First off the bat, I should point out that sport games aren’t really my strongest field. I’m not the greatest at FIFA, Madden is completely alien to me and only extreme sports games such as SSX and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater really caught my attention as a youngster. I wanted thrills and excitement that were beyond the norm. There will come a time where I need to enlighten myself to the glory of recent football games, with the last football game I played being FIFA ’95 for the Sega Mega Drive, but for now I think I need to branch out into a new sport.
Pool isn’t very well represented in the videogame industry. There have been moderate gains in the past, but no game has particularly stood out of the crowd. The most recent attempt to entice players to the concept is Hustle Kings, a game that has already seen some success on the PlayStation 3. As part of the Cross Play initiative, buying one version of the game and its DLC will provide a free version of its counterpart. Therefore, owners of the PlayStation 3 version will find themselves receiving a free game for their PlayStation Vita. It is this particular version we look at today, but does having the same game on the palm of your hand make things more enticing?
As with any sports related game, how it controls is key to the success of the title. In the PlayStation Vita version, there is a new training mode on offer which teaches you some of the more complex manoeuvres such as swerving, jump shots and bank shots, as well as the ability to spin the ball back on itself. Useful as they are, some techniques are a little hard to get to grips with at first and their use is limited at best. but as a whole, controlling the oddly disembodied cue is intuitive and allows for several control schemes for firing a shot. Chalk can also play a role in your gameplay as multiple kinds are on offer for players who want to be more accurate with subsequent shots.
It also helps that the art style is top-notch and on par with the PlayStation 3 version of the game. The camera controls work well in most of the modes, though the gyro perspective based mode is a little twitchy at times. The rooms that you play in are nicely decorated, resembling clubs and bars of various kinds. One thing that is a little hard to understand is the peculiar choice of soundtrack. One minute you are listening to some fitting jazz, that soothes the player into a relaxing trance as they pot balls one after the other; then the immersion is all but shattered by the next track, which could potentially be the loud hip-hop inspired theme song, some equally loud dubstep or even some shattering rock. Music generally has its place, but here it seems the team had no idea what would suit the game most and just decided to bundle all styles together instead.
Other modes include a list of trick shots you can perform, bonus games that challenge you to pot balls within a certain time limit or shot count limit and support for exhibition, free-play and tournament modes. These can be customised to specific variants on Pool rules, such as the classic 9-Ball and Black Ball games. On the Hustle Kings store, you can also purchase a variety of avatars, extra games for various modes and even different balls and cues using your hard-won cash. It is slightly surprising however, to find that Snooker was only considered for DLC purposes, but as a simulation of this game, the Hustle Kings Snooker Pack does an admirable job.
Finally there is a career mode that features many previously featured game types, but each game comes with its own cost of admission. This mode highlights the worst offending issues with the entire package. The AI is erratic at best, capable of performing some ridiculous misses alongside miracle shots. You get the feeling that it occasionally drops a shot on purpose. The second issue is more of a personal issue; not one mode steps out of the box completely, as Hustle Kings plays it unremarkably safe with its selection. Even the latest FIFA has its ability to play as a manager of a football team. But then again, it does seem difficult to work outside the confines of Pool.
Trying to get a game started on Hustle King’s online modes was an ordeal and a half, despite the wide variety. Even spectating is tricky on the grounds that the game just flat-out crashed on several attempts. Thankfully there are other means to play the game online on the PS Vita that include taking on bonus challenges. Message Play is perhaps the most interesting as you can have multiple sessions on the go, with no direct connection being required to play a game against each other. When a normal online match does get going however, there is no visible lag from spectating the opponent’s shot. There’s no way of telling which format the other player was playing the game on either, which is a nice bonus for either side. As for the game types themselves, there are a variety on offer that not only include ranked and non-ranked matches, but also some that allow you to gamble your hard-won winnings in order to reap in potentially significant rewards. It’s a solid, if temperamental offering, that has a lot more going for it than its single player counterpart.
Hustle Kings provides a pure arcade-like experience that won’t break the bank in the slightest. Its biggest draw is most certainly the ability to buy both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita versions under one very small cost. On the Vita, it looks fantastic and has the tight controls required for it to be a competent simulation of the sport. Sadly, Snooker being relegated to DLC is the least of its worries as despite having more game modes than your average FIFA game, none of them stand out particularly as being innovative or exciting. The soundtrack is also questionable in terms of what theme it wants to give. Hustle Kings is competent as a Pool simulator in ways that could only have been imagined years ago, but as a prolonged experience it becomes incredibly dull rather quickly. It is an admirable attempt, but Hustle Kings isn’t pulling the wool over my eyes: I’d rather play the real thing in a pub!