The Hot Shots Golf series has been a staple of console golf games for years now--and with good reason. Accessible gameplay and sharp, colorful presentation have been the hallmarks of the series since the beginning, and Hot Shots Golf 3 for the PlayStation 2 is looking to continue this tradition. Approaching the game with a "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude, developer Clapping Hanz has created another cartoony golf game that will, if nothing else, appeal to fans of the series.
While other golf series are migrating to an analog-style of control, Hot Shots Golf 3 is sticking to its guns, using the tried-and-true three-click method of video golf games. There are 15 different golfers to choose from, each with his own strengths and weaknesses. You're also given a caddy, though he serves mostly as window dressing, occasionally giving advice and always racing comically to the next shot. For the most part, the gameplay modes are all standards of both the Hot Shots series and golf games in general. There are standard single-player stroke, tournament, and versus modes, a short 9-hole game for gamers on the go, and multiplayer match and stroke games, which can be played with up to four players. The most interesting addition to Hot Shots Golf 3 is the inclusion of a national tournament mode. By registering at the Hot Shots Golf Web site, you'll be given a password that you can enter into the game, allowing you to compete in virtual golf competitions with other real-life players. This is an option seen with more regularity in Japan, and it's quite a surprise to see it making its way into a first-party US release.
The most striking aspect of the Hot Shots series has always been its graphical style, with its cast of bigheaded caricatures and sharp, realistic-looking courses. Hot Shots Golf 3 does little to change this, delivering the same style with more polygons. While it's not the most graphically impressive console golf game, the distinct visual style of Hot Shots Golf 3 is no less compelling. Character models are big and detailed, and they emote well through a handful of canned animations at the end of each hole. The courses themselves look good, though they're no better than the ones in Electronic Arts' PlayStation 2 launch golf game, Swing Away Golf. A few smaller touches help round out the presentation of Hot Shots Golf 3, such as a nice-looking water effect and a variety of wildlife and insects. Hot Shots Golf 3 also features a completely controllable camera, making it easy to get a lay of the land and figure out your next shot. The game could probably look a little better, though it's hard to complain about what's there.
The sound in Hot Shots Golf 3 maintains the lighthearted feel of the rest of the game with the kind of upbeat soundtrack that will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played previous Hot Shots games or virtually any other Japanese-origin golf games. The sound in general is clean but simple and is not nearly as inspired as the game's visual presentation. The build of Hot Shots Golf 3 we've been playing is very near final, and it's worth noting that all the characters still retain their Japanese voices. Whether this will be true for the final US version remains to be seen, though it admittedly adds to the already unique and somewhat bizarre feel of the game.
From the looks of things, Hot Shots Golf 3 has what it takes to satisfy fans of the series: new courses, new characters, improved graphics, a familiar gameplay style, and really, really big heads. If the previous games didn't appeal to you, Hot Shots Golf 3 won't do anything to change your mind. For everyone else, be sure to look out for this fun, vibrant golf game in mid-March.