Hidden away in the Microsoft booth at E3 2013 was Powerstar Golf, one of several digital launch titles for the Xbox One. The game is borrowing quite liberally from the likes of Hot Shots Golf, Golf: Tee It Up and Outlaw Golf, but it also has some fun social wrinkles to make the formula feel fresh. Whether this game ends up being similar to Killer Instinct — in that it's free and has in-game purchases — or if it costs some money upfront, there seems to be more than enough charm and features to make it worth checking out.
The visuals have a sharp edge, reminiscent of The Incredibles, and there's plenty of splashy colors and impressive sun beams washing over the course. The characters seem to fit in with the previously mentioned games, as they are exaggerated caricatures that are meant to add a zany touch to the on-course action. The two selectable characters for the demo were a burly strength-based “man's man” and a female Japanese scientist who was more precision-based. Each character had a special skill off the tee, such as extra power or a magnet to hone in on the pin. There is also a “caddie ability” for each character, with the big guy getting a putt preview and the scientist able to skip the ball along the water.
The familiar three-click swing is the control method here, and toggling clubs, changing cameras and adjusting a shot happens in a similar way to Hot Shots or Golf: Tee It Up. The ball flight and spin felt good, with the game opting for realism in this areas over exaggerated bounces or insane distances. Putting uses the standard grid format, and you have to find just the right amount of power to roll one in, ala Tiger Woods.
All of this makes the game seem like just another entry in the zany golf genre, but the “cloud powered” features and social hooks twist things around a bit. Your best rounds are actually uploaded to the cloud, so friends and competitors can go after your best shots or round totals for bragging rights. Also, the game populates the course with markers on each hole, showing the closest approaches and best shots of your friends and worldwide competition. It actually gave me a bit of Burnout vibve, with challenges peppered throughout the game. The developers even talked about an award system, where you could potentially challenge your friends for in-game prizes and unlocks. Some of these items could even be won by your AI representation from the cloud, as friends might end up losing to your virtual self if your scores are hard to match.
As long as this game is priced right, it should be a great time for anyone who is into an arcade golf that's deeper than it looks. I dug the aesthetic of the game, and the gameplay seemed up to par with other peers in the genre. The social hooks look like they added some meaningful replay value as well. Look for the game on Xbox One in November.