Hustle Kings Review
Hustle Kings Box Art
System: PS Vita
Dev: VooFoo Studios
Pub: Sony
Release: February 28, 2012
Players: 1-8
Screen Resolution: 544p
Pool Hall Blues
by Josh Engen

If you think about it, any game that attempts to mimic a sport kind of misses point. Popular franchises like Madden and FIFA do a fine job of portraying the look and culture of their respective sports, but no matter how much you love playing FIFA, you'll never actually be good at soccer. I mean, you might have a better understanding of the rules or soccer strategies, but twiddling your thumbs behind a control pad will never increase your foot coordination.

The problem is that when a video game comes along that attempts to mimic a less popular sport, like pool, for instance, the disconnect is even more noticeable. The saddest part is that many of these games don't really get a fair shake by the public, and I fear that Hustle Kings will be relegated to this type of mindset. See, Hustle kings can really be an enjoyable game, but it's still about pool, so all of your friends probably won't be raving about it anytime soon.

Hustle Kings Screenshot

When you first plug Hustle Kings into your Vita, you'll be greeted by a fedora-wearing gentleman. He introduces you to the game's intricate control setup through a series of incredibly comprehensive tutorials. You'll learn how to take aim, control the cue ball's spin, and learn a few basic trick shots. Once you've polished off the tutorials, you'll certainly have an understanding about how the game is played, but you won't really be able to call yourself a hustle king

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And, actually, this is one of the things that makes Hustle Kings great; there are very few sports titles on the market that contain this level of depth. The sheer number of game modes should keep an avid pool player busy for months, but when you start to add up customizable options like cues, chalk, characters, and accessories, Hustle Kings should be adaptable to anyone's style of play.

But all of these customizations might be a bit of a curse for Hustle Kings. In order to truly appreciate the depth of this title, you need to be a genuine pool player. Hustle Kings has obviously been built by pool players for pool players, but in creating such an intricately designed pool title, they may have essentially alienated the average gamer.

Now, I've never been an avid pool player, so when I flipped through the game types, I was essentially learning about several of them for the first time. And, if I'm being honest, many of them were far more entertaining than the standard 8 ball that Americans insist on playing. However, if someone's managed to live their entire life without ever hearing of these games, is Hustle Kings really the game for them? Probably not.

Hustle Kings Screenshot

Now, before we move on, I need to admit something to you all: I learned the rules of tennis by playing Mario Tennis on the SNES. So, I understand the value of a game like Hustle Kings, but part of the reason that the Mario titles feel more accessible than Hustle Kings is because Mario doesn't take himself so seriously. Mario was never trying to create a picture perfect representation of reality, which meant that he never had to cater to the hardcore tennis fans.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have many major complaints about the game; in fact, many of the title's elements are almost perfectly executed. The controls, for instance, are simple and intuitive. You simply use the Vita's touchscreen to place your cue, and then refine it by holding down one of the buttons and adjusting your analog sticks. The left stick controls your aim, while the other controls the position that the cue will strike the ball. This lets the player manipulate the cue ball's spin and allows you to jump over anything that might be in your way.

Beginners are treated to a set of handy guidelines that will give you an idea about where the cue will end up, but as your skill increases, you can choose to do away with these training wheels.

Hustle Kings Screenshot

Also, the graphics are surprisingly pristine for a game that's ostensibly about rolling balls around on a table. Everything is rendered with a semi-photorealism that almost shows off the Vita's graphical chops. The environments are also pretty easy on the eyes. However, for all of its visual strengths, the graphics do highlight what is perhaps Hustle King's biggest flaw: It is thematically schizophrenic.

The developer is desperately trying to romanticize the smoke-filled bars that you would come to expect from a pool hall. The problem is that most of the environments have a closer resemblance to your friendly neighborhood gay bar than they do to a pool hall. But that's nowhere near the end of the schizophrenia. The pool shark who leads you through the opening tutorial is dressed in what appears to be a 1940's swing dancer's attire; the sound track jumps from an uncomfortable saxophone solo to a strange suburban hip hop track; and, even though the entire environment is photorealistic, the characters are styled more closely to a Japanese RPG.

However, if you're an avid pool player, all of these nitpicky stylistic choices are very easily overlooked. This is especially true if you have a couple of friends who are also pool hall junkies.


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