Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 (PSP) Review

Although this game came out this past summer-- a few months shy from a year ago, I finally got around to sitting down and playing through Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 for the PSP. Blame it on the backlog. Was all the wait worth it? Let's see with this new review.

Are these shots still hot on a handheld?

The Hot Shots Golf franchise has always been Sony's go-to franchise for an accessible game of golf with a cast of characters full of spunk and comedic allure. There have been five main installments of the series since its inception on the original Playstation. To date, there has been a Hot Shots Golf game on each and every one of Sony's gaming platforms. The last console version was the Playstation 3's Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds, and while the visual and online quality was certainly bigger and better, the content was a little on the skimpy side. The sequel to the first PSP title, Open Tee, the aptly-named Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 is set to take the original's content and drive it 380 yards. Is this sequel one you'll demand a gimme for, or is Open Tee 2's mediocrity just par for the course?

What Open Tee 2 tee'ers will most likely spend the most time playing is the Challenge mode, where the goal is to complete tournaments and matches as they rise their way to higher rankings. Each ranking has three challenges to choose from. These can be 9 or 18 hole tournaments or match play competitions. The tournaments have you competing against yourself basically-- trying to achieve the best score possible all the while attempting to beat 19 other faceless AI golfers' scores. Match play has you taking on a computer opponent in a 9 hole match. The player who gets the least amount of strokes on a hole, wins that hole. Win the most holes in nine or have a lead of three holes, and you win. Complete enough of these challenges to unlock the opportunity to face a new character in match play rules. Beat that character, and you advance to the next ranking. Each ranking is harder than the last to build a nice and progressive difficulty. New stipulations like Rough +2 rear their head in during specific challenges to bring up some added demand of your skill.

Your caddy will not be on the course
with you like in past games. Because you smell.

You not only play the various challenges to rank up either. Each one you complete, you earn a pick at a card. If you win a tournament by more than two strokes or beat a match play opponent by three holes, you earn a choice of two cards. These are new attire for your cast of golfing wonders to wear, and there's three types just like the three challenge types-- head, body, and accessory. You can mix and match any of the three to create your own custom chipping and driving fashionista. As you play more and more with a golfer, their loyalty to you will rise, indicated by a gauge shaped like a heart. Each time the heart fills, that golfer gets a bonus ability like being able to hit more complex shots, another wardrobe space, and many more. Golfers and items can be earned from completing normal challenges, but a multitude are found resting on the various holes in the game. Your caddy will notify you when you're near something hidden, and you'll see a shining gold circle as to where the secret item is. Some of these require a certain character or outfit to unlock.

Outfit any golfer with thousands of item combinations.

By the time you're through scouring through each course, you'll have twenty characters total and an abundance of accessories, clothing, and head pieces in your arsenal. Just like there's all ten characters representing the original Open Tee, six retro courses from Open Tee are also available making an impressive twelve in all. Compare this to the paltry six in a high-powered Playstation 3's episode of the series. Speaking of courses, there's plenty of eye-catching works of art in the form of holes and spectacular views. Each course is designed masterfully with strategically placed bunkers, hazards, and greens that dare the player to drive their shots towards them. There's a theme to each course from an autumn forest and a Central Park-like course to a dusty desert and a park filled with prehistoric creatures. Case in point if you want course variety, Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 has it.

Don't let the game's cartoon characters and silly demeanor fool you. As veterans of the series known, there's enough depth in Hot Shots Golf to rival Tiger. There's an almost overwhelming amount of things to factor in before making a shot. There's the wind speed, wind direction, weather conditions like snow and rain, the lie of the ball, the elevation of your intended target, what club/type of shot to use, bunkers, water hazards, and enough others to make even Phil Mickelson's head spin. Even if you correctly factor in all of the above, you still have to hit the ball correctly. Open Tee 2 sticks with the tried and true three click shot system. One hit of the button starts the swing gauge, a second button press establishes the power of the shot, and the third sets the impact. Botch the impact, and your shot could have a mind of its own. It's all about timing, and expert characters don't have as wide of a margin of error as the beginning stable of available golfers. You can also hold down a direction on the d-pad to assign the spin of your ball. For example, holding down while swinging gives the ball backspin-- a high floaty shot that can clear tall trees and objects alike with ease-- whereas holding up will deliver topspin which is low-flying shot that cuts through wind like a sword through cheese. Feel free to use that simile in public, mind you.

Hitting a shot just right requires timing and concentration.

Driving and approach shots are just part of the golfing equation. The best driver has nothing if the short game is lacking. It's another can of metaphoric worms when it comes to putting. There's the speed of the green to read, the slope, and how much club to give to ponder over. The primary grouping of golf courses feature easy-enough-to-read greens, but late courses are home to some of the most diabolical greens imaginable. These are the types of greens where for the average player a two-putter is a godsend. The initial difficulty and learning curve of putting can be very daunting to a starting player. For a game filled with welcoming characters and charisma, the struggle with proper and persistent putting will unfortunately drive many players away. The game is not for the weak-of-heart, so if you're not up to a challenge, you may want to rent first.

No shoop, just whoop.

Open Tee 2 is a pretty impressive display. Characters are animated very well, and courses have an adequate amount of texture work and stuff going on in them that they don't come across as bland or overly static. There are some load times to deal with as well as freezing between menus. These are short inconveniences that don't truly detract from the game in any substantial way. The music is rather good and lends well to the golfing experience without being distracting or grating. In fact, the soundtrack is rather hummable, so don't feel bad if you're nodding your head to a tune or two. Voice work for each character can be hit or miss. Mostly miss with the caddies who spout the same handful of sentences pending the situation-- especially the fat doofus who resembles an older Elroy Jetson. He loves to exude the same old "We're finished" line every time I miss a fifty foot part. I'm sorry I failed you, Elroy, like you failed your father.

You can use the record feature to save any
of your best, worst, most laughable holes.

What doesn't fail though is the multiplayer options of Open Tee 2. The biggest new feature for aspiring golfers is the online Wi-Fi mode where players can partake in custom tournaments and other events with players from around the world. As you gain experience and get better in your pastime, you'll rank up, so beginners won't have to take on the golfing elite immediately. There's also local Ad-hoc multiplayer where everyone needs their own PSP and copy of the game to play.

Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 retains much that was good about the original Open Tee and makes it even greater with more options, content, and entertainment. There really is no huge reason to opt for Open Tee as the sequel has all the content from the game plus online play. Newcomers to the franchise might be put off by the disguised difficulty of the game, but those that stick with it and persevere will find one of the best portable golfing trips period.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]

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