Review: Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational

HotShotsGolfVita

Like Lumines, the Hot Shots Golf series was always the comfort food of the PlayStation Portable lineup. No matter how many Next-Big-Thing titles ended up falling short of expectations, you could always count on a round of sunny, funny arcade golf to remind you why the system was worth keeping charged on your nightstand.

Like PSP, like Vita. Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational may take most of its cues from its bigger PlayStation 3 brother, but this is the same surefire formula that’s now as familiar to gamers as a “Hey, What’s Wrong With Tiger Woods?” story on ESPN is to golf fans.

Not that Clap Hanz’ long-running series has ever had much in common with Tiger or his more realistic golf videogame simulations. In the world of World Invitational, it’s the same as it ever was: uber-cutsey golfers stride to the tees of beautifully rendered courses, triple-click the shot meter and thrill to the rainbow joy of a “NICE SHOT” from an overenthusiastic caddie. The Challenge tournament events are easy to ace until suddenly, they’re not. And just as it’s possible to lose an event you thought you had sewn up with an untimely out-of-bounds approach shot off the rustic windmill on the 17th hole, it’s also routinely possible to drift to the top of the leaderboard simply by consistently making par while the rest of the field does its best Greg Norman impression. Pulling off the perfect chip-in or sidespin shot—complete with signature blue streak–on some of the game’s more advanced courses is a great reminder of why Hot Shots is so damn fun. And so consistently addictive.

That addiction gets supersized with World Invitational‘s online modes, which couldn’t be easier to use. Every day, there are three international tournaments you can join, pitting your skills against hundreds of other duffers across the globe. You only get one crack at each event, so bombing the first hole isn’t recommended. Eventually, there’ll be an online lobby that will allow for player matching, but it was still under construction as of this week.

There are touchscreen elements here, yes, but they’re nothing like the swipe-and-swing stuff found in Tiger Woods 12 on the iPad/iPod touch. Instead, they’re more peripheral and/or frivolous. For instance, you can exercise your God muscle and pinch the front and back screen to pick up your poor avatar, Dungeon Keeper style, and reposition them on the tee. (You can also tap the screen to harass and startle the bears and squirrels that have the temerity to trespass on the fairway—now there’s a mini-game for you!) On a more effective and strategic level, there’s a camera icon you can tap on the right hand side of the screen to change your view and get additional info to help nail your shot. You can also use the Vita’s motion sensor to scan the course for hazards. That’s smart use of the Vita’s new tech options.

You’ll need to watch out that your attempts at executing backspin don’t run afoul of the left analog stick, which wasn’t an obstacle on the PSP. If you’d like a little more challenge than the standard three-button press model of swing management, you can opt for an alternative method in which you click to fill the meter, then click again when a shrinking circle hits a target reticule. The advantage here is that the reward for perfect impact is a thunderous animation that makes you feel nothing short of godlike.

And of course, the unlockables abound—courses, characters, costumes, clubs and balls galore. As a fan of the wacky accessories, pets and costumes that accompanied every win in the PSP Open Tee games, it’s disappointing to see that feature again relegated to dressing up a lobby doll (a lobby doll? really?) with tchotchkes dispensed from a gumball machine. It also feels unfair that, after obliterating and unlocking the latest VS. character in a three-hole smackdown, you then have to spend 30,000 of your hard-earned event points to purchase him before you can use him. Same goes for the game’s courses. Who’s running this country club—Ticketmaster?

Still, it’s awfully hard to feel chapped when everything’s so sunny, slick and beautifully presented. Aesthetic complaints can’t ding the overall appeal of another solid entry in the HSG series. Slap on a smile and tee it up again.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ The Hot Shots formula—sunny, accessible arcade golf—birdies another platform
+ Daily tournament events (potentially) pit you against the world
+ While they aren’t fully integrated, touch elements make sense

Cons:
– Dressing up a lobby doll isn’t as fun as sending your golfer out to the links wearing a Zorro mask and fairy wings
– Having to spend event points to unlock new characters you’ve just beaten feels like a cheap double dip

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Clap Hanz
Release Date: 2/14/2012
Genre: Sports – Golf
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-30
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.