marino's Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee (PlayStation Portable) review

The First Must-Have PSP Game Since Launch

Originally scheduled as a launch title, Hot Shots Golf has finally arrived on the PSP and just in time.  The PSP's launch is starting to fade, and people are looking for the next big title.  Grand Theft Auto and Midnight Club got pushed back, so look no further than Open Tee.  On the surface, Hot Shots has always looked cutesy and charming, but as anyone who has played the series knows, you will be hard pressed to find a better golf game out there.  The characters may have a cartoony style, but the courses are gorgeous and the gameplay is simultaneously addicting and maddening (in a good way) just like the sport of golf itself.  Whether you like golf or not, Open Tee deserves to be in your PSP right now.     
 
 
Graphics 
If you've played Hot Shots before, you know what to expect here.  Charming, anime-style characters contrasted with realistically beautiful landscapes.  The presentation is clean and set up nicely, although there is a slight pause when moving between some menus.  They've added the ability to customize your characters to the fullest.  As you win/unlock new items, you can equip them to any character you want.  By changing their hair, hats, outfits, and accessories, you can completely change what the character originally looked like.  Also, each character has two slots, so you can have two different versions of each one.  Clubs and balls are also customizable as usual, so not only can you have one character with two different outfits, but each could have different club/ball setups for different occasions.  Weather still has an effect on the course, including rain, snow, and of course wind.     
 
 
Control 
Hot Shots unapologetically still uses the three-button press swing mode instead of the analog stick, and it still works great.  Anyone can pick it up and play, but the precision it takes to master the game will take much longer.  The ratio of skill vs luck matches that of real-life golf to a T, which is a big part of the appeal of Hot Shots.  You won't be getting holes-in-one on every other round like in EA's Tiger Woods, and the later courses WILL kick your ass.  Club and ball choice also plays a big role in your ability to stick the pin.  Each set of clubs and each type of ball have their own stat bonuses, but usually if one stat goes up, one goes down.  So finding a perfect balance for your style of play is important.  Some of the trick shots like purposely slicing or hooking can be difficult to pull off, but they should be.     
 
 
Sound 
The music does a good job of setting the mood for the way the game is presented, but it's nothing to rave about.  The sound effects are great and the caddies are quite entertaining with their comments.  The voice-overs for the rest of the characters are pretty good as well, and although they're a bit silly, most of the time they don't cross the cheesy line.  On the course, they go for the more realistic sound effects but you can toggle on the music if you want.     
 
 
Replay Value 
The game has been downsized a bit for the PSP, but all of the elements are still here.  Ten fully customizable characters, five caddies, and six courses.  Due to the limited (by comparison) amount of content, it takes a bit longer to unlock the extra courses and characters than it does on the console version.  That can be a little bit frustrating since you'll have to play the first course a dozen times or so to get a new one, but the game is presented in such a way that you hardly notice.  About the time you master a course, and know where to place your series of shots on every hole, that's when you'll be granted access to the next set of links. 
 
They've combined Tour and Vs mode into one "Challenge" mode, so every time you jump in, there are 3 events to choose from in Challenge.  These three events are a mixture of Tour events, Match Play (Vs) duels, and special events.  You can play them in any order you want, and instead of earning money to spend in a store, each event has a prize for winning it.  Usually these prizes are clothing items, but you will find new sets of clubs, balls, and of course new characters on occasions.  Sometimes you will find comedic items such as a frying pan to use as your new driver. 
 
The real replay value comes from the 8-player wireless play.  Not only can you verbally taunt your friends from across the room, but you hit certain button combinations to distract them with on-screen taunts.  Chipping in an eagle as you hear the sound of your friends' ball ricocheting off a nearby tree is a good feeling.  In lieu of a mini-golf mode, which made its return in Fore, there is a putting challenge mini-game that takes place on various greens from the regular courses.  It's a nice bonus and a worthy distraction from regular play.     
 
 
Conclusion 
I've always been a big fan of Hot Shots ever since I played the demo for the first one.  Open Tee has done a great job cramming the best of Hot Shots into the PSP.  The absence of online play is disappointing, but the game is still great.  This is the only game that I need for the next month or so at least.  Another thing worth mentioning is that they seem to have kept most of the Japanese charm to the game rather than trying to Americanise the characters and clothing like they've done with the console versions (not counting the first one).  If you own a PSP, go pick up Hot Shots.     
 
 
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the game's release. ***
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