Par for the course.
Golf is all about tradition, from its extensive rules of etiquette to its love of terrible hats and ridiculous pants. It is, after all, a supremely old-school sport, dating all the way back to the 1500s. The only change golfers like to see is the kind that jingles around in their pockets while they sip a beer at the 19th hole.
If that's the case, video game golfers will enjoy Hot Shots Golf Fore just as much as they did Hot Shots Golf 3, which in turn wasn't much different from the Hot Shots Golf games that were on the original Playstation. The good news is that the formula hasn't been spoiled by too many tweaks or changes; the bad news is that it's starting to lose its flavor.
For the past six years, that flavor has been defined by Hot Shots' unique brand of arcade golf, which toes the line between realistic physics and strange, creative courses. It might look like a hodgepodge of wacky anime, but underneath its quirky fa'ade sits a pretty serious golf game.
It's not a very innovative one, though, at least not from a gameplay perspective.Hot Shots Golf Fore utilizes the three-click swing mechanic that has appeared in every version of the game, not to mention just about every golf game made prior to about 2002. Press once to start the meter, press again to set power, and press a third time to set accuracy. Then, you might as well press the gas pedal on your DeLorean, go back in time to the mid-90s and buy a ton of stock in Amazon or something, because this is about as dated as gameplay gets. It still works well and those new to the whole concept will find it effective, but vets of the series or of golf games in general have been here and done this plenty of times already. Heck, this exact same formula was found in Golf for the NES back in 1985. Not a spicy meat-a-ball.
However, a few minor tweaks have been added to give you more control. You can now put both regular and super-spin on the ball to increase fades, draws, topspin and backspin. You can also press a different button when you set accuracy to take a little off the shot in case you went with too much power or to give you a little extra if you under swung. The physics are dead-on, making the experience better than most other arcade golf games, particularly when it comes to the excellent putting grid. It's simple, effective and has just the right learning curve.
Also new is the golfer/caddie loyalty feature. Using the same golfer or caddie will increase their loyalty, which in turn opens up new costumes and animations. It's not very interesting, but at least you're rewarded for repetition, I guess.
There are 15 new courses here and they meet with mixed success. Some are genuinely creative and fun, but by and large, the courses feel too tame for a game this amped-up. It's well past time for the Hot Shots series to take some bigger chances, perhaps by embracing the concepts touched on by Mario Golf and throwing in some more interesting obstacles.
Hot Shots once again plays it goofy with its large cast of incredibly irritating characters. Sam the samurai, Tony the mafioso, Brad the surfer, Kamala the Nubian queen " it's just a tragic assortment of stereotypes that are about as witty as a McDonald's ad campaign. Even the caddies are mildly offensive, particularly the overweight black maid clearly voiced by someone who is neither fat nor black, but tries hard to sound it. Sad.
Actually, the sound in general is more annoying than offensive. The gallery and caddie tend to jabber all at once, leading to an incomprehensible mishmash of meaningless phrases that at times are so out of left-field, you wonder if they were initially recorded for a different game. The music is typical Japanese midi stuff, the sole purpose of which is to help drown out the horrible voices.
The look of Hot Shots Golf Fore fares much, much better. The game still enjoys lightning fast load times, bright, colorful graphics and some nice effects. It isn't much of a leap from the last game, but that's not really a bad thing.
Where Hot Shots really makes it mark is in its single-player RPG depth. You can play in Tournaments to gain experience, open courses and earn points to spend on new items, play a VS match to unlock characters, or hop into a game of Mini-Golf for a break from the routine. The item list is nowhere near what you'll find in the superior Tiger Woods, but you'll find some added strategy in mixing and matching gear for your characters, each of whom is ranked in four categories, with various clubs and balls. You can't make your own golfer, but you can boost a power-hitter's spin stat, for instance.
The result of this setup is an addictive game of golf. You'll keep hacking away just to open up another course or gain enough points to buy a new item, much like hacking away at monsters in a dungeon in order to afford a fancy new sword. There is some good fun here for those proud few interested in both role-playing and golf.
The biggest new change, however, has nothing to do with the single-player at all. Hot Shots Golf Fore is the first in the series to support online play, which works fine. You can play quick matches against other golfers or set up a pretty large tournament. The whole online scheme is pretty bare bones, but at least it's here and isn't broken.
And ultimately, that's probably the best way to describe Hot Shots Golf Fore. It delivers exactly what it has for years now with the added option to play online. For some of you, that's probably enough to warrant a purchase. But in the grand scheme of things, this somewhat underwhelming series is falling farther behind the game currently atop golf's leaderboard, Tiger Woods, and doesn't look to be gaining any strokes.