In the heyday of the original PlayStation, Sony's Hot Shots Golf series was the undisputed king of golf games, and with good reason. It presented golf in a fresh, off-kilter fashion without compromising the gameplay, which was also quite commendable. All told, it made the sport appealing to those who weren't already intimately familiar with it. Now, the developer of Hot Shots Golf 2 brings the series to the PlayStation 2.
Hot Shots Golf 3 picks up right where Hot Shots Golf 2 left off and doesn't really take the gameplay anywhere new, using the same three-click mechanics for drives and two-click mechanics for putts found in virtually every other video golf game ever made. These digital controls still work as well as they ever have, but with most other golf franchises moving toward analog control, it gives the game a slightly dated feel.
The three main modes in HSG3 are single-player, multiplayer, and short course. The short course mode, or something similar to it, has become a staple of golf games and lets you quickly jump into a short nine-hole game. The multiplayer modes are limited to stroke play and match play, both of which can be played with up to four golfers. The multiplayer modes available are good, though it would've been nice to see a few other modes included, such as a skins game. The single-player game is really the focus in HSG3 and contains the most gameplay modes. There's stroke play, where you're scored on your total swings for the course. In the tournament mode, you'll compete against other golfers for the highest position, and you'll be rewarded for winning tournaments with new golf equipment and more playable golf courses. The versus mode pits you against a single AI opponent in a match game. Beating opponents here will make them playable in future games. Finally, there's the national tournaments mode, where you can enter a real-life national ranking ladder via the Hot Shots Golf 3 Web site. It's mostly a novelty, though it does add a grander competition to the game, and it's a welcome addition to the game.
Hot Shots Golf 3 maintains the same look and feel as the rest of the series. The golf courses are rendered in a realistic fashion, but the golfers themselves are all superdeformed caricatures, featuring silly personalities and great big heads. Characters range from a slick Hollywood hustler-type, complete with cell phone and gaudy gold chain, to a rough-and-tumble grandma that would be more comfortable in a biker bar than a nursing home, and they are the core of HSG3's aesthetic appeal. The game looks pretty clean as a whole, but it fails to really impress. The characters are well defined but are simple and have a somewhat limited amount of animation. Much of the foliage around the courses looks very flat, and the textures on the courses lack definition and depth. Special effects are used sparingly and are generally fairly subtle, keeping the focus on the characters and the course instead of a lot of garish lighting and particle effects. You'll see a nice underplayed light show when you score an especially strong drive off the tee and a trail of dust behind your caddy as he or she tears across the course to the next shot.
The soundtrack consists of the particular strain of upbeat light jazz that fans of Japanese golf games will be immediately familiar with, and it complements the funny, laid-back nature of the game to a T. One of the few changes that Sony made in bringing Hot Shots Golf 3 to the US was to dub over all of the character voices using American voice actors. The new voice acting takes away from some of the game's distinctly Japanese charm, but more importantly, the limited vocabulary and halfhearted delivery of the lines make it downright annoying. While playing through a course, you'll hear different types of wildlife teeming around you, such as the chirping of birds or the buzz of a dragonfly, but some of the environmental effects, especially the sound of your ball hitting the turf, sound kind of synthesized and cheap.
It's a bit disappointing that Clap Hanz has made little effort to bring the series into new territory and flex the true power of the PlayStation 2 with Hot Shots Golf 3, and its incredible similarity to previous Hot Shots Golf games may disappoint those looking for something fresh and new. It's not the best PlayStation 2 golf game in any respect, but it's entirely playable. Fans of the series, or anyone looking for a consistently goofy, lighthearted golf game, will surely be pleased.