Bringing the Franchise Online in Style
Okay, it's a given that Hot Shots has never exactly pushed the limits of Sony's machines. With that said, this game may actually surprise you if you're going in not expecting much. The characters haven't changed much, if at all. They're still stereotypical cliche-type characters with oversized heads. But the courses themselves look a lot better, especially the water, which looks so good it almost looks out of place in the cartoony world. The shot effects have also been enhanced, not only with the Power shots, and the presentation is also upgraded as well. They now give you a cross-section of the entire hole so you can see the topography of the fairway, not just on the green for putting. This adds a lot more to the game than you would think, because it allows for much more precise club selection. On the down side, each hole on the course still appears to be an island floating in space surrounded by a giant bitmap of mountains/scenery. But on the up side, the camera work on the shots is amazing and the trees, clothing, and hair all move with the wind now.
While most golf games have shifted focus to the analog sticks (and for good reason), Hot Shots remains true to its predecessors by using the classic three-button press swing controls. Start the swing, set the power, set the accuracy. It's pretty simple, but if you're the newest of noobs, you can set it on Easy Golf mode where you only have to set the power. The biggest change to the swing controls this year is the addition of the no-spin zone. At the brink of disaster (at the edge of the red zone), thereis a dark purple line. If you stop the meter exactly on the purple line (there is one on both sides), the ball will still go straight, but when it lands it will not move at all. For Hot Shots veterans, this is a wickedly powerful advantage on approach shots. Of course there is a huge risk, because if you miss by even a little bit, you could shank the hell out of your shot. Other than that, everything is still mostly the same as before, which is by no means a bad thing. The putting could still use a little work though, but I don't think any golf game has ever gotten putting completely right. One other addition I love is the ability not only to skip a shot's flight (which was available in the past), but a second button will skip the flight and show you a dotted trajectory of how the ball got where it is from an aerial view. This speeds up the game immensely and will allow you to complete 18 holes in as short as 15 minutes.
Right off the bat it's probably going to be a downer for most, if not all, people with its muzak-inspired background music. It's not horrible, but it's not good either. The environmental sound effects are what you would expect to hear on a golf course. And the caddies range from annoying to wisecracking assholes to just plain strange. The Scottish groundskeeper will have you wondering what Clap Hanz' crew is smoking when he drops lines like "This ones for all the toilet paper..." or "It's like stealing a quail's egg" on you when you're trying to focus on your putt. So to sum it up, bad music, mediocre sound effects, and enough funny sound bites to overshadow the annoying ones.
Hot Shots offers a ton of things for you to do. Obviously there is a regular exhibition mode. Aside from that, Vs Mode will allow you to challenge other characters and by defeating them you are able to use them in the rest of the game. Vs Mode has been altered a bit, and now only requires you to play 9 holes maximum instead of 18, which should speed up your progress and simultaneously keep you busy for quite a while since there are multiple degrees of defeat you can hand out to your rivals as you play through rounds of matches. Then there's the Tournament mode, which is where you will earn most of your points (money) for use in the Pro Shop. Also, there is one Par 3 course and they have finally brought back Mini-Golf from the original Hot Shots. All of this combined would make for a great game, but the real draw to Fore is the addition of online play. You can play in 4-player matches, where you play a round of golf together, and can try you best to distract your opponent. The second mode of play is a 50-person tournament, where you don't actually see the other players except for on a scoreboard, so you can play at your own pace and keep checking in to see how you stack up on the leaderboard. Sadly, there's no microphone support, but that doesn't detract from the experience too much. Hot Shots Golf Fore is a complete package, and everything that fans of the series, as well as those new to the franchise, could have possibly hoped for.
Hot Shots is built to be a fun experience, without any sign of complicated mechanics or frustrating controls. The fourth installment nails this concept better than the past three games. The game offers simplistic gameplay in such a way that opens the door of unhealthy addiction...in a good way. Even without the addition of online play, Fore would have been a great game thanks to the tweaks, improved effects, and more importantly seven new courses (total of 12 with the 5 returning ones). Also, the game offers lots of secrets, two of which I must spoil because it's common knowledge elsewhere. In HSG2 they added Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal and Sir Dan from MediEvil. Well, times have changed and Sony has two more recognizable mascots...well, four to be exact. Jak and Ratchet both make an appearance as playable characters, while Daxter and Clank appear as unlockable caddies. Hot Shots Golf Fore, much like its predecessors, may look shallow on the surface, but that "kiddy" surface hides one of the most downright fun experiences you may find on the PS2 this fall.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the game's release. ***