Several Strokes Over Par
Let's sit down and look at Let's Golf, which you can find on the Playstation Store for $6.99. Developed by mobile gaming monster Gameloft, Let's Golf bears more than a few visual similarities to the Hot Shots Golf series. I have not played any of the Hot Shots Golf games aside from demos, so those looking for a comparison between the two will be disappointed; I can only review Let's Golf on its own merits. Aside from Wii Sports, the last comparable game I played was Microsoft Golf '93 for the PC, running on Windows 3.11. If you want to talk about a nostalgia trip... but I digress. In all, Let's Golf is a terribly unimpressive golf game even for its inexpensive price.
Let's Golf starts with a keen intro video that looks far better than the game ever does. Once inside, you're met with a fair bit of features. The game sports 18 holes each on four unique courses. The Scotland course kind of cheaps out by actually being six holes that you shoot from three different tees each. I've played courses like this in real life, so the concept is believable, but it did feel like the game took a shortcut there when the other three courses have a full set of holes. The main menu gives you four gameplay options, but we'll get into that later. In terms of how it plays, Let's Golf follows the tried-and-true formula of swing meters and button presses. Before you swing, an unhelpful dotted line traces the route of where you are currently aiming. Typically this means nothing to you because you can't actually see where the ball is coming to rest; for this you need to hit triangle, which changes the view to show where your ball should land. This is represented by a grid that uses red, green, and blue lines to convey the lie of the terrain (or for those of you not up on your golfese, it shows you the different elevations and declinations of the terrain; was that easier to understand?). You use the d-pad or analog nub to change the grid's location, which changes your aim accordingly. The grid features a conveniently massive arrow in its centre that is great for obscuring things, like the hole you are trying to aim for. Moving the grid closer to or further from you will typically cause the game to change which club you will use. You can also change clubs manually with the shoulder buttons. The key thing here is that which club you use is directly tied to the distance you are hitting the ball; you can't go all Tiger Woods and hockey-tap a ball from the fringe onto the green. Your woods are for long distances, your irons are for medium shots (and the game will only let you use irons if you're hitting from the rough), your wedges are for short distances, and it's putters-only on the green. I suppose this is how most people play golf, but I've been known to get inventive with my club choicesout on the fairway; I suppose its too much to expect from a minis game to allow me to do the same.
You tap X to start your swing, which begins with the power meter, featuring a helpful yellow line to indicate the power necessary to hit the spot you've selected. Then you set your accuracy, which is similar to power but involves setting the cursor into a small green portion of the bar that is smaller or larger depending on where your ball lies (for example, a fairway shot has the largest green area, where a shot from a sand bunker has the smallest). Set the accuracy perfectly and your character complements you with a canned "great shot!" sound bit. Set too far to the left or to the right, and the shot tends to fall short. One would assume that missing the accuracy would cause your shot to slice, but this never happened; I couldn't get a single shot to slice in Let's Golf. Once power and accuracy are set, your on-screen character completes his or her swing. When the ball is in the air, you can tap the four directional buttons to affect the ball's midair spin. The game isn't clear about what effect this has, but I've observed that spinning has a marginal effect on the ball's direction in-flight. It has a much greater effect on the direction the ball rolls once it touches down. It is almost always essential to put backspin onto the ball when shooting for the green, because the ball runs faster on the green and has a tendency of rolling off (anyone who's played golf before knows this happens for real, at least in terms of how much faster a ball rolls on the green). Determining what type of spin you should put on the ball is almost impossible to figure out because of the camera angle the game usually takes on your ball in flight. It is almost never behind the ball, preventing you from being able to tell if you need to apply spin and what effect the spin may be having. The game's incredibly basic tutorial explains some of these mechanics to you but lacks certain important elements (such as explaining the effects of spinning the ball). The game scores you by strokes, just like real golf, but it also adds an inexplicable point system. I tried to make heads or tails of it- scoring par is worth 200 points, a birdie is 400 points, a bogie subtracts 100 points- but my score would jump around so randomly that I gave up trying to figure it out. The game also has no help file or manual that would shed some light on how the point system works.
