Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational Review

Not quite a hole in one, but about par for the course.

I’m not outrageously athletic. I don’t play sports, or even sports games. But golf? Well, it’s technically a sport, but not really something I would call extensively exhausting. Robin Williams said it best about golf:

Whack a ball, get in a cart. Whack a ball, get in a cart.

So clearly, not very exhausting. In any case, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational for the PlayStation Vita was among the launch lineup for Sony’s new handheld, and I put it through its paces for about a week. What I found is overall a good game, if a bit simplistic yet complicated at the same time.

A relatively simple layout, save the status bar at the top

World Invitational starts out like you might expect from a golf game. It’s a golf game. You play through the front-nines and the full 18s as you progress along in the “Challenge” mode, which is a pretty basic run through the game’s courses. There are a range of difficulties, although I never progressed past the main mode because I didn’t want to break my perfect record. That’s right, so long as you’re timing your button presses properly, you can make pretty well perfect strokes every time, almost always getting in under or at par. That kind of takes away the actual game for me, but I still found it fun in a more simple way at the same time.

The graphics in World Invitational might seem slightly childlike at first when you look at the characters and the box art, especially compared to PGA Tour titles from EA Sports. However, getting into the game, you realize that the scenery is expertly rendered, textures look phenomenal, and even the interior of the hole is beautifully wood-trimmed and multi-coloured as you might expect. Of course, comparing any sort of graphics to other titles like WipEout 2048 and Uncharted: Golden Abyss makes these seem only halfway-realistic, but they’re still well above par for any handheld we’ve seen so far.

There are certainly some beautiful graphical elements in World Invitational

Game statistics are a massive part of this new entry in the Hot Shots Golf franchise. The games have been around for years, and are loved by the world over, but I think they go a bit overboard with the stat tracking in the easier modes of the game. In it’s most basic form, the game shouldn’t bombard you with every statistic under the sun when you complete a round. It’s just too much, especially if you’re not used to golf games or sports game in general, because you don’t expect that much information to come at you.

By the same token, it would have been fantastic if the game gave you these stats in a harder difficulty setting, or the option to turn them on or off. Doing so would increase the value in the game for me and really push the package over the top.

Menu screens suffer from the same complexity. Getting into a round is not difficult, but it takes about six mashes of the X button to select through every option. For an amateur player like myself, there’s just a lot of complexity here that doesn’t need to exist, and it could have been pared down relatively easily by giving you a load out scheme that better represents different players. Doing so would have also made the game more accessible to us newbies.

Statistics? Tip of the iceberg.

Audio in this game is stellar as the other games in the Vita’s launch lineup have been, with one exception: voices. It’s not so much that the voice recordings are low quality (they’re not the best, though), but rather that they are very repetitive. Your caddy will say things like “Please don’t go any further!” when the ball passes the flag slightly, but it happens like clockwork and you can almost recite it as she says it. Things like that are repeated so often that it becomes slightly problematic if you’re easily ticked by stuff like that. Your ears won’t bleed or anything, but the developers could have certainly added in a few different phrases or only have the caddy say things some of the time.

My biggest concern with this VITA game (you hear that, Sony?) is that there are a ridiculously low amount of any touch controls in the entire game! In menus, there are scroll bars, but no swiping mechanic to navigate through them! After just a couple of weeks with the Vita, it already feels weird to use the D-Pad for any kind of controls, let alone basic menu function like that. You can’t even tap to select on menu items! It just doesn’t make sense to me whatsoever. It absolutely dumbfounded me to know that Sony themselves haven’t taken the care to implement these kinds of controls into their Vita experience, especially when it is so new and they’re still trying to prove its worth in the market. It sounds like a small issue, but for games that are almost entirely touch-based, with the exception of analog sticks and a couple of button presses, coming to World Invitational feels like a major step backward in portable gaming.

Control oddities aside, for anyone who is into golf, I’d imagine Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is pure gold. It has great statistics measurement, more than adequate graphics, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. For amateurs, it seems like this would be the perfect entry, but it won’t teach you too much about the game unless you’re really willing to commit to it. Here’s hoping that Mario Golf is up to that task when it comes if they ever make another version of it! Until then, World Invitational is a buy for anyone with any inkling to get their hands on a golf club on the PlayStation Vita.