Everybody's Golf Review
Solid arcade gameplay where grinding is par for the course
Golf games have been in short supply in recent years. Aside from occasional indie release, an arcade hit on a Nintendo platform, or EA’s largely scaled back PGA Tour franchise, golfing enthusiasts have had slim pickings. Recently, Golf Club 2 did well in offering a sim-focused trip to the greens, but fans of a more relaxed experience were still waiting. The newly released Everybody’s Golf is hoping to quench that thirst for a perfect drive, all the while maintaining an accessible and colorful atmosphere. This latest entry in the very long running PlayStation exclusive franchise, formerly known in North America as Hot Shots Golf, brings a variety of improvements since its last entry six years ago. It’s a very solid casual experience that’s fun to play, especially with others, though a number of design mishaps prevent it from becoming an arcade classic.
You begin by creating an avatar; the game features a well-rounded customization system letting you adjust a variety of sliders to get the look that you want. From clothes to accessories, there are lots of ways to make yourself look unique (you can even be a young kid), and as you progress through the career plenty of new items are unlocked for you to purchase at the shop. The game’s hub world is a small island where you can walk around and talk to a few NPCs for a quick gameplay tips, but most of them are there just to create a better sense of location. If you have the coins and like someone’s getup, you can copy the entire outfit of an NPCs to yourself. Though, all of the locations that you can interact with in this hub world (shop, tournament board, customization) can be accessed via the pause menu as well.
When you’re ready, it’s time to get down to business. Players can walk around a small teeing ground to choose their starting spot, though it doesn’t create any particular advantages. You can also zoom out with the camera and observe the area where your shot will land if you use maximum power with the current club. Players need to consider slope of the ground they’re shooting from, elevation, and wind. Everybody’s Golf utilizes the three-click shot mechanic that series veterans will be familiar with. You press X once to start the power meter bar rising to the left, press again to mark the desired strength of your shot, and as the meter returns back to the right you click a third time as closely to the starting position as possible (point of impact). Doing this perfectly will send your ball exactly where you’re aiming for on the course; mistime the third press and your results will be way off the fairway. The timing isn’t too difficult and players familiar with QTE events should be fine; you can also practice this action during loading screens. This basic golf gameplay design is quite effective, and yet very entertaining and accessible.
The ball physics are on-point, and missing the hole by inches is both agonizing and believable. The wind and slopes of the course are easy to discern thanks to visual guides, but are difficult to master. Avoiding trees and bunkers can be challenging, but the chase for the lowest score under par will lead you to some dangerous attempts. More in-depth mechanics come into play later on – while you can use endless basic golf balls, you can also purchase finite special golf balls that have a specific function like extra spin. During your shot, you can press on the D-Pad to specify where to hit the ball itself, so that you can add back spin/top spin/side spin. If you mistime the second press of the X, you can use triangle/circle instead of X at impact to add an extra/remove some of the power.
If you’re playing with folks who can’t quite get the timing right on the impact, you can enable a setting to get the game to do it for you, but the quality of the timing of impact will be random and thus can’t be used as a sort of cheat. There are also course modifiers to make the game more to your liking – such as larger/smaller cups, or even Tornado ones that will suck in the ball if it’s close enough. You could setup the tee to be long, adjust the match win conditions (head to head, 3up/3down), time of day, mirrored layout, and so on. The game definitely tries to squeeze as much content out of its courses as possible, and it has to because there are only 5 of them, with 18 holes each. The courses are well designed and do get progressively more difficult and fun. But this doesn’t offer a ton of variety, even with the gameplay modifiers, and feels even more painful because there is actually a 6th and 7th course – but they are paid launch day DLC.
The single player campaign in Everybody’s Golf essentially spans a series of tournaments and mini-bosses. You start off playing through 9 hole games at the same location and on the same course in an inner city, until you’ve earned enough experience to challenge a local golfer to a one-on-one match. In this encounter you must beat them in a round with specific game-set conditions. You then play some more tournament rounds at the same location, until you earn enough XP to challenge the 2nd and 3rd boss. Then, you move on to the next “rank” of your golfing career and do it again - play through tournaments until you can challenge the three bosses at this rank. This progression is fine in theory, but it takes an extremely long time to get to new courses; it is not until Rank 3 that you’re able to unlock the second course, and then a new course at each rank after. The first two ranks are thus quite boring and repetitive, as you play the same course through multiple tournaments and six bosses for hours. You can accelerate the XP earned by using Serious Mode, which makes the AI put up much better scores, but it is still a very long grind. The bosses begin to rack up great shots and scores after Rank 3, and pushing you to use special golf balls, skill shots, and patience, so the difficulty curve is decent.
But at least the slow career start does give you a chance to improve your clubs. The game utilizes an RPG-like system, where your golf clubs have four skill areas that start out at level 0, and then as you use them, they can be leveled up. Each club has four proficiency areas – power, control, back spin, and back door. You only level up the club you’re using, and over time you should hopefully have all of them at least somewhat improved. The game helpfully automatically equips the right club for the next shot’s distance, but you can manually swap as well. To level up each of the proficiencies, the game uses a system similar to EA FIFA’s Be a Pro; to level up Power, you need to keep using maximum shot strength on your swings. To level up control, you should get a number of ball landings on the green, and so on. In return, these stats will level up and improve the maximum distance and precision of your club, respectively. You can also win special clubs that come with their own pre-existing stat bonus, and these can be leveled further as well. Lastly, your avatar also has a base set of stats that level up as you progress through the game.
