Everybody’s Golf, contra its name, is not a book helping kids through their shame about dribbling putts just shy of the hole. It’s the latest entry in the decades’ old PlayStation Hot Shots Golf franchise (in Japan, it’s always been called Minna no Golf, Everybody’s Golf), and it’s the first entry in the series in five years.
I should say it’s hard for me to be completely unbiased about this series. I spent a good chunk of my college years getting stoned with roommates and playing endless rounds of Hot Shots Golf 3 on PlayStation 2. Bright colors, gentle Japanese electro-jazz, the burst of color when you’d sink an eagle — Hot Shots Golf 3 was tailor-made for skipping a Tuesday-night seminar and ordering pizza.
But I hadn’t kept up with the Hot Shots Golf franchise, and was interested in getting back into it. At its heart, the game is largely the same — you pick your club, aim your shot, click the button three times (once to start your power meter going up, once to set your hit strength, and once more to determine how accurate you’ll be). If you’ve played a golf video game in the past two decades, you’ll understand what’s going on.
What Everybody’s Golf does differently is turn the game into an RPG. At the beginning of the game, you create an avatar, then take it through a series of tournaments and one-on-one matches against a computer player. But every shot you take, from hits off the tee box to chip-ins, level up individual clubs. Use your four-iron for approach shots far more often than your three-iron? You’ll have steadier shots, more power, and better accuracy with your four-iron. It’s an interesting concept, making your golfer feel more and more like an individual — so far, mine tends to be a John Daly sort (including an alarmingly large gut) that blasts tee shots, but struggles in the short game.
Less fun is unlocking more courses, which requires playing various computer players until you finally get to the next course. By the time you’ve ground out enough wins to get to the second course, you’ll be very familiar with the first, and the same will happen with the second. Some of the one-on-one matches are interesting in that they’ll teach you more about specific mechanics — how to master backspin, for instance — but for the most part, they feel like filler meant to pad out the single-player experience.
And it’s tough to judge the game on its single player alone, as it’s meant to be an online game, and I’ve only had a few hours to play online (the public servers just opened up this morning, August 29). So far, it seems like chaotic fun — you can careen around courses in a golf cart, go fishing, and do other wacky things Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 would never dream of letting you do, but the games I got involved in weren’t really competitive; players shagged balls all over the course. Odds are good that a dedicated player base will build up for the game — online multiplayer golf games are particularly popular in Japan and South Korea — but I can’t say right now whether that portion of the game will be a success or not.
But at $39, Everybody’s Golf already feels like a perfect end-of-summer game pickup. If I were an incoming freshman, it’d be one of the first things I’d grab for my dorm room, along with a shower caddy, a good pair of flip-flops, and a paper-towel roll stuffed with dryer sheets.