Reviewed: December 3, 2005
Released: October 25, 2005
I am a self-proclaimed pool shark, at least within my own circle of friends. My straight pool record is 181 balls in a row without missing a shot, I always call my shots, and I always bank the 8-ball. There was even a time where I was paying my apartment rent by hustling pool at the apartment’s clubhouse. When I bought my first house the first thing I bought for it was a regulation slate pool table and I stuck it in the living room.
Obviously, a game like The Hustle: Detroit Streets immediately captured my interest. There haven’t been a lot of successful pool games on the consoles and certainly none on the handheld systems. Regrettably, after a few weeks with Detroit Streets I can say that fact hasn’t changed.
It’s not that The Hustle is a bad game. Blade Interactive certainly covered all the bases with loads of content including 120+ pool sharks, 150 games comprised of trick shots, challenge modes, and official variations of pool like 8-Ball, 9-Ball, etc. You can play these games in 7 detailed venues stocked with some really cool characters and artwork.
The first thing that didn’t work for me was putting a story behind the game. Sure, this is the 21st century and gamers love a story, but do we really need a reason to play pool. You play as Jack Swift, a hustler trying to make a comeback in the Motor City. You get a bit of the story when you first start the game and more details unfold as you travel to the various pool halls to play new opponents.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about The Hustle was that you really don’t “hustle” anyone. The title would imply some sort of deception on your part, perhaps like The Con where you intentional throw games to sucker your opponents into betting more than they normally would. Hey, it worked for Tom Cruise in “The Color of Money”. But alas, you simply put your best game on the table and hope you win every time.
Each venue is stocked with its own group of would be hustlers that can challenge. Each player represents a different game variation, skill level, and cash value for the betting. Make your way through these guys to earn enough cash to face the “boss” then move on to the next pool hall and do it all again.
The mechanics of actually making a shot on the PSP are technically correct but so convoluted that it really detracts from the very nature of the game. Making a shot in The Hustle is like going through a pre-flight checklist before launching the space shuttle.
First you line up your shine by going to the top-down view and pivoting your cue stick until the shot and ricochet lines are indicating what you want to happen. Of course these lines are only indications of what might happen if you use the right amount of power.
You can then fine-tune the accuracy of the shot with the left or right on the D-pad. Now bring up the power meter by pressing X and set the power with the D-pad or use the fine-tune once again for greater accuracy. The game automatically and realistically compensates by reducing accuracy the harder you hit the ball.
Real pool sharks will want to put some English (spin) on the ball and probably adjust their cue elevation before making the shot, especially for the more complex trick shots. This allows you to stun, jump, or swerve the ball just like the pros do on ESPN.
After all that it’s time to actually make the shot. Press the X button when the indicator passes through the white zone of the accuracy meter. This zone varies in size based on your power setting. If you hit the ball when the meter is in the white zone the shot will go off as planned.
If all of this sounds time consuming you are correct, but thankfully Blade has put in an Instant Shot mode where you can simply pull back on the analog pad to set the power and push forward to make the shot, much like a shot swing in Tiger Woods.
Meters at the bottom of the screen factor in Intuition and Intimidation, two elements that can directly influence your ability to play pool. Respect is also another factor that grows with more wins, more money, and more complex shots. The more respect you have from the crowd, the less intimidation you’ll have to contend with.
While Intimidation directly affects your accuracy meter, Intuition allows you to put some cool Aftertouch effects on the shot if you have enough Intuition points. Just hold down the L trigger after the shot and use the D-pad to put some unnatural spin on the ball. You can also spend those Intuition points to get some sage advice from Dead Eye, a retired pool shark who will suggest certain shots and even allow you to step out of the game to practice them.
While the multi-procedural shot setup is agonizingly slow it is nothing compared to the load times, both at the start-up and between games. I can’t think of another game in the entire PSP library that takes this long to load. Just make sure to turn on your PSP about ten minutes before you are ready to play.
I really enjoyed the visuals and the great variety of characters, both surrounding the table and the ones you play. It really helps to immerse you in the pool hall atmosphere. If you are all about the pool you can actually turn off the characters and subsequent animation and just have the table, balls, and cue visible. This definitely speeds up the gameplay but you lose a lot of the presentation.
Each of the venues are very cool and the cloth on the pool tables all have some very creative designs that are best appreciated from the top-down view. The HUD is nicely placed around the borders but for some inexplicable reason the game forces the PSP battery indicator to appear in the top corner during the entire game. Why? Don’t ask me, but it was really annoying.
Pool, like golf, or at least putting, is best done in silence so you’ll want to scramble to turn off the incredibly bad noise…err…music, and the stupid taunts from the crowd that grow repetitive even during the first game.
The sound effects of the cue strike the cue ball and the clacking of balls or the plunk of one sinking in the pocket is nicely done and about the only sounds worth listening to.
The Hustle is about a 12-15 hour game hiding in about 20-25 hours of tedious gameplay. Between the ample load times and the lengthy shot setup, this is one pool game that is more about the science of pool rather than actually playing it.
There is multiplayer support for local wireless but nothing for the Internet, which is a shame because the game would easily be playable over the slowest net connection. Unfortunately, there is no game sharing so whomever you end up playing will need to have their own copy of the game.
The Hustle: Detroit Streets is a valiant attempt at bringing a quality pool game to the PSP, but between the load times and the clunky shot procedures most of the fun is quickly sapped out of this title. Pool can be a quick game if you are good. I know I can clear a rack of 15 balls (calling my shots) in less than a minute. You’ll be lucky to make a single shot on your PSP in that amount of time, and given the spontaneous nature of handheld gaming, I don’t want to be mired down in procedures when I’m trying to sneak in a game on my 15-minute break.
The game is headed to the big consoles where it will hopefully fix a lot of these issue. As for the PSP, we can only hope for an optimized sequel or another pool title from another publisher sometime soon. I really like the idea of a pool table in my pocket.