Hot Shots Golf: World International Review
Hot Shots Golf has never received the acclaim it deserves. Or rather, it has never been recognized as the surprisingly realistic experience it has always been. Most just see the cutesy exterior and dismiss it as arcade-y or dumbed-down for the sake of a younger audience. But the truth of the matter is that one has to consider most everything a real golfer would have to consider, from wind direction and speed to club selection and the lie. And you’re rewarded for timing, accuracy, and overall strategy.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest (been wanting to do that for a while), I have to say that Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a game I can’t put down. Why? Because much like Wipeout 2048, it’s an installment the die-hard followers are gonna love. It’s just so appreciated.
Graphically, this is one of the best-looking Vita titles available at launch. If you think I’m just blowing smoke here, catch a few gameplay trailers and examine those screenshots. You’ll see a huge amount of colorful, charming detail, and the recognizable Hot Shots flair that the world’s biggest cynic would find amusing and pleasant. If you put the environment under the microscope, however, you’ll catch some blurriness and there are some less-than-flattering camera angles.
But technically, the game is more than solid. It absolutely is a showcase for the PlayStation Vita and shouldn’t be ignored due to its family friendly image. The audio isn’t particularly special but again, it’s vintage Hot Shots, as we have the voices of the players and caddies, which are lighthearted and often comical. The soundtrack is okay; there are some nice pieces of orchestral music, but they seem a tad underplayed. Then again, this is golf; i.e., the quietest sport in existence. But anyway, the graphics and sound won’t disappoint.
Perhaps the first thing on the agenda is a clarification— Don’t assume that World Invitational isn’t a full, complete production just because it’s a portable game. We’re talking about the powerful new Vita, after all. This is a full-fledged Hot Shots like the last PS3 iteration, Out of Bounds. You have the tournaments, characters to defeat (and thereby unlock), a shop to purchase new clubs, balls, and other equipment and goodies, and several beautifully designed courses.
As for control, fans of the traditional three-tap swing method will be happy. The game offers two stroke styles; the first is essentially the same mechanic we’ve seen since the franchise’s inception. The only difference is that instead of a straight bar, the bar is curved, which actually makes it a little more intuitive. You tap the X button once to start the swing, tap it a second time to set the power, and tap it a third time for accuracy, attempting to get as close to the little white line as possible. Too soon, it’s a slice; too slow, you’ve hooked it.
The other system is similar but instead of trying to hit the line, a circle appears over the ball and when it shrinks to about the size of the ball, you hit X. I found this a little disconcerting as you sort of lose sight of that little red circle as it gets smaller. Besides, having cut my teeth on the traditional system for years, I invariably ended up using that one and it works just fine. It’s a little tough seeing that tiny white line – I think the meter itself could be bigger – but once you get the hang of it, this is definitely a solid, reliable swing mechanic.
I have a few small issues. The first involves the production itself; while I’m plenty satisfied with the result and I always love this series, I have to admit that this one feels just a tad light. What I said above about World Invitational being a full production is true, but I mean there’s really nothing besides the tournaments and general stroke play. You have to play certain characters in a one-on-one match to unlock them but that’s old hat as well. I sorta miss other things, like mini golf, and I thought more could’ve been done here.
Secondly, I keep hoping Clap Hanz will produce a Hot Shots game that isn’t so damn finicky around the cup. As usual, unless the ball is dead center and at exactly the right speed, it probably isn’t going in. Lip-outs are frustratingly common; it’s a standard failing of this franchise that I’ve bemoaned for a decade now, but I guess it’s just part of the established physics. On the plus side, it really forces you to become a master green-reader when it comes to putting. It'll take some practice if you're a novice.
As for the touchscreen functions, they’re decent but not altogether necessary. You can get additional information on the course and the current shot by using the front and rear touchscreens, for instance, but most of the game will be used with the basic controls. You can also tilt the Vita to get a panoramic 360-degree view if you so choose. It’s actually really cool that such features are here and although they don’t add a heck of a lot to the overall experience, they certainly don’t detract from it. Whimsical little touches, I’d like to call them.
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is great. Specifically, it’s great for the fans. I find it interesting that the second game I review for the Vita (the first was the aforementioned Wipeout 2048) seems to stick to its own winning formula, and simply produce a really good portable installment in a long-running series. In this case, though, I think a little more could’ve been done; a little more in the way of innovation and freshness. Because even a die-hard follower like me felt a touch a ho-hum going through the events.
But on the whole, it’s Hot Shots, and that’s what matters. It’s a trend this week! Wipeout, Twisted Metal, Hot Shots…they’re all rewarding their fans by being what they’re supposed to be.
The Good: Brilliant, charming graphics. Sound is clean and appealing. Traditional swing mechanic still works extremely well. Touchscreen and tilt features are cool, if not crucial. Classic Hot Shots experience from front to back. Full, satisfying production.
The Bad: A few lingering eccentricities. Control isn’t always perfect. Not enough done to make it feel new.
The Ugly: “No way I missed that putt. You’re *&^$% kidding me.”
2/16/2012 Ben Dutka