If there’s one thing that can be said about the video game version of golf, it’s how approachable it’s become to the masses. Thanks to colorful characters, a variety of courses and a ton of rewards, more people can enjoy the game at any time. No fighting you way inside stuffy country clubs, worrying about the weather or dressing in hideous outfits. In fact, gamers now have the option of taking to the links with some of the quirkiest golfers ever seen with the latest installment of the Hot Shots series. Grab your clubs and your cart, because it’s time to tee off with Hot Shots Golf: Fore!
The basic concept of the Hot Shots series hasn’t actually changed too drastically from game to game, so older players that’ve been away from the links will be able to step back into their cleats with ease. The mechanic for hitting balls down the fairway remains the same: Gamers tap a button to start their swing, hitting it a second time to set a power level and a third time to make contact to the ball. This third button press is also key because it helps determine the accuracy of your shot. Time it correctly, and you’ll hit the sweet spot of the ball, launching it farther down the course. Hit the button too early or too late, and you could accidentally direct the ball to the left or the right of its intended landing zone.
To correct for this, players can attempt to put English on the ball, making it roll backwards, forwards or to either side once it’s on the ground. Aside from placing spin on a shot, players can further manipulate their shots by using a shot mode, which augments the ball gauge in a number of ways. Players can gain even yardage by using a Power or Full Power mode on a drive, or gain better control and accuracy with one of the three Approach modes. Of course, if all of these options seem really complex, or you’re just hitting the links for the first time ever, you can opt to not even use any of these features, instead choosing the Hot Shot Club. The Hot Shot Club ensures that you’ll always hit a good shot down the course, requiring players to simply point the shot and determine how hard they want to hit the ball.
Players will have a wide number of courses to drive down in this edition of Hot Shots Golf. There are a grand total of 15 courses available in the game: 5 courses have returned from the previous game, leaving seven completely new areas to tee off from. There also a nine hole par three executive course, which requires a lot of control to stay at or under. Finally, making its celebrated return to the series, two mini-golf courses have been included to provide a little break from the monotony of the regular game. The mini-golf game also provides a different scoring scheme from the norm, rating the accuracy of your swing as well as the distance of the ball for points.
These, as well as the points you receive in tournament, versus, training or multiplayer modes can be used to unlock equipment, caddies or other personas that can be used in later games. There are a grand total of 34 characters that can be found within Fore!, about 24 separate golfers with 10 unique caddies. Some of these characters are returning fan favorites, like the lounge lizard Mel. Others are new to the golfing arena, and platforming fans will be pleased to know that Jak and Ratchet have taken up the game, with their sidekicks acting as caddies for them. Each character, similar to equipment, has their own stats, bonuses and disadvantages, making the choice of persona and gear almost as vital as accurately hitting the ball.
If you’ve ever played a Hot Shots game before, you’ve got a pretty decent idea of what Hot Shots Golf Fore! looks like. The characters are incredibly cartoonish and vibrantly colored, with plenty of animations to express their emotional state. It’s not uncommon to laugh at your golfer’s reaction to a great shot or smirk when they throw a tantrum at a bogey. The characters have received somewhat of a cleanup job on their character models, making them look a bit sharper, and the courses seem to have undergone a little landscaping as well, making the water on courses look clearer and better textured, the grounds much greener, etc. Shining effects and vapor trails from driven balls also look a bit cleaner than before. However, the largest detraction to the Fore! series graphically is that there really isn’t anything significantly new in this version from the previous one. In fact, you might be hard pressed to detect some of the differences between the two if you put them up side by side, and the graphical engine itself is starting to show its age. This is particularly true if you put it up against its greatest competition, Tiger Woods, which has managed to incorporate many of the “fun factor” features Hot Shots has with a shot of additional realism.
Similar to the graphics, the sound effects and music does seem to be recycled from the previous title with a little bit of a cleanup here and there. The sound bites thrown out by the characters were never that great; in fact, players usually had to pick a persona that didn’t really annoy them too much and basically stick with it because of the annoyance factor. It’s just that now, you’ll find many more comments thrown out by your golfer and caddy, often on top of each other, making an unintelligible mess of sound. You’re not really going to pay too much attention to the soundtrack, which is cutesy and basically forgettable. Just get the mute button ready when it gets on your nerves.
One of the things that Fore! does have going for it in this edition is the inclusion of Online play. Gamers have the option of playing against other friends or jump into large scale tournaments with up to 50 total players. These larger tournaments are a ton of fun because you aren’t dependent on other players to advance through every single hole, so you can actually fly through courses and check out your rankings on the leaderboard. Unfortunately, the online play is still pretty basic considering what you’re offered. There’s no support for voice chat, which you’d expect there to be for the smaller multiplayer games. There should be the option to talk smack if you manage to hit a ball better than your opponents; instead, you’ll be talking to yourself.
Again, while I’d hate to beat this point into the ground, the largest detraction that keeps Fore! from being a standout title is the lack of innovation within the title. I’m not even talking about the recycled courses, because the ones chosen are solid levels for players, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to constantly revisit the better planned fairways. No, what I’m actually talking about are the relatively minor inclusions that make this sequel seem fairly stale. Sure, mini-golf is fun and online is fun, but most of what you’ve seen here is found in the previous game, which is somewhat disappointing. I’m keeping my fingers crossed if Hot Shots 5 comes out that there’s a step forward evolving the cutesy golf series ahead, because otherwise, the competition may eclipse it with its creativity.