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Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee

Reviewed May 2005 by Tony Peak

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Clap Hanz
Release Date: May, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E 10+" for Everyone, ages 10 and up
Genre: Golf
Price: $39.99

Hot Shots Golf, for those who have yet to play, is a rare exception in sports games. While the game is true to the idea of virtual golf, the gameplay is fun and open enough for everyone to enjoy. Hot Shots spices up the classic video golf formula with additions like power shots that turn your golf ball into a fireball, challenge matches against AI opponents, RPG like stats that increase, and items to collect to customize your characters.

Like in any other golf game, your goal is simply to get to the hole in as few strokes as possible, and do so better than your opponents. With Hot Shots though, this takes on a whole new meaning as you hook around mountain peaks, skip across water hazards, and earn yourself cooler items, all while raising your stats and abilities.

Gameplay

For the most part, Hot Shots controls like your standard video golf. One push starts the swing, one sets the power, and a third sets your accuracy. Where things differ most however is that with Hot Shots, it’s all about you and your style of play. Spins and hooks are all extremely responsive, so long as your character is even moderately good at them. With practice, you can literally stop the ball on a dime or send it rolling right where you’d like. If you’d rather have all out power, that’s certainly possible too. With the right character and equipment, you’ll be sending fireballs near the green with ease.

Although Open Tee’s controls are very easy and minimal, there’s no shortage of depth or realism to the game’s psychics. There’s very little guesswork involved as you can pan the camera anywhere, switch to overview and cursor cams anytime, and always see a marker and grid representing the lay of the land where the ball should fall. You’ll be given wind meters, a line graph representing height of objects in your path, slope, lie conditions, and more. At first the dizzying array of items on the display can be a bit overwhelming, but give it a few holes and you’ll be setting up even the tricky shots in just seconds.

But there will also be plenty to keep you on your toes. Wind has a very real and very important effect, as does weather conditions like rain and snow. Slopes, hills, water and sand traps will all play on your ball very realistically, and even if you know the general landing area of your shot, a miscalculation in air time or roll can still send you straight into the hazards. The game’s collecting and customizing aspects work their way into play seamlessly, as you can easily train and equip your character to suit your style and pad out your weaker areas.

Although Open Tee does have the standard 18-hole stroke play, the bulk of the gameplay will be in the Challenge mode. Here’s where you earn your new courses, items, and characters. You can compete in fast paced grudge matches against other opponents, which are scored by win/loss on each hole, rather than by overall strokes. To keep things fresh you will also play in mini tournaments, which are judged by stroke count and points earned by fairway shots, good or difficult shots, and long putts.

Graphics and Sound

Hot Shots has a friendly and colorful look and feel to it that really sets it apart from most golf games. Everything is bright and colorful, but not sickeningly so. It also has a heavy Japanese style that, if you’re as in to that kind of thing as I am, will be sure to earn it a few points. Otherwise, some things might best just be described as a bit whacky. All of the characters take on a chibi style as anime fans may know it, which basically just means shorter and cutesy versions of what you would expect. The 250 items to collect really gives no end to the amount of customizations you can do to really make your favorite character your own, from hair style to complete outfits, angel wings to fox tails.

The courses themselves look absolutely excellent, filled with detail and extremely easy to glance over and get the layout. From mountains to deserts, sun to snow, the terrains and effects all look great. The only loading to speak of is a slight pause at the start of a match, during which a very helpful tip is displayed and the entire course is loaded. From then on, it’s seamless until you’re finished. The camera moves in real time anywhere you’d like, switches between angles and views at the push of a button, and the animations and optional replays play without a hitch.

There’s not a whole lot of sound to speak of in Open Tee, but what’s there is great. The music, which defaults to off, is subtle and mostly instrumental. The characters all have various quotes and the caddies, who basically just occasionally quip about a good shot or a chance at a birdie, are quiet but well voiced. In a golf game, less is usually more when it comes to sound, and that’s pretty much the case here.

