Hot Shots Golf Fore! Preview

We get hands-on with a preview build of SCEA's wacky golf game.

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We've recently had the opportunity to put in some hands-on time with a pretty complete preview build of Hot Shots Golf Fore. We've not been able to try out the game's all-new online play yet, unfortunately; however, the rest of its features were all there for us to play around with--including a mini-golf mode with 18 holes that have proved to be every bit as enjoyable and as challenging as those on the game's dozen or so full-size courses.

Fore! The latest in the popular Hot Shots Golf series will soon hit the PS2.

If you've never played a Hot Shots Golf title before, don't let the cutesy graphics fool you into thinking that the game is overly simplistic or aimed primarily at younger players. In fact, Hot Shots Golf Fore, like its predecessors, offers a version of the sport that's accessible and challenging in equal parts, and which can be played by anyone. Presumably, that's why the series is known as Everybody's Golf in Japan and Europe.

If you've ever played a video golf game before you'll have no problems mastering the three-click shot control method employed by Hot Shots Golf Fore. The system does feel a little dated, but it works every bit as well now as it did when home gaming systems had keyboards and cassette decks. If you feel the need to apply spin to the ball, you'll find that those controls are equally easy to pick up. The only other thing you'll really need to master are the camera controls that are used for planning your shots, and they are very intuitive, so it really shouldn't take you any longer than about five minutes.

The first time you play Hot Shots Golf Fore, you'll have only four different golfers armed with standard equipment to choose from, and only a couple of different courses on which to put their varying skills to the test. Unlocking new content has always been one of the most appealing features of the Hot Shots Golf games, and Fore is certainly no exception. In addition to a wealth of extra golfer and caddy characters and courses, you'll eventually gain access to skill-modifying clubs and balls, additional rule options, and lots, lots more.

Fore! is just as accessible as the previous Hot Shots Golf games.
Fore! is just as accessible as the previous Hot Shots Golf games.

If you're a fan of the series, you might remember that previous Hot Shots titles featured unlockable characters from the MediEvil and Twisted Metal games. We have not unlocked all of the extra characters in Fore yet, but we can confirm that the silhouettes of currently unavailable players include the popular PS2 pairings of both Ratchet and Clank, and Jak and Daxter. Many of the extra items in the game automatically become available to you as you win tournaments, beat opponents, or prove your loyalty to a particular character by using him repeatedly. Every time you play you'll also earn points that can be spent on bonus content as it appears in the club shop.

Given that the gameplay in Hot Shots Golf games is actually pretty conventional, one of the most unique features of the series has always been the superdeformed Caddyshack-style players that appear where you'd usually expect to see something that at least vaguely resembles a pro-golf player. Memorable characters that we've been able to play with so far include a female ninja, a surfer named Brad, and a very short British bulldog. None of the character models look that great, unfortunately, and there are an extremely limited number of animations and catchphrases that are sure to get old quite quickly if you decide to play for any length of time (which you almost certainly will once you start craving unlockables).

Like the ancient art of unlocking new stuff, the aforementioned mini-golf also proved to be very addictive during our time with the game, perhaps because its scoring system is so ingenious. You basically only have two shots with which to make each hole, and your score will be based on how far the ball travels before it drops into the oversized hole. The further the ball travels, the more points you get; sink a hole in one and you can score up to 50 points, but if you need a second shot the best you can hope for is a measly five points--it's simple, and it's brilliant.

You might not know it from looking at the game, but Hot Shots Golf Fore!'s putting system is exceptional.
You might not know it from looking at the game, but Hot Shots Golf Fore!'s putting system is exceptional.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Hot Shots Golf Fore--aside from some of the characters--is that its putting system is arguably one of the best in the genre. Specifically, the grids that allow you to read the roll of the greens do a great job, and the result is that the putting is often a lot more challenging than that of games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004; however, it is intuitive enough so that you'll never feel like a putt is impossible to make. You really need to see the grid system in action to appreciate just how good it is, but basically it's complemented by dots that move at different speeds and in different directions--exactly the way that you'd expect your ball to move if it were in the dot's position.

We've very much enjoyed our time with Hot Shots Golf Fore thus far, and are looking forward to getting our hands on a version of the game with online capabilities in the near future. Expect more on the game as its August release date approaches.

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