I’ve always been a fan of simplistic gaming simulations. Since they only mimic the reality of the sports they portray to a certain degree, it leaves plenty of room for imaginative and personal twists on a pre-established genre. Why settle for accurate uniform textures when you can outfit your character in feudal Japanese attire?
My reasoning was always that if a game is so faithful in its simulation, then why wouldn’t you play it in real life? If you have to preoccupy yourself with all the convoluted nuances of a game, it seemed to make more sense to me to actually invest that energy in the sport itself.
Which is why I think Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational manages to maintain the charm of previous entries, while at the same time provide a respectable amount of golf mechanics in a video game.
For those of you unfamiliar with Hot Shots Golf, it is a light-hearted golfing simulation game, with an emphasis on player customization and an arcade style of playing. Basic information on the wind, the lie of the course, and the condition of the terrain are all conveyed to the player, forcing adjustments to a player’s play style to get the best possible score.
Challenge mode, the crux of this game, gives the player a set number of challenges over a wide variety of courses. Challenge requirements range from placing first in a tournament to defeating a rival golfer. The potential for post-game play is great here, as each challenge has an even more difficult challenge subset that gets you a higher ranking.
Stroke play is for the casual player, just looking to log some time on the course, while the Training mode is ideal for those looking to polish their skills. Regardless, each mode is easy to approach and simple to play.
Veteran HSG fans will notice that there are a ton of returning features from previous installments. The player’s repertoire of spins, slices and power shots all make a reappearance within the core structure of the game, lending to a familiar feeling throughout. Courses still contain the general assortment of hazards and are set in an exotic and eclectic mix of locales, from farms to France.
The newest addition is the ability to choose between five different shot techniques. There are throwbacks to styles from previous games, as well as some difficult ones meant to emulate the timing of an actual golf swing. Others add in more convoluted shot decision, but it all boils down to a matter of preference and what you grow accustomed to.
Help screens during load times help get new players accustomed to the HSG universe, as well as allow veteran players the chance to go through a refresher course, as it were. This is a good thing, as now, thanks to the Vita’s connectivity, there are plenty of chances to show off your golfing prowess online.
The introduction of an online leaderboard definitely adds to the competitive nature of World Invitational, as you have the opportunity to test your skill in an online tournament on a daily basis. Instead of pitting players directly against one another, the best scores are are tabulated at the end of the day to find where they rank up.
There is also an online lobby that allows for brief interactions between players, allowing you to connect both on and off the course. While that’s nothing groundbreaking, it still provides an adequate social forum.
What World Invitational seems to be lacking is any substantial use of the Vita’s features. Its use of the touch screen or motion controls at times feels gimmicky. You are able to tap parts of the environment to elicit a response, but it’s usually just to make the trees move or the bears stand on their hind legs. The most useful thing you can do with the touch screen is move your character’s position at the tee and to roughly map out distance on the course.
In terms of motion control, if you tilt the Vita when making a power shot, you can gain back that power shot if timed correctly. But other than that, the Vita’s gyroscopic functions aren’t fully utilized.
World Invitational’s seeming lack of innovation doesn’t make it any less of a great game, but it was just a little disappointing not to see features of the Vita taken advantage of to a fuller extent.
Personally, the light-hearted and whimsical style of the characters and the game mechanics is what made HSG appealing to me when I first started playing the franchise. It was simple to understand, easy to get into, and felt more like an arcade experience rather than a golf simulation.
World Invitational is no exception, as it manages to carry on this tradition while still preserving a solid gaming foundation. The backdrops are simple and soothing, and don’t distract too much from the game at hand. Character emotions were an unexpected bonus, as each character had a distinct set of visible emotions pertaining to how good or bad their shot was.
Character customization also makes a return, but it feels slightly watered down compared to its previous incarnations. The extent at which you can customize your golfer is limited to color palette swaps and bonus costumes. The concept of mixing and matching costume pieces only exists in the online lobby avatar creation.
The gameplay itself is also still bright and flashy, with different flair animations for different kinds of shots. Put a lot of topspin on the ball, and when it hits the pin it will rise up along the pin into the sky before dropping back into the cup. Power shots glow red with a burning power, and baby blue trailing lines show how well you put spin on the ball. These effects bring a level of animation you would be hard pressed to find in other golf sims.
All in all, World Invitational is a wholesome addition to the Vita launch lineup. Its intuitive interface makes for an ideal mobile gaming experience, picking up games left and right if time permits.
While innovation may be lacking here or there, it still ends up being a very well-rounded game that takes advantage of its whimsical nature to create an approachable and addicting game experience.