Conclusion

Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee brings the “golf for everyone” fun straight to the PSP. While the number of characters has been reduced to 10, and the number of courses to a respectable six, there are still over 250 items to collect to customize your characters exactly how you want them to be. There’s no odd graphical glitches, no glaring mistakes, overall just one very solid, very fun title.

Pretty much everyone would have loved to have seen online play here, and a pass the PSP style turn based mode would have been great, but these are mostly just things that can be chalked up to 1 st generation titles. Open Tee still includes seamless 8 player wireless support. I would certainly hope to see these things in a sequel if one is made, however. Hopefully we’ll see the return of the mini golf mode as well, even though the putting challenge is great for honing your skills on the green.

Like games such as Mario Golf, even if you’re not a sports fan and you’ve never played a round of golf in real life, Hot Shots Golf can still leave you hooked. If regular virtual golf is just too dry for your tastes, Open Tee may be just what you’re looking for.

Playing Hints and Tips

  • Again, the manual is your friend. You’ll find a ton of really good tips about spin, controls, the heads up display, and more. The loading screen dispenses a ton of useful advice as well, so don’t ignore it.
  • Choose a character that matches your style, and remember that the flaws can be ironed out with items and training. It’s more important to have a character that plays the same way as you.
  • Spend some time, or a lot of time, with the putting challenge. It’s absolutely vital to be confident on the green. The last thing you want it to have a chance at eagles and birdies, only to blow it with poor putting. Sinking a long distance putt is always a thrill, and it can pull you out of tight spots and net you the win.
  • Wind speed is very important here, as is weather conditions. Pay close attention, and adjust your shots accordingly.
  • Use your spins! Slices and hooks will not only get you around tough obstacles, but will also send the ball in the direction you want as it lands on the fairway or green. Top spins will send the ball rolling nicely and under obstacles, while back spins give you good air and can stop the ball quickly when landing. Great for landing on the green!
  • Even though it’s a portable game, easy to pick up and play, and fairly easy to save and leave off (or use sleep mode), you should really play when you’ve got time to focus for a few minutes. Hot Shots Golf is tricky, and if you’re not focused you’ll probably be frustrated pretty quickly. Take it slow and plan your moves, and go for the perfect shot.

 

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Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

There’s a lot of visual polish here. Each of the 10 golfers features a good deal of fluid animation, and the 250 items that can be mixed in matched give a heck of a lot of character customization. With a few edits, your custom character will hardly resemble the stock choice. The courses all look wonderful, the camera moves smoothly, and the HUD is informative without being intrusive.

Sound

The music is good and unique enough to be identifiable, but it’s really nothing all that memorable or special. This is golf, after all. A few weird choices like dogs barking or farm animal sounds add to the wacky feel, but do little overall to really enhance things. The sounds of the green, the whack of the clubs, and other small touches are well done. Voice clips tend to wear thin after a bit since they repeat a lot, but thankfully they’re confined to sparse use when appropriate.

Fun Meter

Open Tee is about as fun as golf gets. The stroke play is good for a slightly more traditional game, but the challenge mode is fast paced and pure fun. Although you’ll basically be doing the same thing a lot, the slow but sure increase in challenge, ability, and characters will keep things fresh. It manages to be both fun and easy to play, while still retaining the depth of controls and physics to master the challenge with skill instead of luck.

Addictivity

For a lot of the game, you will be doing the same thing… but the slow release of new characters, stats, courses, items, and more will keep you coming back, as well as the simple ease of play. There’s a surprising amount of challenge here, and winning or making that perfect shot is no small or easy feat. If you like to customize and tweak things, you’ll easily spend a lot of time tweaking your characters just so. And if you like stats, your performance is tracked and you’re notified when you’ve improved in various fields like par pace, longest putt, etc.

While wireless multiplayer is nice, swappable turn based gameplay and especially online play obviously would have put this well over the top in terms of addictivity. Even downloadable extras would have helped, but it does the game no real harm that it’s missing. It’s simply hard not to wonder what if.

Total Score= 4.375 Dragons, 87.5%



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