Everybody's Golf is out on PlayStation 4 now. Prior to release, Colin and Owen had a few days to play the game, though not nearly enough time to unlock all its courses or get into the nitty-gritty of online multiplayer contests.
We've been playing golf video games for years, way back to the days of Golf on the Nintendo Entertainment System and PGA Tour Golf on the Sega Genesis. We've also played a few of the Everybody's Golf games, previously known as Hot Shots Golf in the United States.
So, following a happy weekend in the cartoonish world of Clap Hanz's latest addition to its long-running series, we decided to retire to the nineteenth hole and share our thoughts.
Colin: I've only unlocked the third course, but it seems to me that this is less a sports game than a full-on RPG. It's got all those traits. The centrality of character creation, personalization and progression. The steady unlocking of new areas. And, most of all, the upgrade-ability of weapons, in this case, golf clubs. It's really important to get those stats up on your irons, right?
Owen: Indeed and, more to your point, each club in your bag is individually improved, rather than as a group (woods, irons, wedges), which is also very RPG-like. I appreciate how Everybody’s Golf gives out a single club type — no need to bother with selecting 14 clubs for a bag — that improves all of their shots. The fact that I can be better with my 4-iron rather than my 3, because I hit with the 3 so infrequently, really helps distinguish my character in an RPG-like way.
But one way I can tell a golf game — particularly one built on the familiar three-click swing meter — isn’t breaking new ground in gameplay is if chipping in is easy, and it is in Everybody’s Golf. I’ve had a couple of pitches for birdie or to save par that felt handed to me.
Colin: I like working on my chipping and approach clubs, because they allow me to tweak important nano-stats like backspin. I found myself working hard to get those numbers up, and the more work I did, the luckier I got. That's a golf saying, right?
Also — and again, this is an RPG feature — the bosses I had to beat are like missions that direct me towards new skills like chipping and side-spin, which I appreciate. This gives the golfishness of the game a surprising amount of subtlety and variety.
That said, I already feel like I'm grinding as I work my way through a very limited number of courses in the early parts of the game. The design seems weighted towards gaming the courses, rather than using my imagination and skill.
Owen: I’m glad I unlocked Alpina, the second course, when I did, because I was already starting to outgrow and outhit Eagle City, the beginning course. You’re correct that there’s a way to game the courses; I’m thinking of one hole where it was easier to drive it into a bunker atop a hill looking down at the green rather than play around it.
The tournaments’ continual variance, with tricks like mirroring the holes and different tee distances doesn't give the user much of a chance to remember how to play a specific hole, or recall what mistake they made the last time they did. Yes, I can always play 18 or nine of a standard layout to determine or beat my best score, but that doesn’t confer XP to move me along to the next boss match or newest course.
Colin: And then there’s those darned Tornado Cups, which are so irritating. They’re like little tornadoes atop the cup, which draw any ball inwards, thus making putting a lot easier. I completely understand that they are designed to encourage chipping from distance, but when I played Boris, that grave German race-driving boss, on a points-based system, I found myself feeling frustrated.
In a points-based game, there's a premium on long putts and chips, which are worth more than short putts. So I was penalized for great approach shots. Boris’ job is to encourage chip shots. He was chipping in from his pre-programmed crappy approach shots and thereby accruing distance putt points. The only way to beat him is to purposefully miss the green and chip in from distance. That feels off to me, and I'm not sure if really helped my chipping game that much.
Talking of the bosses, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the nature of the characters, and the general cheeriness of the game's atmosphere.
Owen: I really enjoyed the boss matches, finding out who was waiting for me back in the home area, and even reading their biographies. My favorite boss so far was the guy I just beat, Takamori, the sumo wrestler; his rage pose when he makes a bogey is delightful. Since you get everything from a boss you beat — their outfits, moods and animations — I get to chuckle even more now that I’ve equipped it onto my character.
I like the friendliness of beating an entire tournament field by more than three strokes and converting every one of them into fans in my gallery — at least a couple of whom look like famous game developers and executives.
The atmosphere holds up as a kind of golf utopia envisioned by the kindly owner of the place, although everyone is so cheery that I’m half-expecting to find an army of clones gestating in the pro shop. But I play Everybody’s Golf as a “chaser,” a wind-down after a more intense game, and it always hits the spot.
Colin: When I “capture” opponents and they become gallery spectators, I want to rub my hands together like an evil golfing villain, but they all seem so happy, all the time. Even the most cantankerous opponents are gracious in defeat. The whole world feels like the lurid fantasy of a golf-obsessed billionaire who's been at the Xanax.
It's relentlessly bright and cheerful, and there's a certain charm in that. I like the little warnings to be respectful and courteous. That's something you don't find in other RPGs.
In a way, it's weird to think that this entire constructed universe is really just about hitting a mark on a two-dimensional line swing meter. I might spend ages planning a single shot, worrying about club selection, spin, direction, distance, and lie, but if I miss that mark on the swing meter, it's all been a waste of time.
Crucially, the swing-meter does feel fair to me. If I miss by a small amount, the punishment is mild. If I totally miss the zone though, I'm in serious trouble. It's the most accurately simulated part of the whole experience. In a golf game, that counts for a lot. I’ve played too many down the years that I just didn’t trust to treat me right.
And on those occasions when I’m feeling jaded, or repeatedly missing my mark, I can take a break from the links. There's always tons of things to do. Accruing a gallery of fans, upgrading and unlocking courses is all good fun. But then you get to race golf carts, go fishing and join in weird golf trivia contests. It borders on the surreal.
Owen: The extra stuff doesn’t get in the way of the golf, but I wouldn’t say it really encourages me to spend all of my time in Everybody’s Golf, either. What does keep me coming back is that kind of potato-chip experience of one more nine, one more match, that the game is able to serve in 20-minute bites. Then 20 minutes becomes an hour. That’s where I’ll spend most of my time. And while the customization options are indispensable if a game is implementing so many RPG-like features, I have to say I rather like my look. It was very easy to create an avatar that actually looked like myself, wearing things I would wear, and I am usually terrible at this. But I’ve played arcade golf games with next to no customization options and gotten sucked into them for hours on the challenge of making birdie every hole. That’s what will keep me in Everybody’s Golf more than any other feature.
Colin: I'm a teenage girl. I started out really into bright, summertime colors, but I've drifted into a more gothy look. So, I like picking up items and changing into them. But I can't see myself changing my character either. It's a good sign when a customization system leaves me pretty satisfied from the start, while allowing for tweaks and variety.
I'm also going to carry on playing. I want to unlock more of the courses. So far as I can tell, there are a total of seven courses, and my guess is the challenge levels ramp up accordingly, along with the variety of landscapes. The team at Clap Hanz have been doing this a long time, and like many other long-lived sports franchise holders, they've gotten pretty accomplished at what they do.
Neither of us have played multiplayer yet, which is another good reason to reserve judgment on the game as a whole, but this game seems like a solid addition to the golfing oeuvre. It’s an especially fun game for kids who want to learn about golf. I'd recommend it to my friends, and I’m looking forward to going head-to-head with a few of them.