Tuesday, June 7, 2005
Years ago, when I used to work at a game store, my managers were completely obsessed with Hot Shots Golf 3 for the PS2. I had never played this series, and couldn't understand why they would choose to play this game over the amazing Tiger Woods series. After all, Tiger had the great analog control system, while Hot Shots had the old-school "power meter" style. What could possibly be so fun about Hot Shots Golf?
I completely understand now. Upon receiving Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee for the PSP, I went from a stranger to the series to a huge fan who has played 6-8 hour marathons of the game for several days in a row. It isn't so much one specific thing that makes it great, it's the way everything comes together in such a perfect portable package.
Immediately upon starting the game, you'll notice that HSG has an unmistakable charm about it. The graphics are bright and vivid, the characters are funny, and there's a bevy of goofy costumes and accessories to be found. Everything down to the little "Kplunk" and "Splish" bubbles that appear above your ball to indicate sounds screams personality and a certain uniqueness in style.
The bulk of HSG:OT lies in the single-player Challenge mode. This mode has you climbing through the ranks (10 in all) by playing through various tournaments and matches against rival golfers. Almost every completed event will gain you a variety of rewards. Most will win you an accessory or clothing item, and these vary from scarves to a wind-up prop to put on the back of your golfer. Other rewards directly improve performance. You'll level up different attributes for your character the more you play with them, as well as unlock higher-class clubs and balls (you'll even unlock a frying pan that you can use as a club). HSG:OT features 10 different likable characters. You'll start with two, and unlock more as you defeat them in special "VS" matches.
There is also a Loyalty system in place that rewards you for sticking with certain characters. For example, let's say I play as Rio quite a bit. Every time I beat an event, a heart meter will fill up, and my Loyalty level rises when it's filled completely. This gives your character access to different techniques and abilities while on the course. It was always annoying in golf games to lose a lengthy 18-hole tournament without any progress made at all. Hot Shots Golf sidesteps that problem by filling your Loyalty meter regardless of whether you win or lose. The only downside to this system is that it makes you want to play with only one character. I had Rio levelled up so much that it seemed like backtracking to try to play as another character. Why pick the new golfer I just unlocked, when he can't do all the special shots and abilities that my Rio character can? Fortunately, this does improve replayability in the long run, as it gives players a reason to play through the game with every character.
Actual gameplay seems simple at first, but the complexities of the system become apparent the more you play. Basic shots are accomplished by the basic "X to start meter, X to set power, X to set impact" system, but experienced players know there's way more that you can do. If you accidentally set the power too low, you can rectify this by hitting Triangle instead of X to set the impact. Likewise, Circle will make your shot a little less powerful if you set it too high. Holding a direction on the D-pad while setting the impact will affect spin, and it's also possible to do "Super Sidespins" by doing a left-right or right-left combination. Each character has a set number of Power Shots available to them, and this number increases in correlation to your Loyalty level.
HSG:OT does an amazing job of never becoming frustrating or annoying in any way. Some golf games force you to watch your opponent every time he steps up to the tee. HSG allows you to skip this if you just want to get on with the game. Load times are almost non-existent. I'm really struggling to come up with any significant complaints about this game, which is a testament to how polished it is.
The amount of replay value in this title is tremendous, as it takes a very long time to progress through the ranks and unlock everything. There are six courses in all, but the game mixes it up by using 9-hole events and mirrored courses. All of the courses have their own distinct feel, and they're all extremely well-made. Unlocking every costume and accessory, levelling up every character, and achieving the top rank of HSG Star would take an absurd amount of hours, making this game a definite "buy, don't rent." It's great for pick-up-and-play portable gaming, as a nine-hole VS match can be completed in under seven or eight minutes easily. Even if you somehow accomplish every single-player feat, there's always multiplayer for up to eight players. If you've ever even remotely enjoyed a golf game, or even if you've never played one, Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee should be a required addition to any PSP owner's library.
First Play: B+
Last Play: A
Overall: 93% A