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Pool Hustler
Platform:  Playstation
# of Players:  1-2
Publisher:  Activision
Features:  Dual Shock
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  
Info:  http://
Admit it; you have always wanted to be in one of those crazy mind game situations with a big shot pool player. You want to work the curve making him believe that you are some chump only to take his money, his car, and his girlfriend in the end. You have seen "The Color of Money" and you want to be Paul Newman. However, the reality is you are just some guy who plays video games and you suck at pool. Well, now with Pool Hustler on Playstation you will finally be able to bet on pool and actually win.

To start off with, the game has a very easy-to-use but thorough engine. The ball movement is smooth and the contact and aiming is pretty easy to gauge. It is compatible with the analog controller which makes moving the cue around simple. The biggest problem is that the balls are not as clearly defined as they get farther away. They almost seem to be angular. Also, the cue stick breaks up as it gets smaller. This makes aiming from an overhead position nearly impossible. However, when the camera is down close to the action, it is very clear and easy to control.

The best feature of the game is the fact that it has many modes; the most notable of which is the story mode. In this mode, you travel to a pool hall and ask for the best person there to play a game with a little bit of cash involved. Beat that person and you will travel to a different pool hall looking for some better action. Each pool hall comes equipped with its own atmosphere, music, cues, and tables. There are 12 opponents total, all with different techniques and advantages. Be warned, they are tough, and they do not mess around when money is on the line.

There are 4 games on the card at these pool halls: 9-ball, 8-ball, 14-1, and Rotation Rules. The rules for each are all in the manual and in the game. You can call up the details of the game at any time and there is an option to have amateur or professional variations on the rules for each game. If nothing else, this game will teach you a great deal about playing pool so you can impress your friends.

Speaking of learning, there is also a training mode which is very extensive; teaching everything from simple to more advanced techniques. It is definitely worth trying since you may even learn something that can help you in real life. The game also comes equipped with a 2-player option where you will get your choice of stages depending on how good you do in the story mode. Another interesting feature is the trick-shot game. In it you will be given a trick shot that you have to make, sinking all the balls on the table in one fell swoop. There are 300 points possible and if you earn 250+ you will get a prize. Finish all of the shots and a video will show you how the real life pros do it.

Pool Hustler does a good job at what it aims to do, but with a little bit more it could prove to be a really great game. For example, every once in a while in the story your opponent will ask you if you want to put a little wager on the next shot. However, you can never challenge them to a bet. Also, there is not much, if any, actual hustling going on. Basically, if you win, you get your money and move on. There is no "double or nothing" bets or challenges ever being made. The betting is a nice touch, but it might as well be a tournament. On a personal note, I would like to be able to see the whole pool hall, pick my opponent, buy a beer, and get into a brawl, but apparently that is too much to ask from a video game.

Another big drawback is the characters. They are simply pictures with neither animation nor very much personality. There is a brief description of 4 of them in the book, but the rest are devoid of any background. How hard would it be to digitize real characters? On this note the game seems to lack personality all around. The pool halls are simple and lack any graphics beyond basic walls, and the music...well let's just say you will turn the music off. The pool is great and the money is a nice touch but there is no betting option past deciding how much loot you want to put down on each game. That is as far as the betting strategy goes which does not make room for hustling.

While the game does not live up to all of the options that it could, it still delivers accurate extensive pool, a variety of opponents, and more options and features than any other pool game on the market. The controls are very user friendly (unlike Virtual Pool), allowing the player to look and shoot from just about any angle. The only thing the controls do not allow is looking at other balls, besides the cue ball, up close. This aside, I would say that anyone who enjoys a game of pool should check this game out. It is never the same twice and you can feel like a big shot hustler even if you are just sitting on your couch in sweat pants.

Chris Shade

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