You know how some people say "everyone has a novel in them?" New Hot Shots Golf is a bit like that, except instead of a novel, it's a golf cart, and instead of it being expressed through a lengthy writing and editing process, it bursts forth from thin air, instantly caging its creator with four pillars and a canvas roof.
It's kind of weird, the ability to summon a golf cart from some kind of shadow realm, but it fits New Hot Shots Golf's speedy style. This is no simulation game — there's no leisurely walks, or lengthy consideration of grass type, wind angle, or club selection. Take a shot and your cheery little character will hurtle through the air toward where the ball fell, ready to thwack it again immediately. If you can't be bothered to find a bridge over a river, you can just swim through it, appearing on the other side bone dry and ready to golf. Characters scurry around the open golf courses, their little legs motoring under them like Scrappy Doo, but if that's too slow for you there's even a dash button to get you to the tee-off position faster.
Courses are full of skidding golf carts
That speed is particularly useful in the game's team mode, where four golfers battle over a small patch of course, scoring points by repeatedly attempting to complete the same few holes in the lowest number of strokes. Playing the mode on the Tokyo Game Show floor, the pristine courses quickly became a mess of golf cart / golfer hybrids, eight players skidding from tee to green and back again in a desperate attempt to turn pars into birdies, and birdies into eagles. For a sport about perfection, New Hot Shots Golf's team mode is more about being good enough: multiple manic attempts at the same hole are likely to net you a better score than one carefully considered run, the danger of a bad putt lessened by weight of numbers.
The process of actually hitting the ball is the same as it's always been in the 20-year-old Hot Shots Golf series. As other golf games (like EA's Tiger Woods series) have experimented with analog stick swings, complex shot indicators, and weather conditions, Hot Shots Golf keeps it simple, demanding three button presses — one to start a swing, one to set the power, and one stopped as close to the starting position as possible to confirm accuracy. Mess up and you'll hook or slice a shot into the bushes. Nail it and you'll hit the ball with a sweet metallic crack.
It's as simple as ever to actually hit the ball
It's a simple system, and the presentation is lighthearted, but the Hot Shots Golf has always had hidden depths. New Hot Shots Golf seems to be no different. The courses look as bright and cheerful as a classic Sega game, but the holes are difficult, with trees, water traps, and sandy bunkers making the path to the green tricky. I hit a near-perfect strike on one hole, only to see the ball smack straight into the trunk of a tree and fly off into a nearby lake. A second attempt made it through the woods but ended up in the rough, forcing a tricky chip shot that I shanked, and a lengthy putt I missed by millimeters.
These depths are perhaps why New Hot Shots Golf has taken so long to arrive. Announced last year, it's still not due out until Summer 2017, as developers Clap Hanz continue to layer on the kind of polish that made previous Hot Shots games hidden gems on PSP and previous PlayStation consoles.