Reviewed: May 23, 2005
Released: May 3, 2005
There are two types of golfers in this world; those who take the game deadly serious, spend countless hours on the course perfecting their grip, swing, and stance, all in the hopes of shaving a few strokes off their score, and then you have the casual golfer. This is the guy who might golf once or twice a month, or however long it takes to save up the $42 greens fee, and keep a cooler full of beer in the back of the cart. If they even keep score they really donít care what it is. Iím that kind of golfer.
Thankfully, there are two types of golf games out there; serious and fun, and both are now available on the PSP handheld. If you are looking to simulate a professional career in the sport of golf then check out Tiger Woods PGA Tour but if you want to play a lot of fast, fun, colorful golf then look no further than Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee.
Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee delivers every last bit of fun you could have possibly had with the PS2 version of the game, matching the gameplay, graphics, sounds, and elaborate unlockable reward system and puts it all in the palm of your hand. The only thing missing is the mini-golf.
Open Tee offers aspiring golfers a massive gameplay experience even though it spoon-feeds it to you one reward at a time. When you first start off you have two golfers and one course. It took me a solid 3-4 hours of gameplay before I unlocked the second of the six available courses and a third golfer.
Now some might be a bit annoyed at having to work your way through seemingly endless challenges to unlock courses that other games give you from the onset. I have to admit I was getting tired of playing the South Alps course more than 20 times before I was able to head to Autumn Pagoda.
Open Tee offers three games modes, Single Player, Multiplayer, and Training. Training is rather deceptive and should be called "practice" since there is no instruction offered whatsoever, but if you have played any golf game youíll know how the game works.
You basically pick your club with the left or right trigger; although the caddy does a good job of that already, then tap the X button once to start the power meter creeping to the left. Tap it again at the desired power setting, either 100% or a lesser setting noted by the red flag on lesser skill levels, then the meter heads back to the right where you must click once more on the accuracy. There is a tiny sweet spot bordered by a slightly larger safe zone and finally a flubbed shot noted by an ď!Ē when you hit the ball.
For younger gamers or those that just plain suck, there is an auto-shot mode that gives you a perfect impact each time, so you only have to worry about the power. And for skilled gamers you can even put some spin on the ball by pressing the D-pad during the moment of impact.
Your own character skills along with various clubs and balls can affect the impact area and just how bad a shot goes awry when you do miss. Clubs and balls have their own set of stats that will favor some aspects of the shot while lowering other stats. Example: you might get a +2 on distance with a certain driver but a Ė2 on impact.
Clubs and balls arenít the only things you can unlock and equip. There is a virtual pro shop included in this game with more clothing and accessories than you can countÖokay; the box says 250 so somebody counted. This gives you the ability to create a custom look for your golfer by starting with one of the available models then dressing them in outfits and customizing their accessories.
I was slightly annoyed in the limited accessory slots that mandate I cannot wear sunglasses and a wristwatch at the same time, or if I want long black hair I cannot wear a hat, at least until I unlock a hat that comes with long lack hair. Sometimes it seems you are unlocking ďlooksĒ rather than individual items. Not all items are merely cosmetic, and you can eventually unlock new and better balls and equipment.
All of these items are unlocked in the Challenge mode, a subset of the single player game and the area where you will spend most of your time, at least until you unlock everything.
At first you are given three challenges, each offering various rewards. These challenges are either tournament or match plays. Some challenges offer only material rewards while others, noted with a gold star, offer a reward and a skill increase.
Your character needs numerous stars to rise in rank so plan on playing a lot of golf before you move up through the levels. As I said earlier, it took me nearly four hours to get to level-up and unlock the second course. I then focused on playing only star challenges to unlock the third course but was shot down when I only unlocked ďmirror modeĒ on the two existing courses.
As you unlock new rank levels you also unlock new challenges within each rank, which ultimately lead to new items and courses. There are also VS challenges that will unlock new golfers, but since you are rewarded with loyalty points for using the same golfer you are encouraged to use the same player over and over, at least until you max out their loyalty, at which point you can explore another character, each with their own stats and abilities.
Kudos to Clap Hanz for creating a game with virtually no load times other than the initial course load. You can knock off 9 holes in 15 minutes without breaking a sweat. Pressing the X button advances through the gratuitous animations and the circle button will skip to the next shot, something most useful when playing the computer unless you like watching the A.I. play golf.
