With the likes of multiplayer smash hit Battlefield 1943, art-house beauty Flower and brilliant action-adventures Shadow Complex and Trine, 2009 was a year when downloadable console games really proved their value and came of age. Lesser known but deserving of as much acclaim is Sony’s excellent billiards game Hustle Kings; a quiet Winter release and a surprisingly confident debut release from small English developer VooFoo Studios.
Emulating the use of a pool cue has never been particularly convincing on consoles, but Hustle Kings adopts a dual control scheme, allowing players to either control the cue strokes with the right analogue stick or a power counter using X, along with a percent counter stating how perfect the shot was. The expectant array of cue tricks are employed, allowing players to perform backspin, swerves and jump shots with a little practice, and the balls can display short lines to indicate their angles upon contact, which is helpful during the initial few hours whilst players get used to the game’s quirks and nuances.
The ball physics are excellent; assuredly convincing, and set the standard not only for future billiards titles, but the level of detail and physical responsiveness for all downloadable games in the future. The balls react with accurate weight and realism, and respond to cuing tricks like backspin, jump shots and side spin, and at any time with a quick press of R1 you can zoom in to the table to look at individual balls and their projected movement and angles. Unlike Inferno Pool with its fast-paced and manic competitive play, Hustle Kings is a much more precise and detailed game, which rewards patient players with an accurate representation of the sport.
Perhaps Hustle Kings‘ most memorable feature is its beautiful and lavish presentation. The visuals are utterly sumptuous with incredible detail both in the pool balls and environments, and the soundtrack boasts a collection of low profile licenced tracks from several genres such as dance, jazz and hip-hop. Environments are incredibly sharp and attractive, and every ball and surface comes alive with convincing real-time reflections as well as excellent anti-aliasing and a very stable frame rate. For a lesser-know downloadable game the presentation really does belie its cost, and there are few games on PSN that are quite as pretty and luxuriant.
On top of all this is a wealth of content incorporating training modes, career modes, offline multiplayer, online multiplayer, and more. The training takes you quickly through the various types of normal and trick shots, and the AI offline is harsh enough to keep players on their toes until they’ve a little experience under their belt, by which point most gamers should feel ready to take things online. Online matches allow players to challenge those on their Friends list as well as random opponents, and it supports functions such as in-game chat, so jeering and smack-talking are all but encouraged. The online modes work very well, and there is no lag from our experience, positively rounding off an impressive list of content.
Games are played for Hustle Kings Credits, which can be used to spend on additional items such as chalk or cues, or unlocking avatars, extra match types or trick shots. Before each match (in the Career mode or multiplayer) a bet is made, and winnings are added to the overall pot. Skillful playing is also rewarded, so you’re encouraged to plant shots, pot multiple balls, perform trick shots and chain pots together, and in doing so earn extra Credits.
There’s not really a great deal about Hustle Kings that isn’t very impressive and likeable. The AI is quite punishing at first, and even at its most basic level manages to pull off some very outlandish shots (often whilst unconvincingly missing simpler efforts), but this becomes alleviated once your skill improves. Those who aren’t fans of cue sports will have trouble getting enthusiastic about a faithful digital recreation, but in every regard this represents a level of depth and detail that sits at the pinnacle of downloadable gaming. Even in the weeks and months following its release, VooFoo have been adding free DLC and patches, as if the game’s standard content wasn’t enough, and they’ve recently released some snooker DLC for a very reasonable £2.29/$2.99, which has a lot of longevity and content for those who prefer the more tactical game to its pool cousin.
Hustle Kings is one of the most enjoyable and sizeable PSN games in a long time, and quite possibly the finest pool or billiards replication ever committed to a videogame. Even looking beyond the terrific presentation there are incredibly solid physics and game mechanics beneath, as well as a mass of online and offline content. Priced at just £6.29 ($7.99), Hustle Kings is a bargain of confoundingly generous proportions, and one of the most enjoyable and convincing new sports games in a long time.