Hot Shots Golf Fore!

SCEA's prized golfer has returned to the PS2, with more off-the-wall gameplay and online capabilities to boot!
Author: Kyle Sutton
Published: July 29, 2004
For years now, first-party developer Clap Hanz has been satisfying the yearnings of golf enthusiasts who like their game with a little less professional influence (a la the Tiger Woods franchise) and a little more lightheartedness by means of the Hot Shots Golf games. Cozy controls, lush, picturesque courses and a wacky array of characters have been a trademark of the series since its birth on the original PlayStation, and in the latest effort, Hot Shots Golf Fore!, boundaries are being pushed and risks are being taken, namely with the game's bold entry into the online world. We recently had the opportunity to give the Online Mode a run for its money, as well as test out a handful of the game's revamped and returning game features. We're pleased to say we're plenty satisfied with the results!

Going online seems like a natural evolution for the Hot Shots series. While putting your improved skills to the test in a tournament against numerous other CPU players in previous HSG efforts had an edge of competition, there's really no proper substitute to going 18 holes with a crew of real-life opponents. Addressing just this problem, HSGF! offers the remedy with its expansive Online Mode, and what awaited us was a customizable universe, made up of 20 or so lobbies in where players nationwide can create public or private games (in this case tournaments, although the final product will allow head-to-head games too) and fine tune them to their desires. This includes choosing a course, setting a difficulty, tweaking the points system and so on. Once a tournament is created, lobbyists can enter and exit the specific game as the please until the countdown clock hits zero or the maximum capacity of fifty players is reached. During the wait, you're able to chat with other gamers in the tournament, lounge on provided leather couches, enjoy complementary appetizers... well, chat with other gamers, at least. Once the tournament launches, the competition goes into full swing!

What feels so right about the online tournaments is the equal balance between interaction with fellow players and personal performance. On each hole, all of the pressure of pulling off a par or under is on you - no taunting players, no real-time chat, nada. Once you finally sink one in, you're taken back to the leaderboard, where viewable is yours and all of the other players' scores, as well as fun facts such as who nailed the longest putt, who encountered a sand trap/water hazard/rough, the choice character, club and ball of each participant, and more. While you wait for your opponents to finish up the hole, you're able to utilize the handy, if not a bit limited, message feature to rant the others about how close you came to getting that Eagle or, say, try to justify getting a triple bogey on a Par 5.

Being ranked simply on your +/- score may be sufficient for the pros, but leave it to Clap Hanz to base scores on a point system that focuses more on crafty shots than number of strokes. While the less strokes you finish a hole in obviously earns you more points, neat little accomplishments such as chipping in a Birdie from the rough or having your ball take a water bounce before hitting dry land will reward you with bonus points. On the other hand, screw up and bury your ball in the sand and you'll have points deducted. A golfer who performs consistently well in HSGF! will likely see himself/herself in the front of the pack, yet the golfer who has the same skills yet can add a little style to their game will be the one securing the top spot in the leaderboard.

In addition to the enjoyable and competitive (can you believe it's both?) tournaments, Hot Shots Golf Fore! also allows players to take on a friend online, where pre-set yells and distractions are all fair game. If you'd prefer the game's offline experience, HSGF! still offers the same great modes that appeared in its predecessor, as well as the return of an old favorite. Going at it solo, players can compete in Tournament Mode to earn points for new gear, go head-to-head in Vs. Mode, polish their skills in Training Mode, or hit the Mini Games such as short courses and -- back by popular demand -- mini-golf! Points that are earned throughout gameplay can be used to shop for new clubs, balls, or whatever's needed to improve your game. As for multiplayer, HSGF! features both Stroke and Match Play, as well the Mini Games for a little divergence from the norm. Also featured is a neat Video Mode, where you're able to replay shots in which you exemplified your golfing prowess... or perhaps made a total fool out of yourself. We're a little disappointed not to see any new innovations in the offline gameplay, but hopefully the depth of the returning modes will make up for it.

On the course, Hot Shots Golf Fore! feels no different than it did in its previous installment. Driving once again employs the three-click system (or two-click, if you opt for Easy Mode), with the ability to utilize little add-ons like extra distance to your shot if performed correctly. Putting is in the same ballpark of familiarity, testing your judgement of inclines and slopes on the green and requiring you to adjust accordingly in order to sink your shot. While tried and true, the control system lacks any real improvement or enhancement, for example, one that would make it a bit harder to for even the masters to time those tee-offs right or nail those putts every time. Nonetheless, the slightest mistake can really cost you, making it essential to meticulously perfect your shots and adding a consistent challenge to the mix.

Where new additions are apparent is in the colorful roster of golfers and caddies, as 30+ new and returning characters are playable in the game. A few fresh faces we noticed were a lively samurai named Sam, a bubbly cheerleader by the name of Phoebe, and T-Bone, a Shaft wannabe, if we ever saw one. As SCEA recently announced, PS2 platform regulars Ratchet and Jak have been added to the list, with Clank and Daxter as their respective caddies. We ourselves can't wait to tee off as our favorite wrench-wielding Lombax and the silent turned deadly star of the Jak series. And hey, seeing their goofy sidekicks on the sidelines won't be too bad either!

Hot Shots Golf Fore! scores big in the graphical department, where the lush, detailed courses (13 in all this time around) and sensational camera angles are ever so present. Characters look as well animated as ever, and their various taunts and expressions on the courses just drip with hilarity. The sound department seems to be coming along nicely as well. Be it upbeat or tropical sounding, the music backs up the gameplay in perfect fashion, while character dialog is once again assorted and rich. That said, we could do without the random, irritating comments of a certain underage caddy...

From what we've experienced, Hot Shots Golf Fore! seems to be shaping up quite nicely. Many players will find much of the fun to be had online, whether gunning for the top spots in tournaments or settling rivalries with friends in matches. We've got our fingers crossed that there's enough newness in the offline experience to improve upon Hot Shots Golf 3 and make shelling out 50 clams well worth it. HSGF! will be driving one into stores on August 18, so be sure to check back then for a full review!