When it comes to console golf games, there are three options: You like Tiger Woods, you like Hot Shots, or you don't like console golf games. The preferences comes down largely to gameplay mechanics, though the differences between Tiger's mostly realistic PGA style and Hot Shot's colorful anime aesthetic are significant factors, too. Despite some detestable load times, Tiger Woods has already made a solid showing on the PSP. But now it's Hot Shots' turn. Open Tee capably translates the Hot Shots look and feel to the PSP, making it an accessible and entertaining golf game on its own. As a result, it's a fine alternative for those who simply don't like their golf Tiger style.
Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee sticks, almost stubbornly, to the old-fashioned three-click swing mechanic that's been a golf game standard since the late '80s. After lining up the direction of your shot with the D pad and selecting the proper club with the shoulder buttons, you'll tap the X button three times: once to start your power meter, again to determine the power of your swing, and a third time to determine how straight your shot is. When the meter is in motion, you can hold down in a direction on the D pad to add some directional spin to the ball, though once the ball is actually in the air, all you can do is stand back and watch. Despite the charming appearance, Open Tee can actually be quite challenging. You can choose to take a bit of the edge off the long game by automating the accuracy button press, but there's little assistance during the short game, where it's not uncommon to watch your birdie opportunity quickly dissolve into a double bogey if you don't read the break of the green properly. Open Tee's digital mechanics offer a greater amount of control and flexibility than they initially let on, but a disconnect exists between the controls and the onscreen action, as is the hazard of such control schemes.
You can practice your strokes in the training mode, but you're probably better off just learning as you go by jumping straight in to the challenge mode. This tiered single-player mode gives you a progressively more difficult series of events to compete in, such as regular match games, one-on-one competitions, and full-blown tournaments. Victories in the challenge mode will unlock courses in the stroke play mode, as well as new golfers and new accessories. Though you can't create your own custom golfer from scratch, you can adorn the unlocked golfers in a wide and bizarre array of accessories. Sure, there are straitlaced golfer costumes and clubs and such, but you can also choose to give your golfer a fox tail or a frying pan for a golf club. Options like these should give you a good idea of the game's overall flavor. There's also a putting challenge mode where you're placed on a putting green with several different holes to one-stroke your ball into. You're given points for each ball you sink, and the farther away the hole, the greater the points. It can be hard, but difficulty doesn't really translate to fun. Consequently, Open Tee would have been better off including the minigolf mode found in Hot Shots Golf Fore! for the PlayStation 2.
You can also play tournament, match play, or putting challenge games with up to eight players over a Wi-Fi connection, and aside from an oddball collection of bizarre rules you can implement, it's all pretty standard stuff. It's functional, but the multiplayer has a few glaring missed opportunities. Many of the Sony-published games released for the PSP thus far have allowed for Internet play, but this feature is absent in Open Tee...and it's sorely missed. Additionally, Open Tee lacks a pass-and-play multiplayer mode, which seems like kind of a no-brainer considering the turn-based nature of the game.
One of the biggest weaknesses in Tiger Woods PGA Tour for the PSP has become one of the biggest strengths of Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee. Tiger suffered from lengthy and frequent load times that forced the speed of the game to slow to a very methodical pace. Open Tee, on the other hand, will load briefly before you begin on a course, and until you sink the 18th hole, the rest of the game is virtually seamless. This makes the game pretty peppy, overall, and it's easy to bust through a whole game in no-time.
The Hot Shots series has forever been populated by caricatured, bobbleheaded golfers swinging around fairly realistic-looking courses, and Open Tee carries on that tradition. Each golfer's bizarre, intrinsically Japanese personality comes through nicely thanks to some spirited animations and clean, detailed textures, even though the golfers themselves are kind of chunky-looking. The courses start off looking like well-groomed real-life links, though as you progress, the specific themes become more pronounced, especially once you hit the pyramid-filled desert level. In a nutshell, the courses look good, and the visuals have a lot of charm. One of the more novel touches in Open Tee is the way certain sound effects are represented visually with tiny speech bubbles. For example, if your ball ends up passing through the branches of a tree, a "PFFT" bubble will appear. Similarly, when you sink a shot, you'll get a "KPLUNK" bubble.
There's a specific style of synthesized, easy-listening piano bar music that surfaces often in tennis, horse racing, and golf games developed in Japan. And it's in full effect in Open Tee. It's cheesy, but in a fun, harmless sort of way. It's unlikely you'll find yourself strolling around humming music from the game after an extended session, but it otherwise fits the tone of play well. The voice acting has a more active capacity to irritate, as both the caddies and the characters like to let loose with little exclamations at several different points during a single hole. These sound bites are rarely amusing, and once you've heard them all and they start looping, they graduate to annoying.
Hot Shots and Tiger both have their strengths and weaknesses, and whether you prefer one over the other hinges largely on what you want from your golf game. Open Tee isn't really any more or less accessible than Tiger, but the playful visual style will likely appeal more to those with no interest in real-world golf, and established Hot Shots fans will definitely find this to be their preferred game.