Developer: Clap Hanz Games / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Played on: PlayStation Vita / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Mild Suggestive Themes]
Out of the many titles striving for realism that are available in the sports simulation genre, Hot Shots Golf is a series that hasn’t been afraid to shy away from the norm. Developed by Japanese studio Clap Hanz and published by Sony, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a cutesy, anime-styled take on the traditional sport of Golf.
The game offers single player modes, fierce online tournaments, and plentiful golfer characterization options to choose from. With solid but oftentimes monotonous gameplay, it’s no wonder that the game is called “Everyone’s Golf” in Europe and Japan.
If you have the slightest idea of how golf works (or have played it before), then you’ll find yourself pretty comfortable while playing Hot Shots Golf.
Throughout the single player modes, you’ll play traditional rounds on scenic courses spread across five different golfing clubs. Each club has its own theme, featuring ocean views, sandy deserts and green mountain ranges.
The way the game is played is rather simple. You line up to take your shots using a full range of clubs that you can upgrade and unlock as you go, and swing normally or with a limited number of power shots. Power shots will reach farther distances, but will be more difficult to hit off the tee. Whether you choose a normal shot or power shot, the swing system is the same.
Using the traditional one button mechanic, you press the X-button to bring back your swing to the level of power you wish to hit at. Then, press X again when the meter crosses over a thin box – this will decide how precisely you strike the ball, determining how straight or curved of a path the ball decides to take.
It’s a simple timing mechanic with a simple outcome. Sure, your shots can be affected by environmental influences such as wind direction/speed and trees, but through it all, the success of your rounds are ultimately dependent upon your decision making and analysis of the situation, especially in the later courses.
There were times (like in real golf), however, that I found myself in frustrating circumstances that I just couldn’t putt, drive, or chip my way out of. For instance, some (but very few) levels are plagued with steep slopes near the green. Once in a while I’d accidentally miss the shot by a fraction and find my next four strokes spent chipping up a huge hill, only to be rewarded with an awful Triple Bogey. It’s like real golf, and as such, offers an experience caught somewhere between frustrating and silly.
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a fun game, especially when played in small chunks. The game doesn’t suit itself well for lengthy playthroughs, as the gameplay tends to get monotonous and repetitive over time. However, in short spurts, the game is a quick, quirky round of golf that fans of the sport of any age can enjoy.
Put simply, online and local multiplayer is just like the single player offering, but with friends and strangers. With the average of 20 golfers per lobby, each player plays simultaneously in traditional Hot Shots style, as opposed to taking turns (which, in theory could take hours). The rounds will not continue until every golfer has played the hole, which usually takes no more than a minute or two. This resulted in quick matches to see who could score best. In addition, the game also offers daily international tournaments for in-game credits, matching you against all in opposition.
It feels like a real-life golf tournament, so in that regard, the multiplayer is a success.
Where the multiplayer is not a success though, is through the multiplayer lobby system. Unlike the solo offering, you won’t find yourself just hopping onto a course willy-nilly. No, you’re required to go through the often frustrating process of finding an open lobby before even searching for open tournaments to play in.
Instead of placing you into a generic lobby with a list of connected players, the game opts into placing your customized little character into a small park where you can meet other connected players. You’re free to walk around with other players, talk, kick around loose objects like soccer balls, and admire each other’s accessories.
While doing this, you have the option to search for an open tournament – given there’s actually one open at the time. Unfortunately, you’ll find that waiting times to get into these tournaments are between 5 and 30 minutes. This happens every single time you enter a lobby, and will usually prevent you from hopping into a multiplayer match quickly.
On top of that, the wait time is over a minute and a half just to get the game set up for play, time you’ll spend staring at a list of other players.
Whether the goal behind this constraint was to encourage pre-game socializing or just prevent server overload, the decision to force this lobby and wait time upon players isn’t exactly a commendable one.
While I commend the developer for its attempt to try something different with multiplayer lobbies, it ends up causing more impatience than satisfaction—especially for someone who just wants to get in a match and get out.
Visuals & Sound
Hot Shots Golf certainly isn’t a bad looking game. The characters and environments are smooth and simple all around, and the cartoony aesthetic was a worthy choice to couple with the quirky gameplay style.
The environments, while eye-poppingly colorful, are a tad simple at times. While some courses are long and winding with plenty of background objects to fill in the gaps, some courses feel like smaller plots of green with no context to surround you with. It should also be noted that textures aren’t terribly impressive and are sometimes muddy when zoomed in close. Though the game’s lighting and overall design are good, it’s a bit disappointing given the horsepower the Vita boasts.
While there’s little dialogue in the game, there’s much to appreciate with the simple but fitting jazzy soundtrack. Quiet and infrequent backdrops fill both the pre and post-game menus – leaving the actual gameplay music-less. A great choice, given the fact that (once again, just like in real golf), taking shots requires strategy and quiet contemplation.
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a game that simultaneously embraces simplicity and challenge. While some of the game’s tournaments will easily earn you first place trophies, many of the more challenging courses will allow victory to slip through your fingertips before you can even pick up the right club. Last time I checked, that’s what games were about – a healthy combination of fun and brutal difficulty.
Despite the hurdles of getting into a multiplayer match, the game is quite at home on a mobile device like the Vita.
If you enjoy a game with simple pick-up-and-go golfing mechanics, don’t mind a hefty challenge from time to time, and love to customize your characters from head to toe, then Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is worth picking up for your PlayStation Vita.