Everybody's Golf: World Tour

More than the sum of its pars.

Version tested PlayStation 3

Everybody's Golf: World Tour seems like an anachronism: the cutesy graphics, the tiny list of gameplay modes, the three-tap control scheme, giant "NICE SHOT!" congratulations unfurling at the top of the screen whenever you connect well. It's a far cry from Tiger Woods' world of a billion characters and courses, exploding mini-games and Nike underpants.

The main one-player mode is Challenge, where you unlock new courses (there are six in total), golfers, caddies, balls and outfits as you progress. To begin with, you have just one golfer and one course to play, and it isn't until you've played through eight Challenge levels - some 72 holes, in theory - that you actually unlock another one. Equally noticeable is that the new "Advanced" control system is secretly exactly the same as the old one: you press X to start your swing, press it again when you reach the desired power, then press it one more time as your club-head meets the ball to ensure a solid impact.

The difference is that rather than staring at a power meter (which you can still do if you're a traditionalist), you press X as your golfer reaches the different phases of his or her animation, with little ghostly outlines of the club and a small impact marker to guide you and illustrate good or bad timing. Spin can be added by holding d-pad directions. Putting is a bit different - the usual movement lines wrap to the surface contours and allow you to guestimate turn and pace, but you also get to watch the ghost of a ball surge forward as you bring the putter back to measure distance. As with the Advanced system in general, it's all extremely familiar and intuitive.

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The online lobbies are a sort of PS3 Chibi Home, but sadly Phil Harrison doesn't appear on a balcony.

But despite being old-fashioned and repetitive, Everybody's Golf quickly wins you over. The new control system is better - watching and matching your golfer's timing is more natural, more rhythmic - and the game itself is stupidly, brilliantly cuddly and charming. The super-deformed characters have big heads with saucer eyes and dance around the tees when they're happy and flap their arms when they mess up. It's never quite wacky and zany, but pitched at a children-being-silly level; the girls pirouette and curtsy elaborately, and the men are oafishly cheesy. Our favourite is the TV weather-guy who answers his mobile phone and flies away on a helicopter.

The courses get their share, too: zebras and giraffes graze the Great Safari course, as your view from the tee is occasionally interrupted by the sight of rally cars skidding through the desert bits around the fairways; while the Euro Classic course's 6th tee faces a statue of a chicken, sheep, dog and ox forming a rural pyramid. Wherever you are, spectators run madly around before you take your shot as though someone's playing a death-or-glory game of musical chairs. You do play the same courses over and over, but there's enough variation in what happens - the wind speed and weather conditions, your own variable skill levels, character selection, club choice, and your own levels of experience - that it remains compelling.

We shouldn't be too surprised, of course, to find that we can stomach performing a sporting activity in the same surroundings more than once - we won't moan that tennis courts are all the same shape, after all - and World Tour's six courses are distinct enough to test the different areas of your game. The Euro Classic's towering conifers, intrusive windmills and Bavarian castle mockups dice your ideal drive trajectories, dominating your risk assessments and threatening to send you out of bounds if you push too hard in pursuit of victory; and Okinawa's stone-walled gardens are only the most vicious borders to the almost right-angled doglegs of which its designers were clearly fond.

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