I have been a fan of videogame golf for a while now. My addiction started on the Sega Genesis playing PGA Tour. I have never been able to conjure the patience, or skill, to hit the real links so the virtual representation has always been the way for me. When I learned that Microsoft was publishing an arcade-like golf experience for the Xbox One I was interested to see what that would be. Alas, Powerstar Golf is a downloadable title is hidden amongst the bigger and splashier launch titles. After playing more than a few rounds I have to say that although there are a few gameplay elements I had issue with, Powerstar Golf is a nice diversion from racing, killing zombies, or battling in the Roman army.
Powerstar Golf is not your traditional golf game. Many will no doubt compare it to the likes of Sony’s Hot Shot series, as the gameplay has over the top elements and a very non-realistic look, from the golfers to the courses you play on. Regardless, looks can be deceiving as the mechanics and physics of the gameplay have many life-like elements. The game eases you into how to play the game, but for those casual golf fans there is still a lot that could be explained. Sure, you’ll learn how to hit the ball, put forward or back spin on it, as well as how to curve it around objects, but the game doesn’t explain the nuances of golf, like how the elevation of cup placement can affect your shot, or how the slope of the terrain your ball sits on will affect it’s trajectory when you hit it. Diehard golf fans will know this, but most other players may not. It’s a bit of an oversight and something that may affect early gameplay for some.
You’ll find that when you first start the game there is only one course open (City Park). You have to make your way through the career mode completing various challenges (e.g. play front 9, play all par 3’s, match play, etc.) and once you reach a certain point you will open up a new course (four in total). The same goes for the games characters. You only have two to start and you must beat each character on their “home” course to open them. Each character has a special power too (e.g. over powered shot or ball breaks into five balls and closest one to pin counts). Opening courses and characters encourages you to play most of the events and get maximum usage out of what offered. Each event has three reward levels, medals so to speak, and you are rewarded valuable EXP for completing various aspects of each event (e.g. finish 4th place or higher, win the event, keep your score below par, etc.).
One of the biggest oversights of the game is the lack of online multiplayer. I was very surprised to see that there is no way to play with any other people over Xbox LIVE. I see no reason for this not to be included and while the game does hurt somewhat due to the lack of such, it does make up for it in various ways. Of course there is local multiplayer. That is self-explanatory. The other way is the Rival Mode. Here the power of the cloud is utilized as the game saves your online friends, and online strangers, progress and shots and you play against this cloud data in an effort to best them. It adds a bit of ‘multiplayer’ feel to the game while adding to the skill needed as you play against human AI, not computer AI.
Powerstar Golf has a strange addictiveness to it. Much of this has to do with the EXP you are rewarded during the game as well as the desire to beat various rankings on the course. In regards to the latter, you’ll find markers all over the hole you are playing on that represent your friend’s records (e.g. longest drive, closest approach to the cup, longest putt, etc). Beating a friends record is always rewarding as you see their marker disappear and yours is placed at the spot of your ball. I always found myself smiling when I was able to best one of my friends. There are also world records on the course that represent the Powerstar community as a whole and once you level up you’ll stand a chance to take a stab at some of these.
Along with the EXP that you are rewarded throughout each round you play that is applied towards your player level, you earn in-game currency. Both of these are rewarded for your play in general, but you’ll also be tasked during various points in your round to complete challenges that just pop-up (e.g. finish specific hole under par using only one putt on green, etc). These challenges themselves provide a neat little feeling in accomplishment and they range from easy to hard. You can upgrade your equipment and caddy through the purchase of in-game packs with the in-game currency. They range from beginner to expert, and the cost is relative to how hard the challenge is. The trick here is that each time you buy a pack you are rewarded random stuff, ranging from specific equipment, improvements in your character/caddy to short use perks. The randomness is out of your control, so even if you pick one of the higher level booster packs you never know what you will get. This may annoy some, but for others it’s that “gotta get it all” feeling as you hope for that one elusive club, putter, or perk.
Something that I found myself frustrated with at times was the old school play mechanics. Powerstar Golf implements a simple swing method by hitting the ‘A’ button to start your swing, hit it again to set your power level, and then hit it again to strike the ball. This takes timing, and with practice most should get it down fairly well. For me, I found that there were times that I just didn’t get my timing right and I wished for the more modern swing mechanic of using the right analog stick. In some way the use of the old button press is a step back. That being said though, it does offer a simplicity for many others to grab onto and in many ways I can see why this decision may have been made.
Powerstar Golf’s presentation is fairly solid. Visually the game is bright, vibrant and quite sharp. Characters (golfers and caddies) are unique and range from an ex-astronaut to an illusionist to that of an alternative looking guy from the Coast of Newfoundland. They all animate well too. Course design is always an important factor in golf games, and given the fantasy nature of Powerstar Golf, the levels do the game fine. From a running monorail and spraying fountains in City Place, volcanic action in Burning Sands, to the mountainous beauty of Rocky Ridge, there is enough variety here to keep each course from looking and feeling like the previous one. Technically speaking Powerstar Golf doesn’t seem to be a game that pushes the power of the Xbox One. Some may even see this as being a last generation game, but in my opinion I think it does benefit from the power of Microsoft’s newest console in such that it looks sharp and bright, and there are no technical hitches anywhere. As for the sound, it gets the job done with voice acting for various actions, some all right music, and a good use of environmental effects related to each course (e.g. sound of the monorail passing by in City Park).
With a limited amount of courses and no online play, I will admit that I had concerns about how much value Powerstar Golf could offer, but the more I played the more addicted I got. The game’s use of the cloud to play against virtual friends is quite neat and the rewards offered for ‘good’ gameplay is well implemented. Sure, some may find the grind for EXP a little tough at times, but if you want to be lazy and collect everything, you can choose to use real money, but what fun is that. At the end of day Powerstar Golf isn’t a must own game, but it does stand as a downloadable title that Xbox One owners may want to seriously look at as it offers up a nice change of pace from the big budget launch games during the winter gaming season.