a review of Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee (Everybody's Golf Portable)
a videogame developed by clap hanz
and published by sony
for the sony playstation portable
text by Thom Moyles
I’m not really sure what “Open Tee” is supposed to mean in this context, that context being the title of a golf-based videogame. My best guess is that it’s related to when you go golfing and you wind up playing with people that you’ve never met before (Note: I have never actually done this). The concept of wandering down to the local golf course and filling out a foursome fits in well with the inviting atmosphere that is the trademark of Hot Shots, which is titled Everybody’s Golf in areas of the world that are comfortable with games having titles that don’t sound like something that’s really exciting to a 13-year-old boy (or, that a marketing person thinks would sound exciting to a 13-year-old boy). It’s a game series that’s all about with providing the player with a consistent experience of consistently tolerable and mostly enjoyable fake videogame golf featuring bobble-headed characters with large eyes and vaugely un-nerving smiles. Crucially, it’s also got a ridiculously simple command system that I’m reasonably sure that you could teach to a rat, given a little bit of time and a healthy stack of heroin.
The main menu of Open Tee features a smiling woman sitting behind a desk who smiles and waves as you go in and out of the menus, green hills stretching along the windows behind her, everything clean and sparkling and pleasant. The abstract art is all bright and primary colors, while the skies are a deep deep blue, with clouds scudding across them at a clip and direction relative to the wind that will affect your shot. The environment is all specifically designed to be welcoming, to make the player feel like the game itself is happy that it’s being played. Each character has little hearts that fill up as you play rounds with them, complete with a “you’re my valentine” render of the character staring into your eyes. Regardless of your performance, the characters get better as they presumably grow more attached to you.
Even though the game can be horribly, terribly, gerund-inducingly frustrating, it’s also centered around making sure you’re having a good time. Even when you “fail” to complete a goal in Challenge Mode, the game plays you a cheery FMV clip of waves crashing on a tropical beach (or some other equivalently generic cheerful image) with “Good Job!” displayed in the lower right. Obviously you didn’t really do a good job all the time at fulfilling the requirements of the game, so I’m left to conclude that the “good job” in question is the job of picking up your PSP and choosing to play some golf, even if it’s just one round. That’s okay, Hot Shots is not here to judge you, it’s concerned with your current level of relaxation.
As pleasant as things are, there are times when things take a turn for the slightly creepy or worse, the bland. For one thing, there are two beautiful female swordswomen characters, because I guess they needed so many playable avatars and “old lady” didn’t focus-test well. There’s also the first black character I’ve ever seen in a Hot Shots game. When selected, he says “A’ight, yo!”. When he does well on a hole (no racist), he lifts weights or dunks a basketball. I showed this to my co-worker with the office next to mine (who also happens to be black (the co-worker, not the office)) and he walked out afterwards without saying anything or looking me in the eye. I guess he was impressed with the level of diversity in the genre of fake videogame golf.
The golf courses also lean a little too much towards simulating reality. Look, if you’re going to let us dress up our characters like ahistorical ninjas that dunk basketballs after they make a chip-in by having the ball swirl down the pin into the hole while grinning like an American sugar-cereal pitchman, it also might be a good idea to put in more than one course (that requires you to unlock it, no less) that has somewhat fantastical features to it. That this one ‘wacky’ course also basically boils down to bottomless pits and volcanoes (I’m giving the game the benefit of the doubt here since I only noticed one actual volcano), which hardly set my heart ablaze with glory, is insult to injury. As much as I really want something with floating, possibly moving platforms, criticism in this case feels like kicking a puppy, even if that puppy drools a bit and likes to chew on your shoes.
And maybe it’s okay that a game doesn’t set your balls on fire and bring your goldfish back from the dead. Maybe all it has to do is be friendly and not pull the rug out from under you. You’ll play it, you’ll get tired of it, you’ll pick it up 5 years from now and say “Hey, this was pretty neat” and you’ll be able play a round or two without really needing to remember much. Sometimes it’s alright to not need it all, all the time.