Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational Review (PS Vita)

The PlayStation Vita doesn’t have much going for it in the way of sports, but that’s likely to change over the next few months as developers get a hang of Sony’s new handheld hardware.  And perhaps Sony has went ahead and set the bar for how sports games should be on the system with their launch day release of Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, a game that looks deceptively simple but, surprise, actually has some great golf behind it.

Granted, this series has always been this way, ever since Clap Hanz took over development for the departed Camelot.  The team knows its way around a simplistic golf gameplay system, yet also knows how to make it last by adding the necessary features to keep players coming back for more.  World Invitational may be the most stacked Hot Shots Golf game to date when it comes to prolonged features.

Probably where you’ll spend most of your time is Challenge Mode, a place where you’ll work through a series of objectives in the hopes of snagging some gold stars and increasing your golf reputation.  Some of these challenges can be quite daunting, especially when it comes to asking for precision.  There are times you can miss the target by a hair just because you read the wind wrong, or missed the window of hitting the ball perfectly by just a hair.  But practice makes perfect, as a game of this nature will tell you, and when you’re finally given that gold star reward, you feel a sense of accomplishment.  Always good.

As for the gameplay itself, it still relies on the “three-tap” system.  You hit the button once to begin your swing, hit it again for the power you want to use, and then hit it a third time for the accuracy of your shot.  It’s a great system, and it’s made even better here with the inclusion of PlayStation Vita touch features, such as setting up a landing marker or zooming in on your target to get an idea where the ball will go.  Remember, wind and club selection play a huge part in this game.  If you want to get it on the green, take everything into consideration.

Is there anything negative in the way the game plays?  Only when it comes to the Extra Power Shot.  For some inexplicable reason, to really pull these off, you need to time how you tilt your system like a pro, moving it upwards at the right time of your swing to execute it.  Really, you’ll probably just forget about this feature and rely on the usual Power Shots.

Gameplay quirks aside, Hot Shots Golf has a lot to offer.  Besides quick matches and Challenge mode, you can also partake in competitions with friends through Ad Hoc, with up to eight joining in a group.  You can even hop online through the PlayStation Network and challenge 30 others for golfing supremacy, through both regular and National Daily Tournaments.  Scoring a high rank on the leaderboards provides an excellent amount of satisfaction, and makes redeeming the separated Online Pass activation code worthwhile.

As for the presentation, it’s typical Hot Shots.  The course design in itself is outstanding, modeled after something you’d find in a typical Tiger Woods golf game.  The characters, mostly super-deformed types with cutesy stances and golfing styles, aren’t too distracting, though some folks may think they’re best suited for a “kiddie” golf game – though, obviously, Hot Shots is meant for all ages.  The in-game music is all right, but some of the voice samples get a little too squeaky for their own good.  Did we really need the cute girls to screech about their bogies even though the on-screen prompts already told us, in clear letters, that that’s how we fared?

Even with the occasionally annoying audio and the even more annoying Extra Power Shot system, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a superb introduction of the sport on the PlayStation Vita.  The gameplay, though nothing entirely new, is easy to adapt to, the courses look really good on the Vita screen, and the modes, particularly Challenge and the online-supported ones, will keep you hitting the links for some time.  This is the best way to work on your golf game.  Leave your real clubs in the closet.