The Hot Shots Golf franchise and I go back a long way. I began playing the titles on the PlayStation 2 with Hot Shots Golf 3, but the series itself began in 1997 on the original PlayStation. However, it’s been over five years since the last entry, World Invitational, was released for the PlayStation 3 and Vita. Finally the latest entry in the long running franchise has arrived, this time as Everybody’s Golf, thus sharing the name the series has adorned since its inception worldwide. So on the 20th anniversary of the franchise, and it having been five years since the last release, how does the latest iteration stack up? Very, very well it turns out.
New to this iteration is the very welcome ability to customize your own player instead of having to select from predefined options. The customization options are surprisingly deep and I was able to make a near carbon copy of myself in the game without trouble. Clothing and outfit selections are heavily varied and you will unlock a near endless amount of them as you level up and beat the many opponents in the game. Want to be more imaginative than me and create an atrocity that will scare everyone off the links? You have that ability as well should you so choose.
As soon as you begin playing the tutorial, series veterans will feel right at home. The charm you’ve come to expect from the series is here in spades, as are the realistic golf options and physics. For Everybody’s Golf, Clap Hanz has done away with the ability to swing using the thumbsticks and instead goes back to the trusty and reliable 3-step swing. As always, the key to hitting a good shot is to read the ball lie, the wind, and to achieve perfect impact. Nailing that perfect shot is as rewarding as ever and the game’s built in celebrations and clip recordings make sure to celebrate every accomplishment. Naturally on the flip side, making a critical mistake or missing a putt by a few inches can be maddening, but that’s all part of the addicting nature of series.
Beautiful yet challenging course design has been another staple of the series and again, Everybody’s Golf doesn’t disappoint. As has been the norm, the initial course is pretty standard fare with few hazards to challenge you while you acclimate to the game. However, as you progress and unlock additional courses, they become more and more challenging with some truly outrageous layouts appearing later in the game. All in all there are seven full courses in the game with five being unlocked via the single player progression and two being implemented as DLC to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the game. One of the DLC courses was a pre-order bonus while the last looks to be a pay only course as far as I can tell. Regardless, even without the DLC courses there is plenty of variety which is expanded upon even further as the courses can also be played in mirror form.
New to the series is a “home” where your avatar will enter in to the many activities Everybody’s Golf offers. From here, you can visit the shop, customize your character, play tournaments, go fishing, play trivia, and enter online play. As you level up, you’ll also unlock spectators that will begin to fill your home area offering you hints and further templates for character customization should want to look exactly like another avatar. While fishing is a fun distraction for short periods, the home world doesn’t offer much in the way of functionality otherwise. It acts more as a way of organizing the game options rather than something truly interesting.
There are a few small changes to the traditional gameplay systems on the course that veterans should be aware of. First, the specialized balls that you select from before a round are still present, but this time they act as consumables and can only be used for a single round. While not a huge annoyance, this change is rather useless and simply results in adding another layer of management that wasn’t necessary. A more welcome change however, is the ability to now level up your clubs as you play. Each club has four ratings attached to it representing power, control, spin, and backdoor (the ability to fall in the cup when close). With each shot you take, depending on how you hit the ball, you will slowly increase your skill level with each club. Over time, you will become more accurate and have more control over each shot. This addition to the formula is a welcome one as it adds to the sense of progression as a player, and automatically helps to improve your scores the more often you play.
Progressing through the single player component of Everybody’s Golf is a joy. You begin at rank 1 and play 9 or 18 hole tournaments to gain experience. Once you fill your experience bar, a VS. character will appear whom you must then beat in match play. Repeat this cycle three times and you will then move up a rank which unlocks further customization options and a new course to play on (until all 5 standard courses are unlocked). This cycle continues through rank 6 and as you’d imagine, gets progressively more difficult the higher you ascend. Rank 7 represents the “end game” of Everybody’s Golf with random daily tournaments and special VS. characters showing up on occasion to challenge you. Looking through the game’s encyclopedia, there seems to be a very large amount of VS. characters to compete with so between the online play and randomized match play, you’ll consistently have new challenges to face.
Sadly, reaching rank 7 also unlocks the ability to purchase “custom” clubs. These can be purchased by earning gems within the game or with real money. The custom clubs represent the best possible clubs in the game. However, they not only take a very long time to save up to buy with the in-game currency, but they also degrade over time. It’s not a system I feel should have been placed in the game as it feels like nothing more than a tacked on micro-transaction for hardcore players. It would have been far more enjoyable had they been able to be unlocked by beating the special VS. characters over time.
The largest difference between Everybody’s Golf and prior entries in the series is the online component which is extensive. For starters, you can setup a private lobby to play with up to 5 friends using a variety of options for the round. You can also compete on single holes or 9 hole rounds with players worldwide on any of the courses. Each of the online courses acts as its own multiplayer hub as well, so in-between golfing you are able to drive around each course, fish, and discover coins and items at will. Again, it’s not hugely intriguing but it does offer a social space that is yet another way you can lose time to Everybody’s Golf.
The most interesting addition in the online space, is a new mode titled Turf War. Turf War is a competitive game mode where players are placed on either a red or blue team via matchmaking, and then tasked with playing 5 holes selected at random from a course. What makes it unique is there being no structure to how you play individually. For every player on a team who completes a hole, their score is then tallied via a scoreboard that tracks the total points for each team and each hole. The team with the most points on a particular hole wins it and thus the team who wins three of the five holes at the end of ten minutes, wins the match. It’s an interesting take on how to offer competitive matchmaking within a golf game and I’ve enjoyed playing Turf War quite a bit. Though be warned, as with most of the online play in Everybody’s Golf, some players are extremely talented so I wouldn’t recommend competing online until you have a good feel for the game and courses.
In the end, it’s not the customization, fishing, or hubs that have you coming back to Everybody’s Golf round after round. It’s the fantastic level of polish that’s applied to a proven formula. The engaging design, charming presentation, and fluid mechanics fans of the series expect are all here in spades and better than ever. The online hubs, daily competitions, and full character customization simply add another notch in the cap of a franchise that has yet to be topped in the genre. While the tacked on micro-transactions in the end game are a blemish, they don’t ruin the experience and can be completely ignored if you choose.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that if you own a PlayStation 4 Pro and a 4K TV, Everybody’s Golf is enhanced for the Pro with 4K and HDR support. As a higher framerate doesn’t play much of a role when playing, I’ve been using the 4K and HDR options and they are absolutely fantastic. The detail on the courses is stunning and despite the light-hearted nature and character designs, the game really shines when played with these settings.
Everybody’s Golf is another worthy title in the long running series, an absolute joy to play, and a fitting celebration for franchise’s 20 year anniversary. I just hope we don’t have to wait another five years for the next one.
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