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PS Vita Review – Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational

December 30, 2011 Written by Heath Hindman

Once Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is in your hands, it’s easy to see why this is Japan’s best-selling Vita game so far: pure fun.

If you’ve played any Hot Shots Golf game before, you’ll feel right at home upon your first swing. If you haven’t, worry not, because this is still a highly accessible game for practically anyone. This has always been a great series for all comers, including those who don’t even like golf. World Invitational keeps this up, being realistic enough to still be a golf game, but definitely more on the arcade side of things, as it’s been these last 13 years. As they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The method of taking a shot hasn’t changed for this game, though there are some new minor tweaks and additions. Players can select from a variety of ways to hit the ball, for example. In the past, you’d hit a button to start the cursor moving along a power meter, hit it once for your power and when the cursor came back into a smaller meter, hit it again to determine your accuracy. That system can still be selected, but there are a few others that become available, which some players might prefer. Working to find what combination of character, clubs, and hit gauge works best is one of many fun experiments the player gets to mess around with while playing this.

World Invitational doesn’t use the front touch panel very much, but the rear touch panel can be used before taking a shot, to see exactly how far away certain spots are from the character. One can also tilt the Vita to get a better look at the ground and things. The technology is new and these features are neat, but they’re not game changers; I rarely use them and do just fine. In this way, it’s great for the hardcore who really wanna get into the new tech and are more into golf, but also stays quite friendly to the newcomer and the casual player.

While the consensus at launch time will likely be that Uncharted: Golden Abyss has the overall best graphics on the Vita, I’d submit for consideration that Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational might do the best job of showing off the high quality of the Vita’s screen. Its color palette is bright and perfectly chosen, its textures look good, and even with the system on the lowest brightness settings, World Invitational seems to illuminate the room. The series has always had a cartoonish charm about it and has never looked bad at all, but this entry really turns it up, and I can’t get over how good it looks. If you want to get a quick look at Vita’s best visuals, check out Uncharted, Virtua Tennis 4 and Hot Shots Golf.

Courses are well designed and look good, the designers did a great job of making the courses increasingly complex while not ridiculous. And since it’s a video game, they can get a lot more varied than the more realistic PGA-type golf games. You’ll always be excited to unlock a new course and see where in the world it takes you.

Gamers can play alone, against a local friend, online against PSN buddies, or online against the world in one of the Daily Tournaments. Single-player is smooth and efficient. Aside from the personal challenges, the player no longer watches the CPU characters make their plays. Players will take their shots, put it in the hole, see their score, and then see the overall score card which has their name as well as the simulated scores of 19 AI opponents. This seemed odd at first, but just getting the score at the end is enough, and after some play time in World Invitational, there’s no going back. It’s much more efficient this way and just as functional as before.

Completing rounds in both single player and online will earn the player some shopping points as well as affection for whichever character was used. Just as it was in the PSP entries of the series, spending the points in the shop on the myriad of clubs, golf balls, outfits, and other trinkets that become available is a fun little bonus.

Daily Tournaments are done well. It’s a bit of a hassle the way the online pass is set up, and I never even expected such a system on a portable to begin with, but after the code input, the online play is easily accessible and fun.

Players begin said online play by selecting which tournament (usually out of three) they want to play, and as they progress through, they’ll see where their score ranks in comparison with the thousands who’ve played the course already. For example, you’ll see that you’re number 2,904 out of 4,100 going into the fifth hole, but then double bogey and your butt drops to 3,797. Birdie the next hole and you might jump up to 3,210, and so on. It’s all very neat to watch as it unfolds during your run through the course.

There’s more to the online experience than just the tournaments, though. Players can customize a cutesy little avatar and walk around in the Visual Lobby and talk to fellow players, which almost becomes a different game in itself. The Japanese version of the keyboard uses Romaji converted into autofill options for the player to select, which works well enough. Where it runs into trouble is that the messages appear as speech bubbles above the characters, but only loom there for five seconds. This means some players might miss messages while they’re typing, as the keyboard takes up the whole screen. If you’ve even chatted with someone on any online program, you know that sometimes a message will appear while you’re typing. Just the same, the Visual Lobby serves its purpose in letting players meet, chat a little bit, create PSN friends, and move things towards the course. Lobby avatars can of course be decked out with unlockables. Elsewhere online, one can regularly check the leaderboards to find out who has spent way too much time on this.

The one problem I’ve found with the game is that sometimes it puts the player in a helpless position on the green. For example, if a player is 9 meters away from the hole, the character will be able to equip the putter and only the putter, which is fine most of the time. But about once per course, there will also be an incline to the putt which is impossible to overcome. Normally, if you have to putt uphill, you of course balance that out by adding more power to your swing, but if the putter is showing a maximum range of 10 meters and the hole is 9 meters away…that’s not happening if you’ve got a big incline. You have literally no chance of making that shot. You would actually have a better chance of making it if you were further away, because then the game would actually let you switch clubs and try for a chip-in. It’s a little bit frustrating when this happens, but in a game as lighthearted as Hot Shots Golf, it doesn’t diminish the experience much.

Hot Shots Golf is overall an outstanding game, bursting with fun, and enjoyable by gamers of all demographics. It’s great to play at home or on the go, alone or online, in short bursts or for several hours. To anyone picking up a Vita at launch, or later down the road, you can’t go wrong in grabbing Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational along with it.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Same brand of arcade-type, fun, just plain awesome golf this series is known for.

+ Beautifully put together, shows off Vita’s tech while not making it mandatory.

- Putting problems

8 out of 10

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