November 18, 2013
In the build up to the launch of the Xbox One, Powerstar Golf has been overlooked in favour of some of the sexier, more hardcore AAA titles up for grabs. Gamers didn’t seem bothered, the press wasn’t shown much of it, and attentions have generally been focused elsewhere. Maybe all of this has worked in the game’s favour, however, because Powerstar Golf arrives as a pleasant surprise.
It certainly makes a decent first impression, thanks to a bright, colour-saturated art style, warm lighting effects, interestingly themed environments and twig-limbed character designs clearly inspired by Pixar’s The Incredibles. It’s an attractive game that certainly doesn't push any boundaries in terms of graphical power, but it gets the job done. Right from the outset you know you’re playing a cheery, family friendly equivalent of Sony’s Hot Shots Golf.
The basics are certainly the same as the Camelot developed games, employing an identical rhythmic three tap approach; one to swing, another to select shot power and a third to determine accuracy. It’s all fairly standard stuff, but beyond that, Powerstar Golf injects a bit of character and novelty into the game with special abilities spread across six distinct players, a couple of different caddies each with their own skills, and equipment and stat boosts that borrow from FIFA Ultimate Team’s successful formula.
Here’s how it works. At a base level each character has a particular strength, available for use a limited number of times per round. Two are available from the outset; Frank is a barrel-chested former US astronaut capable of launching extra powerful drives, while Reiko is a bespectacled Japanese scientist with an outrageous accent, who can create a magnetic field around holes that draws the ball towards it. Four further characters with abilities like extra spin and multiballs are unlockable as you progress.
The playable characters are joined by two different caddies; the icy Astrid, who can provide you with a limited number of putt previews, or the lanky limbed hipster Kirby who can visualise shot previews. Players have the ability to pick either of the caddies before every new event, dependant on whose skills are most needed to navigate the particular challenges of the upcoming course. With the amount of options on offer, Powerstar Golf ensures that there’s just enough variety to keep you involved.
All of this probably sounds rather boring in black and white, but in practice it’s great fun. For those used to the relative drabness of Tiger Woods PGA Tour, with its soulless, characterless, feature-bloated sheen, it’s rather nice to play a relatively simple, merry golf jaunt packed with zany personalities and varied courses; from the Monorail sporting City Park, to the autumnal hues of Rocky Ridge, the cherry blossom of Emperor’s Garden and the lava flows of Burning Sands.
My favourite part of Powerstar Golf, however, are the systems it nicks pretty much wholesale from FIFA Ultimate Team. The game is dripping with XP, rewarding everything from hitting greens in regulation, to smashing long drives, downing puts, breaking records, earning birdies and beyond.
And rather than spending these points directly on equipment and stat buffs, you invest them in booster packs, each containing random items. Just like Ultimate Team, the more expensive the pack, the more likely you are to pick up a rare bonus or piece of kit. It’s a lovely way to spice up progression through the single-play career, which sees you unlocking events types, courses and characters as you progress.
It does raise problems for anyone playing the game competitively though. Whether measuring up your accomplishments against other players in single-player (every hole on every course has personal, friend and world records for you to engage in), going head-to-head in local multiplayer, or trying to beat your friend’s course records, the fact is that those with the best kit and boosters have a huge advantage.
No matter how good you are, you won’t be able to beat well-equipped opponents. It perhaps explains the lack of straight-up head-to-head online multiplayer mode, which is an otherwise baffling decision.
Then we come to the Achievement list. One of the first digital-only titles to gain from the increased 1000G level cap, Powerstar Golf rewards players for racking up good shots and scores, while exploring every facet of the game. There’s not much in the way of creativity, aside from ‘Hop, Skip and Jump’, and you’re going to have to put some serious hours in to unlock everything, but thankfully it’s an engaging enough game that the task won’t be laborious.
And that’s pretty much all you need to know about Power Star Golf. It doesn’t do anything spectacular with the genre and it doesn’t scream next-gen, but it is fun, filling a gap in the Xbox One’s library with a enjoyably silly, characterful golf game. It’s a great way to spend your time between sessions with the console’s bigger, brasher, more attention-grabbing titles.
Quite sparse for the most part, the voice acting is fun and the soundtrack intermittently explodes with jaunty, jazzy pep. I’ve had that theme tune in my head for days.
There’s some technical quirks and the art style may not be to your taste, but I found it a cheery, colourful and visually interesting title with fun character models and varied courses.
Building on a standard triple click swing set-up, Powerstar Golf layers on fun additions like distinct characters, crazy abilities and fun courses, making for a compelling one-more-go experience.
The single-player is fun and throws in some engaging social elements, while local multiplayer does the job. The lack of straight-up online multiplayer is odd though.
One of the first digital-only 1000G lists, you’ll be earning cheevos for all of your most impressive on-course exploits. Just don’t expect to pick them all up in a hurry.
It’s neither revolutionary, nor a next-gen leap, but Powerstar Golf is a cheery, entertaining experience regardless. We’ll be coming back to this for weeks.