Until Hot Shots Golf came along, the world of video-game golf was split into two factions - gamers that preferred hard-core simulation-style golfing games, and those who wanted more of an unrealistic, arcade feel to their golfing experience. Hot Shots Golf successfully united both factions, giving sim fans the realistic golfing engine they desired but tossing in enough spice and simplicity to hold the interest of arcade fans. As the first game to follow in Hot Shot's footsteps, Hot Shots Golf 2 has some big shoes to fill. But not only does it fill those shoes, it also stretches them a little - as Hot Shots Golf 2 is more than a worthy successor to the original.
From the get go, Hot Shots Golf 2 is easy to get into. You can simply launch yourself into a game, or you can explore the various menus, and you can even learn everything there is to know about the game with its detailed tutorial section. Once you feel like you've mastered the concepts of golfing Hot Shots style, you can choose one of six different games. There's a simple four-player stroke game, a par three nine-hole game, a two-player match play, and one-player tournament, training, and vs. modes. Beating the tournament mode unlocks new courses for you to play on, while the vs. mode lets you challenge one of the ten hidden characters to an 18-hole course of your choice. If you win the match, you'll unlock that character for play in all the other modes. Each character has his own strengths and weaknesses - from ball control to arc type - making a sizable difference between players' game styles. Like Hot Shots Golf, HSG2 uses an experience-points system - you gain a certain amount of points by playing in any game mode besides training. You can spend these points on unlocking various things in the game - from better equipment to secret modes.
The gameplay is where Hot Shots Golf 2 really shines. Simply put, the golfing is spot-on. Everything that you would expect from a realistic golfing sim is here. Wind changes, ball spin, and the lie of your ball are all things to keep an eye on when planning your shot. When you can't read the wind by watching the clouds, you can toss up grass to help you judge from which direction and how hard the wind is blowing. Hot Shots Golf 2 lets you easily switch cameras, and it instantly lets you view the course from almost any camera angle - using a simple zoom-and-pan system that's incredibly easy to master. On top of that, with a single button press you can change to a bird's-eye view of the hole, letting you plan not only that one shot, but also a series of shots with ease. Hot Shots Golf 2 brings back the classic power/accuracy meter for hitting the ball - press the x button to start the meter, again to set the stroke's power, and once again to set the stroke's accuracy. While this tried-and-true method works well, it would have been nice to see HSG2 implement an analog-control scheme - similar to that in Tiger Woods 2000 - to let you choose the scheme you are most comfortable with. Additionally, you can set your ball spin while the power/accuracy meter is in motion, allowing more advanced players to do cool things like slice the ball around obstacles or land the ball softly once it hits the green. Now, the game automatically switches to an approach mode when you get closer than 60 yards to the hole, and it switches to a superapproach mode when you're closer than 30 yards. These modes help improve accuracy, making it that much easier to sink a chip shot.The graphics in HSG2 are slightly better than those of the original game. The courses are still beautifully laid out, and you can scroll back and forth with no slowdown or polygonal breakup. The camera work is nice, randomly changing to show the track of the ball in flight. This time around, the characters are much different - they have a more claylike look to them than the classic Camelot characters found in the first game. As such, the characters look very much out of place, with ridiculous animation sequences once they actually sink the shot. Not surprisingly, the sound in the game is very nice. Catchy pop tunes fill the audio track, while cool sound effects and ambient noises help you get a real feel for the course. When the wind is blowing particularly hard, you can hear it coming from the appropriate speaker. The only thing that keeps you from feeling like you're actually golfing is your inability to throw your club into a lake when you flub a particularly critical shot.
Hot Shots Golf 2 has plenty of options for the single player, and it also excels at being a party game. Playing against the computer is always a mixed bag, as the computer-controlled characters never have a consistent game. It's not uncommon to watch your AI opponent score double and triple bogeys on two to three holes, only to have him suddenly sink a 100-yard shot to get an eagle. This inconsistency is most prevalent in the vs. mode, when you're playing to unlock a hidden character. The computer-controlled character will usually let you get ahead by three or four holes and then suddenly start playing amazingly well. In fact, there was one example where the character played an entire par fivehole in the rough, only to sink a 30-yard chip from a sand trap. You'd think that sort of skill would keep the player on the fairway, but apparently that's not the case.
While Hot Shots Golf 2 isn't a huge step up from the original game, it's still a great example of how a sequel should be done - by making small but important revisions to the gameplay without sacrificing the formula that made the first game such a hit. Arcade-style golfing may not be a game that deserves a yearly update like most other sports games, but Hot Shots Golf 2 proves that the genre at least deserves more games like it.