Hot Shots Golf Fore! Review (PS2)
Back in 1998, video game golfing was given a much need shot in the arm when gamers witnessed a revolutionary title called "Hot Shots Golf" for the PlayStation. It proved that golf games didn't need to have realistic courses or golfers, and it showed them that golf need not be a serious sport to be a fun game. It was very well received and all three installments of the "Hot Shots" series have eventually become part of Sony’s Greatest Hits lineup on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2.
It has now been a couple of years since the third installment of the series on the PlayStation 2, and since then, EA Sports and Microsoft have added very good entries into the video game golf market. "Hot Shots Golf 3" was extremely similar to the first two titles from the PlayStation, so similar that a lot of the reviewers gave it a very average to low score, even though the formula still worked and it still sold copies. Now, it's 2004, and the latest "Tiger Woods" has just released; "Links" (only for Xbox) is still fresh in gamers' minds - and this makes for a tough market for "Hot Shots Golf FORE" to succeed in.
First, you'll create a profile name, and all stats associated with the game will be linked to this name - unless, of course, you start a new one along the way. "Hot Shots Golf FORE" is unique in that you are rewarded points for how you play to spend on various things. It's sort of like a golf RPG of a sort - except instead a "building up" your character, you'll add to the available golfers that you are allowed to use (only by beating them), shot adjustments, and caddies.
The single player modes don’t appear or perform like they would in a typical game. All the single player modes except Training all go towards building up your points that you earn to unlock different golfers and items. In the Versus mode, you'll go head-to-head against available opponents in a 9-hole match play game. Later in this mode, your opponent may elect to mandate certain rules, such as you must play on a certain course, or by giving you (or your opponent) penalty strokes for hitting a tree or landing in the sand (landing in the rough is the last rules altering option). These adjustments make what used to be a very easy mode a little more interesting and challenging. Don’t take the early stages for granted, as they may make things difficult for you.
Tournament mode has you competing against 29 other AI players (you don’t watch them play like you do in Versus mode) for the top spot on the leaderboard. Unlocking courses will be accomplished through this mode, and there are 12 different courses to play on. In addition to these, there is a Short Course mode and a 9-hole course for you to conquer. Mini-Golf is also back, and means more than it did last time around - you are rated on how you do on the Mini-Golf course.
There is plenty to start off with for the solo player in "Hot Shots Golf FORE". That's not all it has to offer, though. Multiplayer modes on the PS2 consist of Match Play and Stroke, and the Short Courses are available for up to four players to play on. The players can be a mix of humans and AI-controlled golfers, using up to four controllers (if the number of controllers is less then the number of players, then someone will need to share controllers). In Multiplayer, you cannot earn points, so basically Mutliplayer is played just for fun. While that may be OK once everything is unlocked, it seems kind of useless in the early stages - as no one really is playing for anything. I would have liked for my son’s profile to have been able to be built up in points while playing against me so that he could close the gap on our differences. Instead, all we have available is what I have unlocked and we just play for fun. Unfortunately, this really detracts from the offline Multiplayer mode.
Online play is finally available for the 'Hot Shots Golf' series. The Japanese version of "Hot Shots Golf FORE" was a major hit, and that even included a pay-to-play feature. Here in the United States, you'll not only get online play, but it is free as well. Whereas the Japanese version had thousands upon thousands playing online, I was met with no more then a couple hundred people at any given time. There is a reality is setting in as an avid PS2 player - Xbox Live is so dominant over the PlayStation 2 online that it is hurting all online-enabled games that come out for the PS2. Online play starts by picking which profile you are going to use online, then creating a name to go with it to be identified as online. All name creation is very limited in the amount of characters. I couldn’t create "Walleye" for my user name offline or "RustedWalleye" for online (instead, I had to resort to "Rusted" off and "RustyWalleye" online). While it's a minor beef, it is livable, and also limits some of the garbage that can be seen with some user names on other games.
Once online, you'll have a choice among the different lobbies available. Typically, all the players online will be on the opening page and you shouldn’t have to scroll, but there is room to have thousands of players in the lobby at any given time. The game modes available are straightforward. You'll have a choice of Tournament mode or Rival mode on any of the 12 courses the host has available to them. Up to 50 players can log into one single game of Tournament mode. Rival mode is very similar to Versus mode, in that you are playing against another opponent head-to-head and you actually get to witness their every shot. The options that your opponents can choose to alter the game in Versus mode are also available here to the host online. In addition to that, the host can set the amount of time between holes as well. This is the one downside of the game - it can take quite a while to play if the maximum time is set. When there are a lot of players playing, it can be quite interesting watch the results populate like a real life event right before your eyes. One major positive in "Hot Shots Golf FORE's" online community is that these are some of the calmest, nicest online players I have seen in an online video game. I have not encountered one person I'd hate to play. That is not to say they're not there, but I have played enough that I that the percentage of unpleasant or vulgar players is extremely low.
