Hustle Kings has made it’s way to the PS Vita and in so doing, has given Vita owners a chance to test their billiards skills on the go.  Developed by VooFoo Studios and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Hustle Kings is the most realistic recreation of pool put on a system in years, if ever.  The purchase of Hustle Kings on the PS3 or PS Vita will allow you to play it on both systems, but this review will only cover the Vita side of the game.  Snooker is also available for download for a nominal fee, and it was not considered in this review.

Pool games don't leave much room for creative captioning.

Hustle Kings is built around the idea of… hustling at pool halls.  You will play 8-ball, 9-ball, black ball, perform trick shots, play cut throat and take on a few other game types.  Each works just like you would expect, with a quick explanation in the loading screen of the rules.  Through the career mode, each shot will unlock HKC (hustle king coins), that can be used to purchase new items in the Hustle King shop.  Avatars, pool sticks, ball types and additional game types are all up for purchase, but they will each set you back a huge amount of HKC, so prepare for a ton of cue ball to unlock everything.

In career mode, you will play against the AI in each game mode.  At the start of the game, the AI is on the level of my 2 year old.  They don’t seem to grasp the idea of how the stick is supposed to hit the cue ball, leading to pocketing another ball.  Even when you aren’t running the table, they will most likely miss their first or second shot, passing control back to you.  As you continue through career mode though, the AI will pull off the craziest shots you’ve ever seen (and I’ve watched a ton of Trick Shot pool on ESPN).  Learn to run the table from the break and you stand a chance, otherwise get ready to tap the screen on occasion to keep the PS Vita awake while you wait to lose.  It can be frustrating, but it isn’t far from professional level pool, and it will take you a while to get to that point in your career.

Captions!

Each shot is important in the game.  Bank shots, trick shots, and pockets all net you additional HKC at the end of a game.  The amount you earn will vary based on the actions performed before pocketing, and you are even given the option to wager HKC at the start of a game.  I saw some very rich folk in my online games, but I was much more conservative with my bets.

Speaking of online, Hustle Kings has it in spades.  The options for your online matches are deep.  While aim assist is on in the early parts of your career, my first online game did not include any aim assist.  While the online game ran flawlessly, I learned quickly how difficult it is to eye your shot on the Vita.  It isn’t the fault of the game, but just the digital representation in general.  In real world pool I can lean forward to eye the top of the cue and follow the line to where it should hit my target ball, digitally, it is much harder to get that view.  After some time playing my opponent online, I started to get the hang of it, but always felt like I was doing more guess work than planning an exact shot.  I imagine in time I’ll be able to be more exacting without the assist, but for now it was a bit jarring.  That said, I had a ton of fun online and was very impressed by how fair the game is to both players.  Again, wagering HKC is available online.

The music can be edited to only play the style of music you like (Hip-Hop, Lounge, Techno, Funk and Jazz), and while all of the music seemed to be fine for fans of the genre I ended up with jazz, funk and lounge keeping me company.  It never stood out, but it never got annoying either.  The sound on the table is perfect and brought me back to my days of being a “hussla” in pool halls with friends after work.  Really, the game recreates the feeling perfectly, minus the beer stains and smoke clouds you have to peer through.

Pool!

Hustle Kings also takes advantage of the touch screens on the Vita, using the back panel to zoom in and out of the table, and the front screen to make your shots.  The touch screen actually works perfect for shooting and gives you a bit more control on how you handle the stick.  Choose left or right handed and you control the pool stick with your thumb.  Accuracy is a big part of the game, especially as you start to pull off more complicated shots, so practice is key to keep it as close to center as possible.  Spin works like you would expect, allowing you to pull off some pretty complicated shots without ever feeling like the game didn’t read your intentions.  You know when you made a bad shot.

Hustle Kings did something I thought was impossible; it replaced Lunar Pool as my favorite billiards game of all time.  Even with the review being done, the game is staying on my Vita and will be played for months or years to come.  It looks, sounds and feels like pool, and lets me hustle without the treat of getting beat up.  I wasn’t ever able to tell if I was playing cross platform, but it is there and should work exactly as Vita to Vita play works.  VooFoo Studios did a damn fine job bringing pool to a digital space, and gave plenty of reason to keep coming back.

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Feels like pool.
+ Sounds like pool.
+ Looks like pool.
+ Tastes like pool? (I do not wish to explain that)
– Can be difficult to get a good view without aim assist.

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.

Hustle Kings was developed by VooFoo Studios and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was released on the PS Vita on February 22, 2012.  A review copy was provided by Sony.  Hustle Kings can be purchased through the PSN for $9.99.