Above all golf franchises that I've ever played, simply none of them have ever compared to Hot Shots Golf. But really, when the only other notable golf series is Tiger Woods, Hot Shots Golf doesn't have much in the way of competition. Sony's golf series has employed a super cute, cartoon-like approach, with deceivingly sharp gameplay aspects and a sense of realism. And gameplay has been the primary drive of the franchise since its inception back on the original PlayStation. It's ironic how the series has never taken itself seriously, and yet it remains at the forefront of golf games. Now with the fifth installment approaching, it looks like Hot Shots Golf will continue to reign.
Between Hot Shots Golf Fore! and even the PSP's Open Tee, there aren't any striking mechanical differences between the two. The standard way of play is still based on the timing bar that measures your distance/power and accuracy. So it feels very welcoming to come into HSG5 and know exactly what you're doing. Likewise, HSG5 still features the same grid displays that demonstrate the level/incline of the field to aid you in your puts. HSG5 will have a number of aids for you to play with, one of which includes simplifying the hitting process by giving you wider golf clubs. This is meant to make the game feel more arcade-like, as it increases the power of each hit, due to the increased contact patch between the ball and the club. It's not a setting I'd recommend using, because it lessens control of the ball; and when you're aiming for superb precision, the wider clubs will not give it to you. Stick to the standard setting.
As always you'll be able to control the power of your swing by using the club you want, and also control the pitch/angle of your club for when you're in deep ground (the rough, sand, etc.). But HSG5 does feature a new gameplay facet, and it's a new way of swinging. Instead of using the double tap with the timing bar, HSG5 now allows you to time your swing and hit manually. First, you activate the swing by pressing X once, then your golfer will raise the club preparing for the hit, and depending on how hard you want your golfer to strike, you'll stop the pullback by hitting X again and trigger the swing.
For instance, if you want a powerful hit, you will wait until the club is by your golfer's head and the red circle appears (meaning that you're at maximum power). If you want a semi-powerful hit, then you'll hit X somewhere 3/4 up. If you want a moderate hit, then you'll stop it half-way up, and so forth. Long-range shots are easy to pick up on, it's the putting that'll take some time to get used to. Although, I suspect that versed golfers or enthusiasts will likely not have a problem with this new system, seeing as how personal experience will prevent them from swinging too hard. But there's a third step, which is to precisely tap X as the club makes impact with the ball. There will be a circle indicator that zeros in on the ball, and that'll be your marker to help you time your hit. It sounds a lot more complicated than it really is, but the reality is that this is a simple three step processes: start swing, select swing power, time impact. That's it.
Sony has yet to release an official fact sheet for HSG5, but in traditional fashion, expect the game to feature a bunch of different modes, stages, characters, and a plethora of new features we aren't aware of. What I can confirm is that there will be off-line four player features and also online gameplay, too. I'm not certain if online is going to be two or four players, but rest assured that it will be there and we're expecting it to be quite robust and feature filled.
So far, this demo that I've been playing looks quite nice, but early. There's quite a bit of detail in the environments, and the picture is crystal clear. The texture work on the grass is splendid, but some parts do exhibit low-resolution aspects. In its current state, HSG5 is certainly a good looking game – and it should please a lot of people. But there's quite a bit of stuff that's obviously not finished, such as jaggy shadows and characters that are also rough around the edges. Again, this is all stuff that should be fixed in time for the game's Summer release, as has been the case with every single demo that Sony has put out thus far.
Stay tuned for more updates on Hot Shots Golf 5. We'll be certain to update our preview coverage with the full list of features as Sony makes them available to us.