For the most part, golf games don't generate the kind of buzz that other sports games do. Be that as it may, Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee
is definitely worth getting excited about. The game plays like a song by taking the fundamentals of golf and charming the hell out of them. This is a personal favorite on the PSP thus far. Everything that made console versions great has been scaled to near perfection, making the handheld experience a real treat.
Open Tee has three types of game modes: Single player, Multiplayer and Training mode. In the basic Single Player, Stroke Play allows you to play on the courses that are unlocked. There's also a neat little game called Putting Challenge that takes you to the greens of each course to putt and compete on short- or long-distance hole shots. All of these game modes can be played against the computer or with friend over a Ad Hoc wireless connection. Then there's Challenge Mode lets you compete in a regular season with tons of tournaments and a chance to unlock more characters and items to customize them with. The customization aspect gets pretty deep as players can give their characters different hairstyles, hats, outfits and other accessories. They can also upgrade their golf clubs and golf balls for better performance on the courses.
Your swing is executed according to three button taps. There's a meter at that bottom of the screen to determine the force of the swing and accuracy with which you connect to the ball. By pressing the directional pad during the impact of the club, you can put a spin on it and affect how it flies or rolls once it touches down. You can set the shot mode to "Auto" so that the impact gets handled by the computer. When you're right near the hole, a grid shows up with sliding markers that helps you see the slope in the green.
Playing the game is simple, and yet hard as hell at times. Just because it looks innocent and non-threatening doesn't mean you can take the challenges for granted. Patience and genuine skill are required for success. When you're near the hole and it's time to putt, accounting for the relative slope in the green is vital, and tough to calculate. This gets harder when you start seeing variations in the slope of the terrain. And of course the farther you are from the hole, the more variations you'll see in the slope. This is a handheld game, but it renders the course with as much realistic scale as the console version. If you don't calculate the angle and force of your putt just right, the ball will come close to the hole, and then sail right past it or spin around the hole. It's true to the sport itself and it takes a while to actually learn the greens. But once that's accomplished, playing the game gets even more fun. Making the tough shots are so cool, especially with when you get to watch the characters' celebratory animations right behind them. Getting a gorgeous Birdie is a powerfully satisfying moment. I found myself cheering out loud when I finally pulled it off.
There are 10 golfers, six courses and 5 caddies. You start out with two golfers, and your caddies show-up as mere voices in the background instead of being on the links with you as in past games. So basically when you choose caddies you're really choosing an off-screen commentator. Hot Shots Golf Fore had over three times the characters and twice the number of courses, so players familiar with the series might feel the pickings are slim in Open Tee. Also Fore actually showed the caddie on-screen, running after your ball when it was hit. I personally miss that bit, but I'll live. The graphics are attractive, mostly in design rather than technical performance. Tiger Woods on PSP went for the realistic graphics and exquisite player models from the console version, and it has its problems with doing that. Hot Shots is more cartoonish, with simple characters and more contrasted textures. Nevertheless, the characters here have an appeal and endearing style of their own. They're miniature anime caricatures that inhabit a lush green world complete with chipping birds, obtrusive mountains, and hazardous lakes. They've retained most of the design of the Japanese version, a nice frill rarely seen in this series. Traditionally, SCEA and Clap Hanz change things around in the U.S. of the game because of the differences in cultural taste. But in Open Tee you can find little residuals: the characters are either very close or identical to the Japanese characters, and there's even stuff like the Japanese slang title of the game, "mingol", written on an unlockable trucker hat.
Beside the Training Mode that gives players an opportunity to brush up on their skills, there's multiplayer with Ad-hoc that comes fully-equipped to support 8 players. If the standard single player brings out the competitive monster in players, then multiplayer is just unadulterated evil. You can press a series of buttons while your opponent concentrates on their shot to rattle them a bit. Nothing feels better that pulling off a birdie while the opponent yells "fore" in the background. All the tension of a real, live game comes to bear. Best of all, there were no hiccups in the stream of play to interrupt the round in our multiplayer matches. Of course, it's not as if there's a ton of instant action or busy animation on the screen at one time to push the processor. Nevetheless, it's great to know that players can have a seamless competitive match when considering how critical concentration is to the game.
Now, Open Tee does have its wrinkles. For one, it takes forever to unlock characters and courses. You're first matches are spent unlocking tchotchke-like shades and watches. Yes, fine, it does style up your character. But if I'm eager to play with the old man with the conical hat on the cover of the box, I have to win dozens and dozens of holes. I want to hear what kinds of funny things everybody has got to say when they slice on the 8th hole or spin in and out of the cup. This game treats the regular cast as if they're all extra-secret characters. Why must I starve for 20 rounds, unlocking prizes that barely impact the experience of the game? This goes for multiplayer as well, and since there's only one hole open when the game begins, you will be spending a lot of time on those same front and back nines.
Secondly, there's no online mode. There is wireless multiplayer, PSP to PSP for up to eight, but no infrastructure mode to battle opponents across the country. It's especially disheartening when you consider the fact that Hot Shots Golf Fore, the last game in the series released on PS2, was able to accomplish online gameplay. Wireless online competition is quickly becoming a key feature of the PSP and it's a shame, since the North American version is coming out so much later than the Japanese version and even the launch here, that SCEA and Clap Hanz didn't find a way to get in there. There's also no stat tracking for your multiplayer games, and since many people will be playing their friends, it would have been nice for the game to keep records of how well everybody has done when playing together.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved