Strange as it may seem, it has taken Sony over a year to get around to releasing this 'new' version of Everybody's Golf. But if that seems tardy, then consider this: the third version never made it out here at all, meaning PAL gamers have been forced to endure a wait of over five years since the last game in the series was released on the PSone.
And now, unlike London buses (which arrive five at a time) we get two at once, having only just received the PSP version a few weeks ago. As you'll recall, we rated that as an 8/10, making it among the few must-have PSP releases, so it's hardly a great shock to learn that the 'full' version is every bit as compelling.
Having been denied access to the series for so long, the re-emergence of Everybody's Golf's light-hearted and back-to-basics approach to the sport is refreshing to say the least. While comedy golfers with big heads and witty quips might seem somewhat throwaway next to the majesty of Tiger Woods, it's a timely reminder of why realism isn’t everything when it comes to producing an entertaining sporting videogame.
If anything, Everybody's Golf's approach to the controls is barely more than a minor tweak of the system first brought in by the pioneering Leaderboard over two decades ago. Aping equally classic games like Virtua Tennis, the timing of button taps to set power and accuracy serves the game well throughout - not to mention giving the game a distinctly different feel to the recent EA efforts.
On a basic level, novice players need only worry about determining the power of their shot - so long as they choose the beginner's club. Take the stabilisers off, though, and the game turns into a far more challenging affair that offers a surprising degree of control depth.
A simple three-tap system involves an initial press to set the power bar rising, a second to confirm the level of power, with a third to then determine the degree of control accuracy. Once the bar starts falling back to the start line, it's up to the player to nail the start line of the meter as closely as possible - or else witness your shot fly off in a distinctly different direction than the one you were aiming for. Hit the line bang on, though, and not only will the shot be straight and true, but benefit from extra power.
All under control
To add a further layer of (optional) depth to the controls, the game allows you to add spin by holding the d-pad in a given direction to vary the angle of your shot. For example, pressing up adds backspin and sends the ball higher than it would normally, while adding sidespin sends the ball in a curved trajectory - often useful for swerving past obstacles and landing precisely where you want it.
And if that wasn't enough, there are a few risky new ways of adding power to the shot, thanks to a limited number of boost shots. Selecting one before you start your shot gives you the added incentive to hit the impact line dead on, with a crucial extra bit of yardage and some spark-laden animations letting you know you've really timed things perfectly. Hit it either side of the line and the ball hooks or slices, but completely undercooked or overcooked shots, however, are bad news, leading to a skull icon appearing to depict a shot of death, with comically bad results. There's little room for error, but the payback is great if you time things right. The main thing to take into account is that there's a small response delay from pressing the button to the command registering, meaning you always have to stab the button slightly ahead of time - no easy task.
Avoiding such foul-ups becomes all part of the fun, especially once the stakes are raised and you've unlocked some of the more skilled characters (including Jak and Ratchet, no less, with Daxter and Clank as their caddies, amusingly). With a bit of practice and a concerted effort to prize the unlockables from the game's grasp the game begins to open up and becomes all the more enjoyable because of it.
In particular, scouting out each course as you go becomes a crucial part of the proceedings. With the help of the game's overhead topographical map, you can swiftly zone in on where your shot's going, allowing you to not only avoid the many hazards along the way, but also take into account the lay of the land. Previously, this top-down viewpoint only used to come into play on the putting green, but its inclusion for the rest of the course aids your overall strategy immensely. Another nice 'new' addition is the ability to skip the shot animation to the end result, with a dotted white line to illustrate the flight of the ball - always useful when you've completely messed up.
As usual, once you're on the green the play mechanics switch slightly so that you're fully focused on positioning the shot, the amount of power to apply as well as the prevailing wind, taking into account the undulations along the way. Time and again, seemingly straightforward putts overshoot dramatically, or end up dragged dramatically away from the line you intended. To get really good at Everybody's Golf requires not only plenty of patience and exquisite timing, but an appreciation of the physics at work. It's a game of blessed simplicity but keeps you coming back thanks to its depth. It's a deceptive number, for sure.
It doesn't hurt, either, that Clap Hanz has populated the game with such an endearing cast of oddball losers - each one chock full of cracking one-liners that lighten the mood when things go wrong, and give a gloating sense of achievement when you pull off something astonishing. The general standard of banter between the caddies and players, as well, is really heart-warming stuff, with surreal nonsense peppering the play. Sure, it all gets a bit repetitive after a while, but we're not complaining. You could justifiably argue that the whole game is repetitive - and it is - but it's just one of those rare games that seem to have an endlessly enduring appeal despite its inherent simplicity.
Be my PAL
Listing 'new' features is fairly meaningless given that PAL gamers missed out on version 3 (unless you went down the import route, of course), but nevertheless the game's been beefed up quite significantly in almost every area, including characters (34 in total - 24 golfers, 10 caddies), courses (seven new ones in addition to the five existing ones from EG3). Added to that are some fairly throwaway extras, such as a couple of crazy golf courses and one 3-par nine hole course to offer up something more instantly digestible. For us, though, there was so much to be gleaned from tackling the full courses and the versus mode to spend more than a few sessions trying to score holes in one. Nice to have it, mind you.
Outside of the single-player dish, the presence of multiplayer certainly has huge appeal - both off and online. Offline it supports up to four players, but online is a veritable festival of golfing, supporting up to 50 players in a single tournament. There is an option to play a less intensive four-player online tournament, with the added advantage of being able to properly heckle your opponent, but the disadvantage of having to sit and wait for your opponent's turn. Either option offers enormous fun, though, and both have pros and cons to suit your specific needs. We're just happy to have the option to play online at all - and it's definitely a game worth configuring your network adaptor for.
As an alternative, or as a complement, to the EA style of license-obsessed golfing, Everybody's Golf is an excellent choice. In many ways its old-school approach to the green is just what's required, and with its heart-warming sense of humour nudging you along, Everybody's Golf is one of those simple but endearing classic titles that will occupy a special place on your shelves for years to come.