The Hot Shots Golf series is synonymous with the PlayStation brand. Every single PlayStation console, home and portable has been home to entries in the series with each one a little better than the last. I don’t believe anyone was surprised to see the latest title, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational (HSG:WI) featured as one of the launch titles for the PlayStation Vita. With all of the new features that Sony’s new handheld is bringing to the table, the question remains if the new Hot Shots Golf game will bring that same “freshness” to the series.
If you are new to the series, don’t walk into the Hot Shots experience expecting something similar to EA’s Tiger Woods’ games as this series isabout making the golfing experience fun than it is accurate. It does a decent job at recreating the techniques required for the sport, just with a bit of exaggeration. Although you have access to tools and equipment that can give you an advantage, you still have to apply some basic knowledge of the sport in order to succeed. Clubs that give you a boost in your driving power or your ability to add spin to the ball will only get you so far. The game also challenges you to read the wind direction and speeds as well as the terrain both on and off the green.
The one department that the game really excels in is its content; there is a ton to both do and unlock throughout this game. When you start off, you will only have access to 2 golfers and a single course. It will be up to you to both level up those starting golfers as well as unlock the numerous other golfers, clubs, balls, shot gauges, and courses featured in the game. These items are purchased using shot points that you earn while playing the game, either by performing quality shots and / or winning tournaments in the game’s challenge mode. You will earn these shot points in pretty much every mode of the game, which pushes you to play the game time and time again.
Being as though you need to play the game endlessly to acquire and unlock everything that the game has to offer, it makes sense that Clap Hanz has included a ton of modes for play in the game. You can hit the game’s 6 courses in a variety of ways; first off, each one is offered in standard, mirrored, 9-hole in, 9-hole out, short- and long-teed situations. Plus, you can play them in free play, with friends locally online and off, and in a variety of tournament situations. When you add in the fact that there are numerous course-modifiers to alter the experience (smaller cups, larger cups, gale force winds, severe weather, etc.), it is easy to keep the game feeling fresh regardless of the course you choose.
If straight forward golf begins to grow old, the game gives you a variety of challenges to complete as well. The challenge mode puts your abilities to the test in order to earn stars which are used to unlock 1-on-1 battles with many of the game’s locked characters. If you can earn a match with them, and take them down, they become available for you to purchase from the in-game shop. Don’t expect any memorable characters to become available though; just like the past games, all of the golfers featured here are simply semi-colorful caricatures of stereotyped arch-types that you will find on the golf course. Some of the character representations even border on being slightly racist. Seriously, the lineup includes a sporty, hard talking Australian, white female, a grungy, hard rock / spiked hair white guy, an overweight, Spanish-accent speaking gangster / thug, and a Japanese samurai... and these are just a few.
Sony is also extending the replay value of the game by offering daily online tournaments through the game’s network modes. These don’t offer you direct interaction with other players, but it gives you a chance to test your skills against the rest of the world on a scoreboard. These events rotate out each day (usually 2-3 offered), and reward you with tournament points which increase your online ranking(s). You only get one shots to post a score in these tournaments, so you have to make it count. I really like this feature but am worried about how long Sony and Clap Hanz will support the concept as the numbers of active participants already seems to be dwindling.
If interaction with living beings is something you desire, the game gives you access to an online lobby which allows you to chat it up with other fans of the series. For this mode, HSG:WI allows you to create a small avatar which you can decorate and dress to your liking to represent you in the chatting-world. Additional customization pieces including hats, glasses, hair-styles, and a variety of clothing options can be purchased at random through the in-game shop using your shot points. From within this world you can meet new friends and participate in user-created tournaments and matches. Overall this is a fun addition to the game that helps you find other people playing the game.
The fact that Clap Hanz made very little use of the various Vita capabilities is both a good and a bad thing for HSG:WI. On one hand, they didn’t make the common mistake of attempting to shoehorn in unnecessary touch or motion controls. Then again, this is a first generation title for Sony’s new handheld and if there was ever a time to experiment with what it can do, this would have been it. There is such a huge focus made in the game to offer different shot meters and alternative means of adjusting and controlling your character, why weren’t any experimental methods created that used the touch screen capabilities?
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any touch implementation featured in the game. You can interact with the various animals that cross your path(s) and use the front and back panels to pinch and move your golfer around the tee for positioning. The gyroscopic features are used sparingly as well, only coming into play as a means of getting a bonus power shot during your swing. The theme here appears to be “playing it safe” and that is exactly what the development team did with this version.
Visually, the game looks pretty nice, easily on par with the PlayStation 3 release in the series. There are a few visual issues that pop up with the shadows and the trees when things zoom in extremely close. Both look incredible pixilated and lack the details and animation that brings everything else in the game to life. The characters and environments are so crisp and utilize detailed animations, the fact that these visually-supportive items were neglected comes across as sort of lazy. Luckily, you don’t have to look at these things very often.
To summarize everything, Clap Hanz has basically played it safe with every aspect of this release. Everything about this first-generation Vita game has been taken from the tried and true Hot Shots formulas that they have been using for more than a decade. There is no mistaking it: this is Hot Shots Golf; your previous feelings about the series are a perfect indication of what you will think about this game. Fans of the series will find a polished game with plenty of content to keep them busy, especially on the go. Then again, if the formula didn’t work for you before, it surely isn’t going to now.