Sony and Clap Hanz’s Hot Shots Golf franchise is a well-known staple for the PlayStation brand, with a new game accompanying all of their platforms either at or near launch. Known for its unique blend of Japanese anime-styled characters and surprisingly deep real-to-life golf physics, the long running series is making its mark on Sony’s newest handheld. So with most of the launch titles implementing the handheld's new touch and motion controls to their detriment, does Clap Hanz under-utilize or over-utilize these features?
Surprisingly, it actually tends to gravitate towards the former. Unlike Little Deviants, which overused the new features to the point of annoyance at times, World Invitational does feature some gimmick Vita-exclusive features such as using the rear touchpad to gauge your distance from the hole, using the front and rear touchpads to humorously grab the on-screen character by pinching them and getting extra yard by flicking the Vita backwards on impact (it's much harder to do in practice than you would first imagine), but in general it feels very much like the PS3 version in a smaller format due to its reliance on the standard control scheme.
And that's a good thing, as the gameplay is exactly what veteran fans of the franchise have come to love and expect from the series. Like in previous games, the colourful and bright characters and scenery hide a steep but fair learning curve which guides you as you go along right up till the most difficult tournaments where only a few missteps can ruin your first place hopes. The only minor issue that pops up occasionally is that certain pre-rival courses are unbalanced to the point where one minor mistake will set you back and cause you to have to restart the entire match over again, which for a 10 minute plus round is a nuisance. A realistic representation of the sport isn't a bad thing by any means, but for what’s supposed to be a portable outing, that kind of setback is a tad bit disheartening.
Early on player will notice that Clap Hanz crafted the game to build on the concept of replayability, which is readily apparent after playing only a few rounds. Points are given out no matter what after each match --- even if you placed horribly in a tournament, which can be used to unlock a variety of unlockable items ranging from new outfits and characters to new accessories and even music and concept artwork.
This comes into play in particular for the accessories as they tend to open up as needed when the player is capable of using them. For instance, once a beginner player gets acquainted with the default clubs and places well in the first few initial tournaments they will have enough money to get the next "novice" set of clubs from the in-game shop. This also extends to the several types of swing meters that can be chosen from (with two available at the start of the game), each with their own inherent intricacies.
World Invitational also supports getting to know each of the golfers through a heart gauge and booster tokens. The heart gauge grows every time you use a specific golfer which improves their stats and unlocks access to new abilities, while the booster tokens lets you use up one of them for an extra boost of power during a shot which can reduce the distance by almost 50% in some cases. However, these extra bonuses don’t tend to deviate much between each character except for some specific circumstances, so there isn’t much of a reason to switch after maxing out a particular character.
As far as the online capabilities go in World Invitational, it’s surprisingly robust considering the lackluster support the other launch titles have, even if it’s slightly less featured than the recent PS3 iteration of the series. Available right from the start screen in the Vita’s LiveArea interface is the Daily International Tournament mode which allows players to compete daily and rise through the international rankings shared between the different countries. If you delve into the game itself you can also partake in the game’s online lobby feature which allows players to chat with each other in a 3D space instead of a generic menu-driven chat list before competing.
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is a splendid port of the long-running franchise to the PlayStation Vita, even if it does have its faults. It isn’t a system seller by any means, but for golf enthusiasts and those who have the least bit of interest in the sport or who already have played one or more of the games in the series prior it’s a definite buy.
|» Doesn't try to force any gimmicky mechanics onto players.|
|» Good amount of replay value.|
|» Surprisingly good online support despite limitations.|
|» Some courses are unbalanced.|
|» Characters aren't entirely unique.|
|» Doesn't do anything out of the box.|