The Stroke mode of the single player game allows you to play all 18 holes and strive for high scores while the putting challenge puts you on the greens of any hole on any course you have previously unlocked. At first you only have two holes to shoot for with the longer hole offering more points. If you earn enough points you win the challenge and unlock more holes worth more points. Itís a nice feature that really helps you learn to putt but still not as fun as the miniature golf from Hot Shots Golf Fore.
The multiplayer mode allows for up to eight golfers to play over wireless link (no online support), but this isnít nearly as interactive as it sounds. You basically play each hole at your own pace then the person who finishes first waits at the ends for everyone to catch up. Scores are tallied and you move onto the next hole. The only good thing I can say about the multiplayer is that itís not turn-based, so you donít have to watch and wait for everyone to go like in real-life, but then again, why bother linking at all. Everyone could just play solo and compare scores at the end.
Open Tee is very colorful, almost over saturated, and while the character design could be considered anime, or cartoonish in style, the courses themselves are breathtakingly real. I saw more texture in the white sand traps, and the grass on the greens and fairways than I ever did in Tiger Woods PGA Tour, and the water effects simply blew me away.
The game is loaded with special effects including flaming comet balls when you nail that perfect power shot, and the ball leaves trails in the air and on the grass. If you end a shot early you can see the trajectory as a dotted arced line. Water splashes when a ball takes a bad turn and sand blasts out of the trap when you use your SW to get out of danger.
The secret to the non-existent load times is that Hot Shots only loads the hole you are playing; a fact easily seen during the initial fly-by as you see your hole floating over an empty void. But once you are down on the ground the illusion is flawless and the horizon is filled with environmental goodness.
There are even weather effects like rain, snow, and falling leaves that drift lazily from the multi-colored trees. Some effects are actual tools used for gameplay like the multi-colored grid that indicates upward and downward slopes. These grids also feature animated arrows that show the severity of the slope by the speed of the animation.
The HUD is clean, easy to read and kept to the borders of the screen. It contains all information you need including current club, wind direction and speed (if known), distance to hole, etc. You can pan around the hole in 3D view or hit the Start button to pop up to a top-down view to plan your strategy.
The replay system is excellent, capturing all your shots from the best angles possible. Exceptional shots like chip-in birdies and eagles are automatically recorded, and you can even record your own replays manually to be viewed from the Data menu.
Music in Open Tee is cheerful and pleasant. By default the music is off and I only turned it on for the purpose of this review then turned it right back off. Not that the music is annoying mind you. Itís very much like the music you would hear while wandering around large open areas in an RPG. Itís classic Japanese background music. I did notice that the music changes from the fairway to something more challenging while putting then to a third tune for victory or defeat. These transitions werenít entirely smooth and there were noticeable cuts between the sequences.
With the music off you are able to hear the wonderful environmental sound effects and physical effects of the ball being struck and the swoosh as it sails high over the course. The wind will howl in the Alps course, youíll hear the trickle of rain and when the music does play during the victory screens itís only that much more memorable.
Speech is minimal, mostly words of encouragement, and it isnít nearly as corny as it could have been. Itís actually quite good and even a bit humorous at times, especially in multiplayer where you can taunt your opponents by pressing the various buttons while they are lining up their shot.
With ten golfers, five caddies, and six courses, this game is merely a fraction of the console version, but for a handheld game itís more than enough, especially given the trickle-down reward system that keeps you playing for hours before opening up any significant new content.
A lot of people might not have the patience to work their way through all the trivial unlockables before reaching any game-enhancing content, but for those that do there is a fun and rewarding game lurking beneath the repetitive gameplay. At least they kept the challenges down to 9 holes so it doesnít take forever to get somewhere.
The multiplayer is merely a token offering that doesnít tie the players together in any substantial way. The only way you can even tell someone else is playing is when they are ahead of you and you can see their ball marker. I played about a half-dozen multiplayer games then went back to work on unlocking new content.
Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee is an outstanding achievement in porting a major console golf title over to a handheld system while retaining all of the gameplay nuances that made it the classic it is today. It might be a bit light on content but it more than makes up for it with tight controls and challenging gameplay.
The lack of any substantial load times is also a huge benefit and allows you to sneak in a quick round of golf anywhere and anytime. If you love golf and want a challenging game without all of the baggage that comes with Tiger Woods then look no further than Open Tee. It doesnít get any better than this.