The Hustle: Detroit Streets is the best pool game available for the PSP. Though, that is true only because it's the only pool game available for the PSP. Still, The Hustle isn't a bad game of billiards on its own merits. Developer Blade Interactive has had some experience with the game of pool, as it has developed a couple of console and PC pool and snooker titles in the past. With The Hustle, Blade has eschewed the standard tournament style of play in favor of a grittier, slicker style of game. Here you'll play as a pool hustler, down on his or her luck, working your way through the seedy pool halls of Detroit, trying to regain your bankroll and your rep. Unfortunately, the whole story aspect is just kind of stupid, and it just gets in the way of the best parts--namely, the pool itself. It's also a tough game to sit through at some moments, as the load times and transitions between shots take what feels like an eternity. But if you can look past these admittedly serious faults, you might find The Hustle to be a game worth looking at.
When you first boot up The Hustle, you quickly toss together a basic profile and character to represent yourself. There's some backstory here about your character's rise and fall from grace, but it's all meaningless filler. It's just an excuse to put you on track to play a lot of pool against a lot of seedy characters. You don't have to work especially hard to make that happen. Just plop yourself down in the first available pool hall and start challenging and accepting challenges from the roustabouts that occupy the building. You start out with only a few available challengers, and as you win more money and earn more respect (which is actually measured via a numbered percentage), more opportunities will open up.
It'll take a long time for that to happen, however. While you do eventually move on and periodically go up against some boss opponents, it's likely that most people will get a distinct sense of going nowhere fast for the first few hours of play. You'll challenge the same guys over and over and over again, play a lot of the same pool games to boot, and you'll wonder where the hell this is all going. A more obvious way of measuring your progress would have been greatly helpful to counteract this feeling. It's also of note that The Hustle is a tough game to just pick up and play. There isn't really a quick-play option to speak of. You can jump into the story mode and play friendly matches against some opponents for no cash, but even there the number of games you can actually play is limited. There are a ton of different pool games and trick shots available, but it takes a painfully long time to actually be able to play any of them whenever you like.
The saving grace here is the pool itself, which is handled surprisingly well. At first glance, the control scheme seems woefully awkward, but after a few plays, it becomes second nature. Instead of doing the standard console pool mechanic of making the analog stick directly emulate the movement of the stick for a shot (you can do that here, but the analog stick sensitivity is ridiculously hard to deal with), all you have to do is angle your shot with the directional pad, then pull backward on the analog stick to get a sense of how much power you want for the shot. Once you do, a meter will pop up on the screen. In it, an arrow icon will move up and down, and in the middle of the meter sits a white zone that represents an accurate shot. You want to try to stop the arrow in the white zone, which shrinks in size depending on how hard the shot is. It's tricky, but it works. If you do it right, the game will cut to a quick scene of your character lining up his or her shot, and then taking it. Despite it taking the action out of your hands, you still feel like you pulled it off yourself.
The shot cutscenes are both a blessing and a curse. Watching your character deftly pull off a tricky shot is very cool; having to sit through a brief load time before the scene loads up, and another one after it completes, is not. This happens every time, too. The load times are everywhere in this game, and while they're rarely more than a few seconds each, they constantly pop up, essentially slowing the pacing of the action to an absolute crawl. Not that pool is exactly a brisk game as it is, but this is just ridiculous. Fortunately, you can turn off the character animations, which quickens things up a bit, but it also robs the game of some of its presentational value.
At times, The Hustle is also a little too easy. There is a constant aim guide available that shows the track the ball you're aiming for, as well as the track the cue ball will inevitably follow. The readings aren't always precise, but most times they give you a very accurate understanding of where the balls are going to go. Inherently that's OK, but it makes a lot of the other options, like putting English on the ball and setting cue elevation, mostly unnecessary. Occasionally a shot will pop up that requires one of these things, but most times all you need to do is find the right angle and knock it in. The simplicity isn't necessarily a terrible thing, but if you're looking for a fully accurate and challenging pool simulation, this isn't it.
The Hustle presents itself reasonably well. It gets that feeling of an unsavory pool establishment down pretty well. The crowds are often unruly and active while you play, and they react to different shots and shout things. The animated sequences of your players hitting shots are nicely done, and the models are actually pretty well detailed and in full 3D. There are a few different pool halls to check out, but most of them aren't remarkably different from one another. Occasionally, you'll see some nasty clipping and animation glitches, but those are really the only main knocks against the visuals. There isn't much audio in the game, and what's there is mostly innocuous and repetitive. The soundtrack is made up of a bunch of cheesy bar bands, which, while wholly appropriate, aren't exactly a delight to listen to. Also, a lot of the bits of crowd dialogue repeat annoyingly, thus making it far less enjoyable over time.
The Hustle: Detroit Streets is going to be a tough sell to anyone that isn't already a big fan of pool games. This isn't some slickly written, The Color of Money-esque tale of stylish pool hustling. However, it's a fairly fun game of pool that tries to wrap itself in a saucy attitude, though doesn't fully succeed at it. Still, the pool mechanics are sound, and it does offer two-player wireless multiplayer (that, sadly, suffers from even rougher pacing issues than the single-player modes). So if all you care about is getting some pool on your PSP, The Hustle isn't an altogether terrible choice.