling back and and pushing the right stick performs an accurate straight shot. Stopping a spinning ‘needle’ at its top is the other option, and may or may not be accurate. Note that more power equals less accuracy.
The goal of career mode is to complete all the events in the four leagues. You compete against computer opponents in a variety of game types including, but not limited to, US-8 ball, 9 ball, Killer, and 14.1 continuous. Trick shot challenges and bonus games also appear. Winning gains you HKC (Hustle Kings Credit), which can buy new avatars, cues, balls, and other goodies. More importantly, it lets you buy into more events, and hustle games online. Other neat features include the ability to save shot replays, or even entire matches for your viewing pleasure later. Over fifty stats are tracked, like cue ball distance traveled and maximum consecutive pockets.
The rookie and amateur leagues are laughably easy, but like everything else in life, balance is always restored. The last two leagues (semi-pro and pro) may have you cursing the AI and its over-the-top bank combos that rarely miss. One screw up on your part is a game over, because the AI enjoys a nice cruise to victory. The challenges are especially painful to complete. It’s simple to improve your shots however, and this is my biggest complaint. A variety of chalks can make your shots a lot easier. The catch is that they’re limited, and cost ninety-nine cents. I’m ashamed to admit that I caved under the difficulty and bought the virtual chalk. It makes Hustle Kings much more manageable but also creates a problem.
I think to make (not earn) extra money, VooFoo intentionally ramped up the difficulty to make the chalk a necessity. That goes for online human opponents as well. You need the chalk to win, and it soon feels like you’re paying a subscription fee to remain active online and have a chance. Who do you think is the loser here? It’s a cheap trick to charge the 99¢ just so you can be competitive, and you already paid $10 for the game.
HK’s polished visuals and physics have to be seen to be believed. I’ve never blamed my failures on the engine. From the break to the last ball pocketed, game in and game out I’ve been amazed. Balls react properly all-around. It’s nice to play in high-class venues I can only dream about. Unfortunately, the lack of voice chat is disappointing. You’re stuck communicating through the intermission system, or Sony’s underwhelming chat…both of which aren’t any fun. But more often than not I’ve been immersed in the music, visuals and gameplay. That’s a pretty good sign you’re having fun.
If you’re a serious player and prepared to pay a dollar or two every now and then to keep playing Hustle Kings (unless you’re the Chuck Norris of pool), I can recommend this. For the casual side, the repetitive music, lack of voice chat, and unfortunate need for chalk is a real turn-off.
Overall (Not an average): 7.5/10