Since the North American version of Hot Shots is still a few months away, there's only one way to hit the links on the PSP – Tiger Woods PGA Tour. The little brother of Tiger Woods 2005 for the PS2, the handheld version does an impressive job recreating the visuals, and even the deep create-a-player mode of the console game, but it has several flaws that keep it from being as addictive as previous Tiger Woods games.
If you're looking for a realistic golf experience with licensed golfers and courses on the PSP, Tiger is likely to be the only choice for the near future. Thankfully, the game has the power of EA behind it, so the list of golfers and courses is impressive. Sherwood Country Club, Pebble Beach, Harbor Town, St. Andrews, and Paradise Cove are a few of the 12 courses that the game has to offer. Vijay Singh, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger himself are all in the game, as are other fictional golfers that you'll come up against in head-to-head modes.
On consoles, the Tiger Woods series has been praised for its use of the analog stick to re-create the precision and timing needed to hit an accurate shot. To strike the ball, you first pull back on the analog stick, until you've completed your back swing. To move the club forward and strike through the ball, you quickly move the stick forward as straight as possible. The PSP has the same set-up, but its execution is flawed. The controls are far too sensitive and unforgiving. You either hit the ball straight, or it's way off the fairway into the rough or a trap – there's no middle ground. Most of the time you'll think you hit the ball just fine, until you see your ball sail off course.
Whether chipping onto the green, or putting for par, PGA Tour's short game leaves a lot to be desired. Shots out of the sand traps are just as likely to not make it out of the trap as they are to hit the green, and putting is terribly difficult. Your caddy will tell you that you need to aim six inches to the left and two feet past the cup to drain a putt, but as soon as you make an adjustment, the visible line of the putt vanishes. If there was a way to get some sense of scale when reading a putt, this wouldn't be such a problem, but the way it is now, there's simply no way to judge distance.
The game has some of the worst load times on the PSP to date. It takes close to a minute to load a round and then there's a 20+ second load time between each hole. In addition to that, you'll have to wait after skipping a cut-scene for the next one to load, as well as having to endure load times between every shot. These load times add a good ten minutes to every game you play, making it a less than ideal "pick up and play" game. The Japanese version of Hot Shots has no load times after the initial loading of a course, so a speedy enjoyable game of golf can be pulled off on the PSP – EA just wasn't able to do it.
It's not all bad. Tiger Woods has a neat Legend Mode where you take a created golfer and lead him through a series of challenges and matches on a quest to make him a legend. There are various head-to-head events, as well as shorter challenges that focus on particular aspects of your game. You'll earn money for each victory, which can be used to give your golfer better equipment and snazzier clothes, which will actually improve performance. The detailed create-a-player is very impressive, and if you're patient, it's possible to make a very realistic recreation of yourself, right down to the thickness of your eyebrows. It's quite impressive.
If you've got some buddies that want to join in on some PSP golf, Tiger's got a local WiFi mode, as well as a single PSP multiplayer mode that you can play. There are several quick play events, including a distance driving game, single hole match, and even a short 3-hole skins. The game's learning curve and inaccurate controls may scare away novice players, which kind of defeats the purpose mini-games, which are supposed to be quick and fun.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour is a nice looking game. The PSP's widescreen format lends itself nicely to the golf genre, allowing you to really take in the whole course at once. The courses have a lot of detail. The water looks nice, the trees lush, and the crisp visuals make it easy to see several hundred yards ahead. Before each hole, the camera performs a nice fly-by, and the announcer details the hazards and challenges you are about to face. You can zoom in and out anywhere you choose when trying to line up a shot, which is essential on some of the more difficult, narrow courses.
Unfortunately, since you only see one isolated hole during a fly-by, and you only see one hole at a time while golfing, you never quite get the feel of playing a course. Rather it feels as if you're being fed 18 random, unrelated holes. The swing animations are smooth and realistic, and there are plenty of different ways that each golfer will express joy or disappointment. Yep, Tiger's famous fist pump is "in the game."
Other than a few catchy tunes during the game menus, there isn't a whole lot of audio to discuss. The announcing is sparse and generally only kicks in to judge distance or to praise a player for a nice shot. There's also some stinging criticism offered by David Feherty and Gary McCord, so be prepared to hear about it when you slice one into the bunker. The crowds are just what you'd expect to hear in a game of golf, minus the jerk that always yells, "GET IN THE HOLE," but that's a good omission.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour had a lot of potential, but its lack of polish keeps it from being enjoyable for any substantial length of time. It's simply too frustrating to lose a match because of imprecise controls and a lousy putting system. Quick load times would ease the level of frustration a bit, but instead you must sit through endless loading for each shot and another long wait after every hole is complete. The wireless play is a nice touch, but the game's not accessible enough to have a good time with people that don't know how to play. Unless something gets lost in translation, Hot Shots Golf will provide a much more satisfying experience.