Before you begin any of the game's four modes, you have the opportunity to select one of potentially four characters. I say "potentially" because two characters are locked at the start of the Tournament mode and, at the time of writing, still remain locked on my file. Each character is rated in terms of Power (the maximum distance they can drive a ball), Accuracy (how fast the cursor moves during the accuracy part of the swing), Putting (not sure how this one works but I do notice a difference on the green with better putters), and Recovery (I honestly have no idea what this one does). I was somewhat disturbed to note that the two female characters have significantly less power than the males with no equivalent increase to their other stats. You can customize the character's hair, outfit, and ball with one of six options, each of which affects their stats. For instance, one male character has a blonde hairstyle that replaces his regular brunette mop and also, for some reason, gives a slight boost to his Putting ability. Each character starts with only one hairstyle, one outfit, and one ball (stop your snickering). The other five options must be unlocked by (I must presume) progressing through the Tournament mode; I say "presume" because the game never explains how these items are unlocked and I noticed the game telling me I had unlocked an item occasionally when I had successfully completed a tournament round.
The game's Tournament mode is the standard single-player campaign. You can select to play the Front 9, Back 9, Full 18, or 9 random holes for a course. They are presented to you as "1-9, 10-18, 1-18," etc, which pretty well indicates this game was designed for casual players rather than folks who actually know something about the sport of golf. Each course also has three difficulty levels; however, you have to beat all four Easy options to unlock Medium, and so forth. The difficulty level only affects how far away you start from the hole, just like real golf, and the differences are typically only a matter of a few yards. After each hole you are shown a scorecard for yourself and four other phantom golfers, three of whom consistently underperform and one who always presents a challenge to your score. You never get to see these players, and they sometimes take dramatic dips or jumps in their scores that make one wonder exactly how the game is keeping track of them. I once won a tournament round simply due to the fact that my best A.I. opponent shot worse on the last hole than I did. I found myself grinding the Tournament mode simply to unlock character gear. That's right, folks; I grinded a golf game. Not a good sign.
The other modes are Free Hole (no giggling please), which allows you to pick any of the course options and characters available in tournament mode, even those that are normally locked. It also doesn't present you with any competitor's scores between holes. Quick Play pits you against three random holes. The Hotseat mode is the one gleaming bit of actual fun I had with Let's Golf. It's identical to Free Hole except that you can play with a second person, passing your PSP back and forth. Like any local co-op game, the fun had here was due more to the good company and competitive rousing.
The sound effects in Let's Golf were adequate. Any golf game really just needs to get one sound right, and that's the sound of a golf club hitting a golf ball. Let's Golf gets this right. Almost to offset this, the character voices are repetitive and annoying. Each course has its own music track, which is also highly irritating; because the game goes to a loading screen between holes, you hear the same track start from the giving every time you tee off. I got sick of hearing the music and voices to the point that I preferred playing the game with sound disabled.
I was pretty impressed that I got a full 3D game for $6.99, but the engine is not without fault. Collision detection is apparently random; sometimes your ball will pass right through a tree trunk, and sometimes your ball will deflect off a wooden sign that you were aimed at by default and plop right into a lake. Speaking of default aiming, the game made some pretty weird choices about which direction to point me. A couple times the game would spin me 180 degrees on my second shot, aiming me away from the hole and back towards the tee. I noted other clipping problems, such as the ball disappearing under the fairway. Glitches aside, there is some real interesting course design. Each course really does feel like a different location, and there are a lot of interesting height variations and terrain features. On one hole I noticed a dam at one end of a water hazard; there was no need to render a dam there, because it didn't add to any of the features on course, but it did add character to the hole itself.
In conclusion, Let's Golf is a mediocre overall package that I cannot recommend for the price.