SCEA hits the links once again with Hot Shots Golf Fore! on the PS2. This edition doesn't change most of the elements that made the previous titles so appealing. This includes the usual cast of wacky characters playing on a larger number of courses in multiple gameplay modes including the popular mini-golf mode. While the graphics and character designs are humorous, the golf physics and strategy are surprisingly authentic. Online play is the biggest addition this time and lets players compete with others online with real-time tournaments and other modes. HSGF doesn't feature real players and courses, but the fantasy elements make playing it a blast. This is another solid addition to the series that's both accessible and entertaining.
This series has never been about realism or celebrity golfers, instead focusing on creating an enjoyable and challenging golf game with a definite sense of humor. Developed by Japanese house Clap Hanz, Hot Shots Golf Fore! stays true to form with accessible controls, an intutive interface and loads of fun. The basic elements that made the previous titles so enjoyable have returned, along with some new features. The biggest change is the online mode. This lets players with the Network Adaptor and a broadband connection to compete against another player online or in tournaments with up to 4 other players. There are also some interesting new features in the single-player modes that add more depth and excitement to the gameplay. The trademark arcade-style play returns this time, and it's just as appealing and accessible as ever, with pick up and play controls that make hitting the ball and adjusting your shots easy to perform. Players can select from a bevy of golfers and caddies before each round is played. All of the original characters will return this time, along with many new ones with more than 30 unlockable golfers available. Each golfer also has a caddie that will help them along with advice along the way, and additional caddies can be unlocked as well. The new characters fit in well with the existing favorites and each character has multiple costumes that you can unlock using you Hot Shot Points. These extra outfits add more individuality, allowing for more character customization during online games. Each character has a unique set of abilities with differing strengths and weaknesses. Some are better on long holes, while others excel at putting. Which character suits you best depends on your style of play.
Hot Shots Golf Fore! offers a variety of courses that range from standard 18 hole courses, to shorter courses, demanding par 3s, and even a few challenging miniature golf courses thrown in to keep things interesting. This gives you plenty of challenges and the increased number of courses keeps the game's replay level quite high throughout. Some of the easier courses make good practice areas, but some of the more advanced courses are quite tricky. In all, HSGF includes more than 30 different courses, each with its own unique challenges and layouts to beat. The course designs in the game are relatively straightforward, with the usual greens, roughs, and obstacles you'll have to traverse during each round. However, some are trickier than they first appear, so you'll need to pay attention to the layout before you put to avoid falling out of bounds and falling into sand traps.
There are several different modes of play included in Hot Shots Golf Fore including Tour mode, where you have to traverse and entire season of tournaments. You can also choose to play in a single tournament mode, where you have to play a full round of 18 against a field of 30 competitors. You can also challenge another player and go head-to-head in the game's Versus mode, or can practice your technique in the game's Training mode. Depending on which mode you play, you'll earn Hot Shots Points that you can use to purchase and unlock various items such as clubs, additional characters, gadgets and even new courses in the Clubhouse store. You can potentially earn points for each swing of the club, with extra points awarded for excellent shots and coming in at or under par. However, you can also lose points by hitting bad shots or making Bogeys, so you need to make each swing count.
While the game's light-hearted appearance might lull you into complacency, don't be fooled. Hot Shots Golf Fore!'s gameplay can be deceptively difficult. The par for each hole seems somewhat reasonable, there are some tricky courses that will require a great deal of skill to beat. Some of the courses have hidden obstacles that don't seem obvious until you hit the ball. The realistic physics also require a great deal of patience and skill to hit each ball in the right direction. You'll need to factor in a number of variables before each shot. This is especially true with the challenging miniature golf levels, where a round can end with a single bad shot. Your shot accuracy can be affected significantly by a number of variables including wind, course elevation and the ball lie. Each of these elements play a significant role in your shot accuracy.
The game's controls and interface are surprisingly easy to understand, with the traditional power bar used to indicate shot strength and direction. This interface also shows the shot strength and the approximate distance you'll shoot the ball, depending on which mode you're in. Timing is everything, because hitting the ball when the indicator reaches the power-slot makes for a much more accurate shot. Failing to hit the ball at just the right moment usually results in a poor hit that ends up off the course. When you hit the ball, you'll also have to be aware of the wind direction, so you don't get blown off course. You should also look out for water hazards and rough areas ahead using the course map before you shoot. How hard and consistently you press the button at the shot point is just as important as when you press the key. A perfect shot is difficult to achieve and requires a great deal of concentration to accomplish. Pressing the button to soon will cause your shot to veer off direction, and possibly go off-course. Putting seems simple, but it's tricky to adjust your shots to provide for the ball lies and curves and elevation of some of the greens. In fact, mastering the nuances of putting is much more difficult than driving the ball long distances. In order to get the best shot, you'll need the right club and the game offers a good selection of cutters. There's an extensive selection of clubs such as woods, putters and irons for you to use.
From a visual standpoint, Hot Shots Golf Fore has a similar look and feel to the previous titles in the series but adds a bit of polish with better light-sourcing and more dynamic camera angles. The course designs are imaginative and interesting and come alive with cool special effects, close-up camera angles and humorous animations of your caddies and spectators. This lends the gameplay a fun feel throughout, even watching your characters lose can be entertaining. The trademark Hot Shots Golf feel is evident throughout each round, with the usual wacky character animations, highly polished environments mixing with realistic ball physics and courses to make for a robust gaming experience. The characters themselves include crazed ninjas, ditzy cheerleaders and even a few surprise cameos giving the game a uniquely off-kilter personality. Hot Shots Golfs' comedic voice-overs are excellent and add to the game's quirky feel. It walks the line between being funny and offering a solid game underneath, but this title effectively mixes comedy and realism. This allows it to make an appealing and entertaining game out of what is normally a rather dry sport without watering down the golfing elements.
Hot Shots Golf Fore is a solidly entertaining title that should satisfy casual and hardcore golf fans alike. Those looking for something different and off beat in their sports games have come to the right place. While the game's structure and interface don't reinvent the wheel, Hot Shots Golf Fore's excellent mix of light-hearted fun and realistic physics should makes it instantly appealing. Easily accessible controls give it strong appeal for pick up and play gamers while the multiple modes, realistic physics and challenging course designs should please those looking for depth along with entertainment. The course designs are clever and challenging, significantly adding to the game's longevity. Online play is a major new feature and is well-implemented, adding another dimension of competitiveness to the gameplay. Hot Shots Golf Fore! is the best in the series to date. It successfully mixes deep gameplay experience with humorous elements that will appeal to hardcore sports gamers and casual fans alike.