Up and down for par.
Powerstar Golf is the natural response by Microsoft Studios to Sony's exclusive and popular golf franchise, Hot Shots Golf. It has the same pleasant presentation, with a cartoony cast of characters, rounded fonts on all of the text, colorful courses with softly rolling fairways, and a calming, uncluttered pace. As a launch title for Microsoft's flagship Xbox One, Powerstar Golf hopes to lure a part of that same crowd but at a lower price of $19.99, a feat which it performs satisfactorily.
While Powerstar Golf uses the traditional three-click swing, where you stop a moving line first for power and second for accuracy, it challenges players to be thoroughly proficient and demands much more precision than other golf games in its genre. This isn't because the three-click swing is difficult to use, as hitting a perfect swing is rather commonplace, but because the courses are devilishly designed. The first course, City Park, has familiar fairways and trees akin to most golf courses embedded in the heart of the woods, but even it has numerous bunker traps, fast greens with harsh slopes, and plenty of other traps to spite you.
By the time you earn enough experience points to unlock the second course, Rocky Ridge, you'll have to contend with elevation spikes and drops, unyielding winds blowing in every which direction, and holes situated around water. Almost every hole from then on, through to the third and fourth unlockable courses, are ruthless and one mistake will send your score into the rafters. Just try getting anywhere close to a pin in the middle of a downward slope, on an island, surrounded by bunkers and water, sixty feet down, while the wind is blowing away from you at 25 miles per hour. Thank goodness you don't have to worry about rain or the slope of the ball's lie, or getting anywhere under par would be nigh-impossible.
A part of the reason every course seems viciously and sadistically designed is due to there being only four of them, which is a low number even given the budget price. The same goes for the four unlockable characters that complete the roster of only six characters. None of them play that differently from each other apart from their inherent skill: Kiara can correct a ball's flight in mid-air, Dominique can add spin to ball while it's moving, Frank can increase the distance of a ball by 10%, and Reiko can create an attractive magnetic field around a hole.
Indeed, the bulk of character progression hinges on obtaining equipment and one-time boosters from in-game packs, with the highest Extreme pack costing 60,000 in-game currency. You can certainly get by with purchasing four Elite packs that cost 15,000 apiece instead, but there should at least have been a store where you can obtain specific clothing and equipment directly. Having a progression system entirely based on randomized packs can be exhausting and runs the risk of being unrewarding for the effort. Win enough events in Career mode, though, and you'll upgrade your characters with certainty.
It also would have been better to have experience points affect certain stats as well, not just unlock additional courses. However, you do earn additional experience points for beating your own personal record, the records of your friends, and the replays of other players in Rival Mode, which leverages the cloud saving system in an intelligent way.
That said, if you're an expert at casual golf games like Hot Shots Golf and Pangya, then Powerstar Golf is a sight for sore eyes and a worthy challenge. As for myself, at the time of this writing, I'm ranked second place on the global leaderboard for City Park on the highest Elite difficulty and first place for Rocky Ridge on Elite! (My roommates call it Asian Ninja Skillz.) So even though the courses are unforgiving, it's possible to master them (and beat everyone else at it too).
Powerstar Golf doesn't change much to the formula of pleasant casual golf titles. Though it's more difficult than it needs to be, is slightly short on content, and is focused on randomized upgrades, Powerstar Golf fits well within the genre, doesn't cost much at all, and give even the best pros a run for their money. With a little more development time, Zoe Mode could make Powerstar Golf 2 the premier golf title on next-gen consoles.