While the addicting appeal is certainly there for continuously improving your clubs by playing the way you want, the concept does run into trouble when the game is designed around competition. For example, it’s difficult to get good results during the first few hours of the game, as your clubs don’t have the boosts in power and control to get shots exactly where they need to go. There’s no player skill limitation here – you just don’t have the stats. And while similar systems are at work in other sports games, it feels particularly at odds with golf. It’s an interesting dilemma. Things get further complicated by the special one-time use golf balls that are fairly expensive, and can improve your results in certain situations – like getting out of a bunker, or offering extra spin. After reaching the final rank, you unlock the ability to customize your golf clubs further with bonuses, and this requires gems. Getting gems takes time, or you can buy them via microtransactions. If you're dedicated to the long-term competitive play, this news may be troubling.
As the name of the franchise might imply, there is a big focus on making this virtual golfing experience a highly social one. When you get out to the course, characters litter the sidelines and produce appropriate audience audio effects during play. But the folks that you’re sharing the hole with are also very active – you can’t interact with them but you’re essentially playing the same round as a few other characters. Characters sprint around after taking their shots, as do the spectators. While it creates a very casual atmosphere, it can be quite jarring. NPCs will make their shots and putt attempts at any time, including when you are making a play. This means characters, and their golf balls, will continue to be very active on the green at all times, pausing (and becoming transparent if needed) only when you’re in the middle of taking a swing. You won’t collide with them or their golf balls, but it’s a bit strange to see and is distracting.
The social aspects become even more prominent in multiplayer, of course. Going against the accessible nature, if you had an evening planned for friends and family to golf together, hopefully you’ve put in your single player time to unlock more than the starting course, otherwise the fun likely won’t last as long as you’d hoped. Still, local play with up to four players is nicely flexible, letting you choose between multiple controllers or passing the same one around. Heading online, you’ll find two primary modes – Turf War and Open Course. In Open Course, players can run around the course freely like as an open world hub. There will be others playing the entire course or individual holes, trying to set daily records for rewards. This freedom to roam does give the game a very casual and social feeling. If you’re looking for some structured content though, there are no tournaments to be had. You can play together with others by creating a lobby for friends, but that’s about it.
In Turf War, two teams of up to 10 players try to battle it out by running to any hole on the course and setting the best score they can, in any order and as many times as they want. After time limit expires, the team that holds the best score on the largest number of holes wins. It’s an interesting mode that promotes competitive play in a wild format, and it can be fun. Unfortunately, you can’t sign up for Turf War with a team so there’s no way to play together with friends. And matches rarely get even half way full. The online population for Everybody’s Golf leaves much to be desired, as across multiple days of play right after launch, there were no full 10vs10 games or even that many 5vs5 games. Some rounds simply started with no players at all, and the game had to be forced to quit via PS4's menu. The later courses, which require unlocking through single player, were completely deserted, reminding you once again that it’s a baffling design decision.
The game performs well enough on a launch PS4, without any slowdowns or hiccups, though the loading times can be noticeably long. You can’t restart a single player match if something goes terribly wrong – you must quit, load into the hub, and then load the match again, leading to more loading screens. The presentation is decent, with colorful environments and somewhat whacky characters. Not everyone will be fan of the anime-like art design of the characters that are somewhat reminiscent of Nintendo’s Miis, but it’s not a big deal, especially with so much customization to be had. The game won’t break any graphical quality benchmarks, but it runs at a steady framerate, and the quality is about what you’d expect for a casual, lower priced title like this. The audio is equally fitting – the soundtrack is pleasing but largely forgettable and could use more variety.
Everybody’s Golf plays an extremely competent, fun and accessible version of the sport. When picking up the game for a few rounds either by yourself or with friends, it is a blast to play. The controls are intuitive yet deep, and the physics are challenging but satisfying. The game’s lighthearted presentation should be universally pleasing, if not particularly exceptional at a technical level, and the customization options are vast. But it is in its broader design that the title runs into trouble. The campaign can feel like a grind, as unlocking new courses takes too long, and things become repetitive. While it creates a casual and social atmosphere, not everyone will appreciate random players and their golf balls constantly scattering across the green. And perhaps the most divisive aspect is the ability to level up your clubs, which leads to addicting RPG-like grind but one that also frustrates as the player skill is not the limiting factor when setting high scores. Multiplayer suffers a bit from having to unlock the courses in the campaign first, and not everyone will appreciate the fact that players with better golf clubs, rather than necessarily skill, will dominate the leaderboards. There is also a notable lack of players online, though local multiplayer is quite flexible in its design. Everybody’s Golf is very much an example of a title that has very strong core foundations and gameplay, but some of the broader design decisions are seemingly counter-intuitive to its supposed accessible and welcoming nature.