One of the PS Vita’s launch titles is Everybody’s Golf (or Hot Shots Golf as it’s known in the US for some unaccountable reason). It’s the one game for the Vita that I’ve strangely spent the most time playing, and will probably be playing for a while to come. Find out why after the tee-off.

The Everybody’s Golf series has been one of Sony’s favorite golf simulators ever since it was launched back in 1995, and a version of the game has appeared for just about every Sony console in existence. Cue Everybody’s Golf 5 for PS Vita, which is…well, almost precisely the same as Everybody’s Golf on other consoles.

If you’ve not played Everybody’s Golf before, it runs like this: you select one of the anime-style characters as your player, choose a golf ball type, pick a set of clubs, and off you go. Just try to sink the ball within the allotted number of shots. Play well, and you get money to spend in the shop. It’s just like real golf, just without the lost balls, long treks, and annoying, rich old men. On the other hand, you still get the irritating wildlife, swearing, and, in parts, the bad fashion. So it’s not ALL bad, then.

Despite the heavy level of cute (or, to use the proper Japanese term, “kawaii”) in the game’s presentation, it’s surprisingly deep and well-rounded, and not just a simple “point club hit ball” affair. The game gives you a surprising amount of control regarding spin, power, and direction, and in return you need to keep an eye out for a number of things, including wind, the slope, and the regular course hazards such as bunkers. And yet, despite the complexity of it all, it’s presented in such a logical, easy-to-understand way that you can’t help but come to grips with it very quickly.

What makes Everybody’s Golf more awesome than your standard technical golf game is that your characters have additional powers beyond just hitting. The basic power that you can activate early in the game is a powerball that essentially gives your shot greater reach. This is brilliant for really long stretches of fairway and when you need to get to the green sooner than your opponent. Obviously, the number of power shots you have is limited, so you’d do well to use them strategically.

Everything that you do on the course is converted to points, from teeing off well, to getting the ball on the fairway, to landing your ball in a bunker. For example, landing on the fairway will net you 20 points while landing in a bunker loses you 20 points. A birdie will land you 200 points, but getting a bogey scores you nothing, and the blasted water hazard earns you a whopping -50 points. These points become important when you are playing against other people and the actual golf score is tied. For example, if you and your opponent both have a score of 36 on a nine-hole course, the points difference on how well you played can make all the difference between who wins and who loses. Furthermore, those points you score on the holes convert to cash, so it’s a double incentive to learn to play well!

The game’s internal shop plays a large role in Everybody’s Golf, and it’s here that you unlock different club sets, different balls, different characters, and if you’re at a loss for what to spend your money on, character clothing. Unless you play this game a lot, you won’t be sitting around with piles of money, due mostly to the sheer number of things you can buy. It’s a shopper’s paradise!

One of the more fascinating things that you can purchase from the shop is different shot styles; the game starts you off with the standard three-point meter that determines shot strength and direction, but you soon can purchase others. One, for example, determines shot strength with a meter, but then determines accuracy (and therefore direction) with a shrinking circle centered on the golf ball. Hit too soon, and the ball goes…well…anywhere. Even to outer Mongolia if you’re that bad at timing. Hit too late, and it flies off in some strange directions, but at least it’s not as random a location as hitting too early.

Most of the courses you will play are single player sets, and the game breaks down most courses into two 9-hole courses before launching you into a single, unified 18-hole course. The courses start off pretty easy, but it gets difficult quickly, with bunkers and strangely-contoured slopes becoming your chief nemeses. Sometimes you’ll be doing excessively well in a course, but a single badly-timed shot into some rough on the last hole can ruin an entire run. It’s all great fun.

In the single player campaign, you’ll start each course as one of twenty virtual players, all competing for a pot of points. Everyone gets points, of course, but the people who rank down at the bottom get the very dregs of the pot. You’ll obviously want to score well, then. Just as well, because I found that, if you play tolerably well, the game lets you win. The mucking about with the scores is a little crazy and a little too transparent, but the game tends to cheat in your favor. You have to play a REALLY bad round to not place in at least the top three.

At every rank of play, once you defeat a course, you earn a star. Earn enough stars, and you’ll be allowed to enter a boss battle against an AI controlled player. Defeat the player, and they’re yours to purchase in the store. For a price, of course. For the sake of scale, at the lowest rank, a first place win will earn you around 1,500 points. To buy the first rank boss character, you need 10,000 points. And she’s the cheapest character. Remember what I said about not having piles of cash lying around? Thankfully, you also get bonuses for playing well, and each rank nets you more points for a successfully completed course.

The multiplayer game is a slightly different affair, and there are two types of multiplayer game. The first type is the Daily International Tournament. In essence, you go up against every other player who enters the Daily, and you’re ranked on an international scale. My initial attempt at the Daily was more than pitiful. In my run, I played against 414 other gamers, and I wound up in position 414. Not even second last, or somewhere in the middle. No, I was at the back of the train where they keep the dirty dishes and the roaches. Thankfully, that was a temporary placement, because after the day’s tally of over 4,000 players, I only ranked around 3,900 or so. Practice does make perfect, though, because by the third day, I was ranked around 2,600 out of 8,000 players.

The second type is a proper tournament against up to three other players. You need to create a little avatar for yourself for use in the lobbies (avatar components can be unlocked and purchased in the shop!), but once you’ve done that, you’re ready to go. The lobbies themselves are simple places where you can meet with and interact with other players, or join a game. You can’t actually host a game, however. You need to wait for one of the predefined games to get going, and sometimes this entails waiting in the lobby for five whole minutes at a time. The wait can be torturous. Once you’re in a game, though, it moves along smoothly, and I didn’t experience much in the way of lag on my system. You can easily heckle or cheer your co-players while it’s their turn at the ball, and that added a fun factor to it.

On the downside of Everybody’s Golf, the cute is not to everyone’s liking, and I can also imagine golf itself not to be everyone’s game, making the title a bit of a fib. Still, there aren’t too many bad points about Everybody’s Golf. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a fun golf game. On the other hand, the game doesn’t do too much with the extra features that the Vita has to offer, and the game isn’t a massive breakaway brilliant mutation of prior versions. If you’ve played Everybody’s Golf before, you’ll have a very good idea of what’s here.

The funny thing is, despite all of the hype around the PS Vita and with all the flashy games such as Reality Fighters, Wipeout 2048, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss, I feel that Everybody’s Golf is perhaps the most long-lived and best of the lot. It’s an awesome game, whether you’re playing by yourself or against others. A single round won’t take more than about 5 minutes to complete, so it’s perfect for those times that you’re just waiting around. If you’re using the 3G Vita, then you can take on the Daily International at any time, and it’s one way of knowing just how much improvement you’re getting out of the game. Seeing your score rise on a daily basis is a brilliant motivator! Now get out there and practice!

Final Score: 8.5 round, dotted prawns out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: Clap Hanz
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Distributor: Ster Kinekor
Platform: PS Vita
RRP: R349
Age Rating: 0
Website: http://www.everybodysgolfclub.com/