It was almost inevitable, wasn’t it? PlayStation Vita, the self-anointed handheld for the hardcore finally arrives, a hallowed pair of dual analog sticks attached, ready to release those previously shackled by power cord to plug socket, and what happens? Almost all its launch titles are falling over themselves to avoid using the blessed things. Instead, you’re encouraged to stroke the system’s face and rub its back like you’re operating some kind of mobile massage parlour. It’s amusing, disappointing and understandable in just about equal measures.
Thankfully, the Everybody’s Golf series has made its name by remaining almost totally impervious to any demands for change, whether they be purely to indulge in the novelty factor of the Vita’s new controls, or otherwise. And it’s certainly not about to blot its scorecard now and go all touchy-feely on us. Well, no more than it can possibly avoid.
Instead, the games remain entrenched in a unique combination of traditions. Both eccentric and staid at the same time in a very Japanese way, they mix their sugary aesthetic with a steely challenge that’s surprisingly faithful to the royal and ancient rules of the sport. Think Pokémon does the PGA and you’re just about there. A videogame spin-off to a non-existent Saturday morning cartoon where hero golfers battle against an evil stroke index.
This latest release is no exception. In fact, Everybody’s Golf for the Vita is virtually a scale model of Everybody’s Golf: World Tour on the PS3. The game has a brightness and positive energy to it that’s as impressive as it is unrelenting. A gushing and uplifting jollity that only the most cold-hearted curmudgeon will be able to resist. Every time you load it up, there are two epilepsy warnings, but there should probably also be one cautioning you not to play if you’re currently taking anti-depressants as you’ll be in serious danger of over-medicating.
The screen is constantly coloured in jaunty felt-tip tones. Every swing of the club head seems to be powered by sunshine, every ball accompanied by a rocketing rainbow trail. The sassy, super-deformed golfers with their faux saucer-eyed innocence and sculpted hairstyles strut, pout and pose after every shot like they’re walking a fashion show runway rather than a fairway. And all this panto-style posturing is amplified by the giant words that jump, pop and explode on to the screen as verbal exclamation points to the action.
Each hole is a unique confection of the quaint and the colourful. Decorative windmills and giant water wheels turn lazily in the sunshine, waterfalls plunge into crystal clear lakes where coy carp playfully splash, and the only Tiger you might encounter prowling the course here will be of the friendly feline rather than the love rat variety.
While the model-village-meets-miniature-golf feel to the impressively manicured visuals initially means the course design seems more ornamental than intelligent, all this eye candy is something of a misdirection trick. Cloaked underneath is a robust, demanding and, most surprisingly, realistic golf game. The main Challenge mode is a lengthy run of 9 and 18 hole stroke play tournaments and while the presence of fiery power shots, oversized holes and fighting game-style 1-on-1 matchplay boss battles, may mean that calling Everybody’s Golf a simulator is pushing things a bit too far, there’s more than enough here to qualify it as a serious golf game.
Whichever of the five different shot gauges you eventually settle on, each requires its own, slightly different type of metronomic precision, and the green grids which highlight the undulating contours of putting surfaces demand diligent analysis to avoid disaster. Very quickly, landing areas become tighter and pin placements harder to hit, and the risk/reward balance that makes golf so stimulating is a noticeable presence. At the highest level, one bad hole, one misjudged shot, one dip in technique or lapse in concentration can decide an entire tournament. Just like in a real pro game.
It’s such a hard contrast; the garish, superficial looks and the intricate mechanics, but it’s one that works thanks to developers Clap Hanz deft balance of the game’s two diametrically opposing central elements. Neither grates too much. The serious focus needed when playing your shots distracts from the most irritating parts of the aesthetics, while the cheery sound and visuals take the acidic edge off those potentially club-throwing moments of frustration. It creates an interesting contrast rather than an unappealing conflict.
In other areas, Everybody’s Golf doesn’t find its equilibrium quite so well. While the game’s experience points system endearingly encourages your loyalty towards your chosen golfer – enhancing their abilities and offering new clothing and equipment with which to kit them out – it actively discourages you from switching to any of the other interesting characters you unlock. Much worse than this, however, is the presence of Marta the caddie, who even the most staunch Japanophile would find excruciatingly annoying. Totally unsuited for her role in such close proximity to someone wielding a metal club, she’s frequently only seconds away from a relationship-ending blunt force trauma.
Another disappointing omission is the lack of the ability to have two players enjoying a round together on the same system. By way of partial compensation though, the central Challenge mode is flanked by options for ad hoc play and a substantial online framework including daily international tournaments and lobbies that encourage gregariousness.
When the Vita’s alternative controls are utilized, they’re incorporated in sensibly optional and peripheral ways such as using the touch screen to change the camera angle, or pick up and reposition your golfer on the tee. They are not, however, what makes Everybody’s Golf one of the system’s best launch titles. That’s down, once again, to the skill with which Clap Hanz have successfully replaced golf’s normally priggish, Pringle-clad conventions with Prozac-fuelled exuberance. Everybody’s Golf on the Vita may be very much like Everybody’s Golf on the PS3, but then that was always meant to be the point, wasn’t it?
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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