Put a Little Backspin On It – Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.

Get ready to tee off, golf fans, as Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational for the PS Vita has the courses booked and ready to go.  Does the latest title in the franchise land softly on the green, or slice off into the bunker?

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a fun golfing game that looks fairly easy on the surface, using an uncomplicated swing system.  Press X to start a meter, push again while it fills to determine power, and once more at a specific time to establish accuracy.  This system takes a bit of getting used as timing is everything. Hit too hard and your ball may fly too far; too weak and it may not reach the intended spot.  Time your swing too early or late and you’ll slice the ball to the left or right.  Keep practicing though and it’ll be under your fingers in no time.

So, overall it seems simple, right?  Well, in truth, the game is a lot deeper than that.  Aside from your basic shots, various environmental challenges and advanced shot techniques need to be considered.  For starters, wind is always a constant variable.  A blue arrow is present in the top right corner of the screen, pointing in the direction of the breeze.  White lines will move across it and the faster they move the stronger the wind.  A quick tap of down on the D-pad will also have your character drop some grass, to get a visual idea of gust speed.

Other environmental variations also affect your shot.  Should the ball come to rest on a steep enough slope, your next shot may veer up in the direction of the hill, causing you to compensate for this.  The terrain you land on also plays a big role in your next hit, because the deeper your ball is buried, the less power the shot will have.  This is especially true in sand traps, which are able to limit your distance by half or more.

To help avoid places like this, players can put various spins on the ball by holding a direction on the D-pad.  Techniques like backspin help to change how the ball flies, lands, or curves in the air.  Knowing where to use each maneuver (or when not to) can be the difference between a birdie or bogey on a hole.

Smaller features also help to give the player the best shot possible.  The camera’s elevation and zoom can be adjusted to get a better read of the fairway or green’s shapes, along with several “just for fun” angles.  These optional views (which are selected from the front touch screen) include things like side-shots of the player, and even a first person angle which can be adjusted with the six-axis controls for a nice morsel of immersion.

If you’re the kind of player who needs to know your next shot’s distance, then the rear touchpad can be used to figure it out.  Simply get the camera around where you think the ball will land, and touch that spot on the pad; a pointer will appear to tell you the shot distance and the remaining yards to the pin.  All of these features either help the player line up the perfect drive, or just add some relaxing optional fun.

The only flaw in HSG:WI’s gameplay is how it’s introduced.  Upon starting up the game, you’re thrust right into the main menu with no hint of where to go next.  There is no true tutorial mode to speak of, leaving players to figure out all the game mechanics as they go along.  Five hours into the game I was still finding out new skills, such as super spin techniques that can cause the ball to spin up the flag pin.  While the gameplay is implemented well and incredibly fun, its learning curve is almost as large as golf in real life.  Without a tutorial mode, players are left high and dry (or wet if they constantly hit water hazards), stumbling in the dark until they finally master each element.

Once you get acclimated, however, the game really opens up and there is a wealth of modes for you to enjoy.  My recommendation for your first stop is Training.  While far from a tutorial, this mode allows you to determine all of the holes’ elements; from wind speed and direction to cup placement.  Furthermore, if you’re unhappy with your shot results, you can simply try the shot over and over again until you are.  This gives players, through trial and error, an approach to practice and learn every little game aspect.

If you’re feeling capable enough to try your skills out, jump into a Stroke match.  This is golf at its simplest; just you and your trusty caddie enjoying 18 holes.  Your only competition is your own best score and there is no winner or loser.  This is a great mode if you’re just looking to golf without any pressure.

If a challenge is what you’re after, then… err, Challenge Mode is the place to go.  This gametype has you face an assortment of tournaments of various lengths and difficulties.  You’ll be pitted against several AI players, competing for the lowest score (this is golf after all, you can actually use that excuse!).  What are the rewards for doing well, you ask?  Well, should you take first, you’ll be awarded a shiny gold star (just like elementary school); collect enough of these and you’ll unlock harder challenges, and even one-on-one face-offs.  Different standings award specific points as a reward as well.

These points are used in the store to buy various things.  Ranging from new characters, outfits, clubs, balls, and even concept art, there will always be something for you to cash in your hard earned cash for.  Check back often, as there are always new things being added as you beat challenges.

