Ah, the poor old pool game. A genre lost amidst the flash-bang razzamatazz of next-gen physics, there is little to the mechanical side of Hustle Kings we haven’t seen before. Indeed, Virtual Pool and its sequels effectively conquered realistic interaction between balls and baize way back in 1995, and the last time I checked, that title was sat handily on the menu of my mobile; retro video-infused career mode included.
Without any technical hurdles to overcome in terms of basic gameplay then, Hustle Kings turns its ambitions towards the trimmings, with rather spiffy 1080p visuals lending at least a vague air of progression. Bars and futuristic clubs are rendered with a huge debt to those early ray-tracing demonstrations that populated the internet and 3D magazines of yore, whilst the balls themselves are positively the shiniest objects ever to subtly reflect their way across my screen.
Game types too, are covered from all sorts of angles. The requisite career mode is as expected, offering a series of challenges that cough up prizes on completion, and a host of purchasable graphics, cues and – incredibly – even shinier balls. Gameplay modes range from trick shots and the obvious straight and 9-ball varieties, through to obscure three-player offerings capable of baffling a sleepy brain. The robust local multiplayer is complemented by an online community surprisingly teeming with players as I write this; although as with all PSN and XBLA offerings, best to get in early if you fancy finding yourself a string of opponents.
But given the artistic touch bestowed elsewhere, It’s a little bizarre that the rest of the design work turns out to be generic and lacking any clear inspiration. From the menu screen to the insipid avatars that serve as the only personable touch, this is a title that screams out for a front-end makeover from the moment it loads. Such folly may be forgivable for the most part, but when your core gameplay revolves around something so familiar, suddenly everything else snaps sharply into focus.
As the dust settles though, Hustle Kings may well end up as the greatest pool game of this generation. But when the extent of your competition is Bankshot Billiards 2 and the legacy of an already perfected simulation, it’s hard not to expect at least a little more effort in finding something unique to offer.