Golf is a serious sport; it requires immense amounts of mental focus, conditioning, training, practice and a generous dollop of luck. As such, it’s no wonder the sport is generally viewed as boring. It’s hard for a gamer to pick up a golf game and have fun with it, so that’s where the Hot Shots Golf franchise comes in. For years, it’s drawn people into its golf games with characters full of personality and gameplay that is both easy to learn and hard to master. With the launch of the Vita, Hot Shots Golf introduces a new installment: World Invitational.
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, like all Hot Shots Golf games, is about starting you out with nothing and then working your way up to a true golf master unlocking everything else as you go along. You start out with only two playable characters and a few different clubs and balls to use. Each character has their own statistics, such as power, control, impact and spin, and each club and ball adds or detracts to these statistics. As you play the game, both offline and online, you’ll earn points that will allow you to buy anything from a new character to a soundtrack. The longer you play as a certain character, the more loyalty you’ll earn. Gain enough and that level goes up, granting new perks.
The meat of the game lies in the single player campaign called Challenge. Challenge is comprised of ranks from Beginner to Platinum, and reach rank consists of different events. Most of these events have you playing either nine or 18 hole rounds against 19 other competitors, but in order to advance to the next round, you need to win a versus match against a character who, if defeated, will become unlocked and available for purchase in the store. These events also contain hidden stipulations, such as winning with three bogeys or winning with an eagle. If these stipulations are met, a crown will be awarded. Earn enough crowns, and another versus match will be unlocked. There’s plenty of content available just in Challenge mode alone, and trying to win crowns only increases the replayability.
If you’re new to Hot Shots Golf, you might find the game a little daunting at first. Success in this game relies on being able to hit the ball well, and the shot meter takes a good amount of practice to use. You must first press X to get the shot meter to fill up, X again to stop and as the cursor flies back down, you have to hit X one final time as closely to the point of impact as possible. Doing so too early or too late will result in a hook or slice. Fortunately, the starting courses are relatively easy to handle, so you should get the timing down well before the harder courses set in. Then, it becomes a serious matter of planning your shots.
Before you even think about swinging your club, you first must survey the land, and Hot Shots’ camera gives you a multitude of ways to do this. You can zoom down the course, view it from above or from the hole end and even use the Vita’s camera to move it around and view a point of interest from all angles. There a lot of other factors to consider before teeing off as well, such as the elevation (easily checked by tapping on the rear touch pad), the wind speed, the weather condition and even the grade of the fairway. Landing the ball in the rough or a bunker only makes it that much harder for your next shot.
If you’re a Hot Shots Golf vet, you’ll have no problem acclimating to World Invitational, as very little has changed aside from being able to buy new kinds of shot meters. The Vita also makes use of its touch screen to let you drag the landing spot cursor around the course, adjusting your club selection when needed. If you’re a newcomer, however, you’re in for a crash course. Unlike the similar arcade golf franchise Pangya, World Invitational contains no tutorial modes. The digital manual doesn’t cover any of the more advanced techniques, and every so often, you’ll be given tips and tricks via loading screens well after you’ve discovered them on your own.
For the unprepared or uninitiated, there is a training mode that allows you to play on any course you’ve unlocked, but there is no sort of coaching whatsoever by the computer. This is useful, as the last couple of courses require the precision of a master, so practice makes perfect. Still, the game becomes very rewarding once it all clicks and you’re sinking birdies and eagles before your very own eyes. The competition will never get so far ahead of you that it’s impossible to come back, provided you merely keep your cool, and even characters in versus seem to completely botch their shots just to give you a chance to catch up.
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational contains a very attractive lobby for its online component, of which an online pass is required to access. In this lobby, you have a little avatar you can dress up with randomly dispensed accessories that you can purchase with points. You can then run around with him and interact with other characters and chat with them while you wait for the next tournament to start. There are a plethora of different tournaments you can enter, each having their own special conditions, but to keep the pace moving, you only have so much time to complete your turn as competition is not turn-based as with CPU versus matches. If you don’t feel like competing in real time, you can simply participate in one of three Daily International Tournaments, pitting your best score against the scores of the world for that day.
There might be better looking launch games on the Vita, but that doesn’t mean World Invitational is a slouch. Bright colors make the landscape of the courses very inviting, and the textures, at least from a good distance, are nice and sharp. The water effects are done well, but obviously they won’t be as impressive as Uncharted: The Golden Abyss. Special effects such as red and blue trails of your ball being smashed and spiraling shots as your ball rides the pin down into the hole deliver that Hot Shots Golf arcade feel the series is known for. Every once in a while, though, there are glitches where the ball will disappear, and there are a few frame rate stutters and object draw-ins if you get the camera in a certain angle as the ball’s being driven.
The game sounds about as good as it looks. The music contains tracks of peaceful and inspiring natures. The music for the online lobby is cute and lighthearted. The sound effects are done well, and it’s a very satisfying feeling hearing the metal of your club whack the golf ball hard when you nail the point of impact on your drive. Wind blowing, grass being cut, streams flowing and even the ambiance of occasional animals really help establish the feeling of peace being out on the green can induce. The only hampering aspect of the game’s audio is the cheesy voice acting-accents from golfer and caddy alike just sound awful.
If you love Hot Shots Golf and have or will be purchasing a Vita, World Invitational needs to be among your top choices for launch game pick ups. The single player campaign contains a wealth of content, and online play and Daily International Tournaments will keep you returning well after you’re tired of Challenge. If you’re new to the series, be forewarned. The final courses are relentless and may turn you away from finishing the game, but for the dedicated gamer, they are a welcome challenge. It’s hard to recommend many Vita games with a forty dollar price tag, but Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational scores a hole in one in this regard.
Good learning curve for most of the game | Charmingly goofy characters | Excellent course graphics
Final courses are excessively difficult | Terrible character accents
Kirk Lundblade is an Electrical Engineering student and recovering World of Warcraft addict who uses a vast panoply of new video games, science fiction novels, and Star Trek reruns to assuage the loss of his Tauren Druid. His first video game was Pokemon Red Version, and he's maintained a love for RPG and strategy games ever since.
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