We're sure there's a solid, sound reason why Sony Europe has effectively washed its hands of the Everybody's Golf series in Europe over the past five years. Okay we're not - the only good excuse we can think of is that Sony's localisation team were too busy hooked on this giddily addictive rival to Tiger Woods to ever actually get round to releasing Everybody's Golf 3. Whatever. Big-headed anime-styled golfing action is back on these shores at last and the world feels like a better place because of it.
With this pick-up-and-play series having been absent over here for so long, it's a real joy to rediscover its charms. Not only is it a great game in its own right, but the biggest thrill is the realisation of how perfect a match it is for the particular demands of handheld gaming - and that's not something we've been able to say with too many PSP games to date.
Essentially, any discussion about golfing games is bound to swing around to Tiger Woods PGA Tour at some point, so we may as well address that early on. The obvious point to make is that realism (or, rather, Tiger's brand of fun-ified realism) has never been Everybody's Golf's core focus, and as such you'll find no real-life courses, an entirely fictional roster of anime types to battle against, and silly little power-ups and upgrades that remind you that this is a videogame, not a simulation. But who cares when the game is as joyously playable as this?
And unlike Tiger Woods, it's a far superior handheld experience. The wretched load times that blighted EA's effort upon its handheld release in the US are virtually non-existent once you get underway, and as such Everybody's Golf instantly elevates itself into the position of being one of the most friendly PSP gaming experiences we've come across so far. The dreaded spinning loading icon that sums up many of our PSP experiences to date is a rarity, and instead you spend the vast majority of your time with the game lining up shots and, you know, actually playing it. A lot.
On the other hand, Everybody's Golf sticks rigidly to the well-hewn triple-tap control principle first used in golf game pioneer Leaderboard nearly 20 years ago, and that's something golfing aficionados schooled in Tiger Wood's markedly different analogue approach might feel is a little bit of a backward step. Or you might plain prefer the old style.
It aint broke
Nevertheless, Everybody's Golf uses a system that just plain works, and one that everyone can get to grips with instantly. Each shot gets underway by simply lining up the approximate direction of where you want to it to land via the d-pad, hitting the circle button to set the power meter rising, a further tap to set the power and a final tap as close to the start of the meter to confirm the accuracy of the shot. You can add a final bit of spin with the d-pad or select a different club with the shoulder buttons, but that's about all there is to worry about. It's probably as simple a gaming mechanic as exists today, and still works beautifully.
The visual presentation is a delight, too. Every shot packs real power, and the game switches to a variety of angles that follow the flight of the ball, often giving way to spectacular views along the way. Watching its safe passage as you negotiate the bunkers and water hazards is something you'll never tire of, and getting to grips with the six new courses almost a game in itself.
Things change slightly once you get on the green itself, with the control system changing to an even simpler two-tap process, but at this stage you really have to pay full attention to the undulations of the course. A little too much power, or an unwise choice of direction can turn a birdie into a double-bogey, so it's a game you really have to put a fair bit of enjoyable trial-and-error into before you can start to even dream about a hole-in-one. [Surely if you holed it in one, there'd be no need to putt? - Confused Ed]
Designed with a wonderfully-judged learning curve, working your way around the game never feels like a chore, as it's one of those titles that tasks you with repeatedly playing the same selection of holes while peppering you with little gifts, unlockables and stat upgrades that slowly go towards making you a more accomplished golfer. By building up your own skill as well as your character's the game starts to open up, you can pull off more audacious shots, and piece by piece the whole package comes together.
Whether you're indulging in Stroke Play (choose an unlocked course and off you go), the various Challenge Mode courses or the one-stroke-per-hole Putt Golf mode, they're all equally enjoyable in their own right. Eight-player wireless multiplayer (tournament or challenge-based varieties) sets the seal on the package, although it would have been even better if there were Internet play. Like any handheld game, the problem will be finding other owners of the game, but it's one of those select few games that will make you begin to look forward to long journeys if you can pull it off. Just turn the sound down, eh? The soundtrack's as cheesy as they come and the voiceovers soon get annoying. You won't mind.
With its bite-sized premise, hugely compelling one-more-go appeal and negligible loading times, Everybody's Golf is without question one of our favourite PSP titles. Much like Virtua Tennis, you won't want to buy it because it's doing anything massively original or special, but that it's as playable as they come, is perfect for short bursts of gameplay on the move, and great for a multiplayer session.