Speaking of characters, they play a pretty big part in gameplay.  Each character has their own stats including power, control, impact, spin, and sidespin, along with various strengths and weaknesses.  Some will have great skill with approach shots, while others will play worse in the rain.  There is a wide enough variety to suit just about anyone’s play style, so time them all out to see who you like.  A playable character’s outfit can be customized as well.  Each piece of clothing can have its colour changed, and secondary attire is unlockable if you’re looking to vary things up.

Something else to consider at the start of a round is your club and ball set.  Certain models of each have different properties.  These can include increases and decreases to things like power, accuracy, or spin control.  Either finding the right set for you or switching depending on the course will be crucial in keeping that score as low as possible.

Visiting a friend that has a copy of the game too?  Why not give Adhoc multi-player a try?  You and up to 8 friends can duke it out on the golf course for the title of Supreme Champion, or compete one-on-one for most holes won.  If you want to make things a little more interesting, additional rules can be added to each round, such as shot time limits and variations to pin size.  If you’ve got the friend-power to do a weekly or monthly get together, then this will probably be your most played game mode, and will ensure the title gets a long life with your Vita.

Should you feel like taking your golf game on the global scale, HSG: WI has you covered.  Available to players who buy a new copy of the game (due to that pesky online pass) is an official daily tournament feature.  Here, hot shot golfers worldwide can take place in many different events sponsored by HSG, with scores going towards the global leaderboards.  Players take part in these in a similar fashion to single player Stroke Mode; you’ll play through the hole by yourself with no competition, and at the end of the hole you’re given a global position based on your current score.  Finish the course and you receive a final placement among the total players in that tourney.  This feature is a brilliant addition to the game and gives players something different to look forward to every day.

If that’s not enough online play for you in a day, a range of other tournaments are available via the Online Lobby.  In this area, players from all over can mingle in different chat rooms, compare scores, and of course play some golf.  The unofficial tournaments are slightly different than the daily variety; up to 30 players can join the game, and play is competitive, giving each participant a position on the board.  Several games start about every 15 minutes, and some additional rules may apply (like +1 for hitting trees).  These rounds are a great way to meet new people, or simply get some extra online play out of your day.

My only complaint is that no private online game options are present.  While nothing is stopping you and a buddy from entering the same tourney, you won’t be able to go head-to-head unless you’re willing to travel for Adhoc.  It’s a small gripe, especially with all other options available, but it’s a shame it wasn’t included nonetheless.

Visually, the title is beautiful, from the various terrains of the courses to the smooth textures of characters. The diversity of each course is remarkable and every hole you’ll play will feel fantastically fresh, even after several rounds on it.  Playable characters also have appearances as diverse as their play styles, and with the different available costumes there will be something aesthetically pleasing for everyone.  Colours are very vivid as well, thanks to the Vita’s OLED screen, making the entire game an overall treat to look at.

The in-game audio is just as good as its visuals.  All the sounds of golf, from the swing and contact of club-on-ball to the plop of your ball hitting water, have been captured wonderfully, adding a great deal of immersion when playing with headphones.  Some of the voice acting is a bit under par, but a handy little option allows you to turn off the caddy (who is the blunt of the problem).  Otherwise, you only hear from a golfer every now and then, so it’s not too big a deal.

Thankfully, the title’s soundtrack more than makes up for the vocals though.  The majority of the game’s music consists of a piano and drum kind of feel, making for some laid back ambiance.  Depending on your current golf course, you’ll also be treated to some localized themes.  Playing in Japan, you’ll hear several relaxing oriental modes and scales.  Alternatively, if you’re on American soil, the music changes to a classic rock/country feel.  Overall, it’s a wonderful score that is both memorable, and able to sit in the background without distracting from your shots.

When the last ball hits the hole, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a wonderful game for your Vita system.  Either at home or on the go, this is a title perfect for casual or serious fans of the sport, be they young or old.  Only the lack of a tutorial mode and some annoying voices carry this ball just shy of a hole-in-one.  If this isn’t installed on your Vita already, you’re definitely missing out!

Final Score: 4.25 / 5.0 and an eagle on a par five

Our Rating
out of 5.0

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