Hustle Kings knows it’s up against a tough crowd. Like the similarly styled Top Darts, it’s vying for attention against Uncharted: Golden Abyss and WipEout 2048 in the PlayStation Vita’s launch line-up. What chance does a pub game simulation have against such blockbuster names?
At first glance, not a whole lot — but Hustle Kings has the last laugh. It might not have explosions or speeding cars, but it does have the type of gameplay that’s perfectly suited to portable play. A frame of pool lasts for about 10 minutes at best — the perfect length for a short bus ride or swift sit on the toilet.
Based upon the devilishly in-depth Hustle Kings on PlayStation Move, Hustle Kings on PlayStation Vita remains an agonisingly accurate recreation of billiards. Boasting numerous styles of pool — in addition to the PS3 version’s snooker DLC — it's alarmingly realistic, and a testament to the quality of the game’s physics that they're indistinguishable from the real thing. The balls move exactly as you’d expect them to, and while it’s a boring compliment, it’s ultimately Hustle Kings’ strongest asset. What use would a billiards game be if its physics were rubbish?
Developer VooFoo Studios pitched Hustle Kings as a “game with shiny balls” back on PS3, and the same is true of the portable version. The environments and backdrops look much sharper on the handheld’s smaller screen, and the balls are still ridiculously detailed: you can see the tiniest cracks in the gloss of the balls, and the lighting is fantastic.
The other best aspect of the PlayStation 3 version survives: the “Hustle Points” progression mechanic. Think of this like experience points in Call Of Duty — as you win matches and complete different objectives, you earn more points that can be spent on cosmetic changes to your table, balls, and more.
Our hands-on was limited to the single-player aspect of Hustle Kings, but seeing as the game sports cross-platform multiplayer with the PS3 release, we’re guessing that the Vita version will include the option to bet Hustle Points against other players online. This was, after all, one of the most strategic and downright brilliant mechanics of the original.
Another feature that was pitched to us by the on-hand representative, but not on offer, was asynchronous multiplayer, a feature that’s been pretty popular in smartphone games. The mode will allow you to start matches against friends, without needing to be in direct competition. Specifically, you’ll be able to play out a game of pool (or snooker) over the course of several days, taking it in turns to take shots alternately. The beauty of asynchronous play is that you’ll always have competition, even if in reality you haven’t. It’s something we expect to become a pivotal part of the PlayStation Vita’s multiplayer experience.
As with so many of the Vita’s launch titles, Hustle Kings is packed to the brim with input features. At the most peripheral level, you’re able to customise your pool table with photographs taken by the PlayStation Vita’s cameras. If you’ve always wanted to play snooker on top of (photos of) Katy Perry, now you can.
More notable are the uses of the system’s gyroscope and rear touch screen, allowing you to naturally move around the table by rotating the device and zoom in on long-shots by stroking the back touch. Unfortunately, we found the core gameplay a little unintuitive. Shots are played by using a combination of the front touch-screen and the PlayStation Vita’s sticks and face-buttons, leading to a rub-your-belly-pat-your-head kind of mismatch. Presumably the controls can be customised, but just looking at the instructions sheet Sony provided with each device resembled an aeroplane guidebook. Once we got a feel for the controls we were potting balls with relative simplicity, but the learning curve felt a bit too steep for the casual intentions of the game — even if it only took three or four minutes, it could be much quicker.
Hustle Kings is destined to be one of those sleeper time sinks. It doesn’t necessarily stand out in the PS Vita’s launch line-up, but it doesn’t really need to. It’s one of those games that you’ll download onto your system’s memory card and return to over and over again in short, sporadic stints.