The graphics in "Hot Shots Golf FORE" are very simplistic, yet extremely complicated. The characters are large and highly detailed, but the level of the graphics is very dated, for lack of a better word. Basically, the characters really haven’t changed since the first incarnation; they just have been detailed a little more and use a little more of the graphics power the PS2 exhibits. It's nowhere near close to what the PS2 might be capable of. The game doesn’t look bad by any stretch, however, as the courses are just as detailed as they have ever been. You will see all kinds of different scenery, including moving scenery in trees that move with the wind (and I swear with the strength of the wind), on down to just little subtle features, like insects or animals on the course.
All the characters that have been in past games are here, as well as a couple of surprises, like Jak and Dexter and Ratchet and Clank, four of Sony’s newer adventure gaming characters that definitely are aimed at the younger crowd. There are a ton of stereotypes that the Japanese think Americans want to see. While not overly crude, some of them may upset a couple people, so be forewarned if stereotyping offends you.
The audio in "Hot Shots Golf FORE" shines. The sounds are a major highlight. The player dialogue is a treat to listen to and the noises on the courses are well placed, and instrumental in making you feel like you are actually at the location of the golf course. Even the musical score fits the series to a tee (no pun intended). Simply put, the audio is stellar.
At a time when the other golf games are going to analog swings, "Hot Shots Golf FORE" stays with what has always worked for them - the three-press method of swinging. Press a button to start your swing, again to set the power and lastly to set the accuracy. It sounds very simplistic doesn’t it? Well one of the competitors is using an analog swing and I can shoot 15-under in a round easily, right out of the box with very few upgrades. In "Hot Shots Golf FORE", you're going to have to work extremely hard to pull off the same feat out of the box with minimal unlocking of characters, even on the easiest course. Is this to say the game is extremely difficult? Not at all - it's is a blend of easy and difficult all mixed into one. The harder courses are much less forgiving if you miss, and they are much more rewarding when you make the perfect shot. Speaking of the perfect shot, Super Shots are a new addition. These are accomplished by pressing a direction during your power press, and then the opposite direction when the accuracy press is made. If performed exactly at the right time, you'll get a super shot. If it is not performed at the right time, then a regular shot will be made. All in all, the swing mechanics worked before and still work now, with a few added twists to make them seem slightly new.
The physics in "Hot Shots Golf FORE" are definitely the one thing that sets this game apart from the other games. It's definitely arcade at heart, and it doesn’t want to be anything but. That’s not to say the physics aren't accurate - because for the most part they are - but they can also be a little exaggerated with the clubs and balls you earn while playing. The putting system is still one of the best. It shows you the break of the green with dots flowing in the direction of the break. The faster the dots move, the more extreme the break.
The AI in "Hot Shots Golf FORE" also is improved. Things are not as easy as they have been in the past. Sure, you will move through the first couple golfers rather easily, but in years past I never lost a match play challenge. This year, I lost one very early. Maybe it was a fluke, but I'm finding that it's taking a lot longer to beat each of my opponents as well. All Versus mode play is now only 9 holes, as opposed to the 9 and 18-hole mixture of the past.
All of the points you earn while playing the single player modes can be used to buy new items in the "Shop". These include new caddies, new backgrounds, loading hints & tips, as well as different types of clubs and balls that have special features associated with them. New this year is the addition of a Beginner’s club. This club allows anyone to play the game with just a single or double button press. This was perfect for my two year old to play, as all he wants to do is feel like he is doing something, and in doing so can have fun at the same time while really not having to try. The downside to using this club is that all special hits are disabled. All you do is set your aim and your power - and that is it.
"Hot Shots Golf FORE" is a game that may not get a lot of attention from the gaming press. It isn't perfect by any stretch, but it does do a lot of things very well. It's simplistic in the initial stages, but deep down, this is a fun, surprisingly deep game that can keep you interested for quite a while. Now while this formula will not be for everyone, especially the serious golf gamer, it will do the job very well for those that are out to simply have some fun when they play - and that person is exactly who this game is made for.