Everybody’s Golf: First Impressions

I’ve been intrigued by golf games since Leaderboard on the Atari 8-Bit, and I sank a fair few hours into Microprose Golf on the Atari ST, wowed by its then-revolutionary 3D polygonal courses.

However, the games that truly cemented my love of this genre of games — although not the actual sport itself, which I find impossibly difficult to play and rather tedious to watch — were Camelot’s Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64, and Bottom Up’s Tee Off on Dreamcast. I didn’t play the Everybody’s Golf series on the early PlayStations — my first encounter with it was the Vita game — but I’m certain it would have appealed to me, because it tickled those same happy places that Mario Golf and Tee Off did by providing friendly, accessible and surprisingly fast-paced arcade-style golf action.

With that in mind, then, let’s take a look at the new PS4 installment, the latest in the line of long-running series to ditch numerical suffixes and subtitles in favour of just being called what it is.

Everybody’s Golf, then.

 

Everybody’s Golf kicks off with you setting a nickname for yourself and defining your character’s appearance, though both of these can be changed later if you so desire. Pleasingly, your nickname is used in preference to your PSN ID throughout the game’s online modes, allowing you a greater feeling of ownership over your character as well as a way to distance yourself from that embarrassing PSN ID you created for yourself when you were a teenage edgelord. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Everybody’s Golf’s single-player mode is split into both online and offline components, with the main hub for what you get up to being your home area, a Splatoon-style plaza that you can wander around freely, talk to people and admire the NPC characters you’ve unlocked for your Gallery by beating them in single-player rounds. Various characters offer gameplay tips, one offers a quiz with helpful rewards and the Gallery NPCs you recruit can be “copied” in order to acquire various aspects of their appearance to use in the character customisation facility, though this doesn’t come cheap!

As you progress through the game, the home plaza also conceals hidden items that allow you to increase the number of power shots you can use per round, additional caddies to take with you onto the course and various other activities to participate in, though to begin with, the emphasis is very much on golf, unsurprisingly.

The offline component of the game consists of working your way through a series of “ranks” to improve your overall rating and unlock new game features. This is accomplished by earning experience points through completing rounds of stroke play golf, then challenging a “versus opponent” character to a round of match play once you’ve filled your XP bar. In order to ascend to the next rank, you have to repeat this process several times, by which point you’ll theoretically have a good grasp of the course introduced in that rank.

Initially, you’ll only have access to the 9 “out” holes of the first course, with the 9 “in” holes becoming accessible once you reach Rank 2. In this way, as you progress through the game, you’ll gradually be faced with more and more varied challenges rather than overwhelming you with options from the get-go. This may be a sticking point for golfing veterans who just want to challenge a variety of different courses from the beginning of the game, but it makes a lot of sense within the very “Nintendo-style” structure of the game, which is clearly designed with attracting newcomers into the fold and then keeping them well and truly addicted to the experience as a whole.

Having to repeatedly play a single course might sound like it gets a bit repetitive, but things are kept interesting by the fact that you might have to play on a mirrored version of it, along with varying conditions and cup types. Playing in heavy wind and rain at dusk is quite a different experience from playing with no wind at midday, for example, but it’s those cup types that can make a huge difference to how you play.

“Normal” cups are just the standard size holes you get in real golf. “Mega” cups are much larger than normal, making it significantly easier to sink both putts and chip-ins. And “Tornado” cups make this even more straightforward by putting a wind current in the hole that draws in anything that gets close, pretty much completely eliminating frustrating “near-miss” situations. To reflect the fact that these cup types can make the experience significantly easier, Everybody’s Golf regards a round played in this way as “unofficial”, and it doesn’t count towards trophies or automatically save replays of impressive shots. Git gud and all that.

The golfing action itself is what you’d expect from an arcade-style golf game of this type. Your clubs are selected automatically — though you can override this choice if you so desire — so all you have to do at a basic level is aim and tap the X button three times to take your shot. There’s even an option to automatically take care of the last button press for you, leaving the accuracy of your shot up to random chance rather than your own dexterity, though this is best avoided once you have a feel for the timing.

As you progress, you unlock more advanced techniques such as special types of shot and the ability to fine-tune your power level once you’ve set it, but the basics remain straightforward and accessible, putting a round full of birdies well within reach of even relative newbies at the outset of the game. Where things get interesting is with the progression system, which is rather different to how Everybody’s Golf has handled things in the past.

Rather than characters having stats that can be improved as in previous installments, this version of Everybody’s Golf sees your character having proficiency levels with each of the clubs in their bag. Achieving various tasks with a specific club will award it with experience points relating to power, control, backspin and “back door” (ensuring the ball lands in the hole rather than skimming around the outside in an irritating manner) and each club can be levelled up in these four areas individually.

Because each club has its own progression, it’s sometimes in your interest to use a different club than the default in order to level it up a bit, though initially this isn’t a huge concern; your 1W will get more powerful naturally so long as you hit good drives with it, and your wedges will improve their control if you accurately land approach shots on the green — this is probably all you need to begin with, but if you want to build your character into a golfing powerhouse, you’ll want to buff up each club as much as possible.

This is particularly true once you step into the online mode, where your ranking in the daily competitions is determined as much by “points” (acquired by performing various feats such as long drives, accurate approach shots, impressive chip-ins and suchlike) as it is by your actual score for the round — though the biggest impact on these points is still the final result. That said, it’s much easier to score more than one below par if you’ve taken the time to develop your proficiency a bit, so it’s fortunate that you can make progress in both online and offline gameplay.

The online mode itself is intriguing, though my experience with it so far is limited due to the “Turf War” mode not working when I tried it last night. The “Open Course” is where your main daily activity will be, though; this allows you to select from any of the courses you’ve unlocked in the offline mode, then freely wander around them alongside other players.

This isn’t just a cool feature with no real meaning, either; each day, there are items that have been dropped near one of the holes, so you’ll have to go exploring to locate them, and along the way you’ll see people playing through their rounds, and you can wander past or emote at them using the D-pad to entertain or distract them from what they’re doing — though thankfully there’s no mechanic for other player characters to act as obstacles for flying golf balls!

While on the Open Course, you can challenge any hole individually or go for a full 9-hole round as many times as you like, with the latter option entering you into the daily rankings. Once you’ve set a score for this, you’re given your overall position in the global rankings as well as where you are in relation to your closest rivals, allowing you to develop a bit of friendly asynchronous competition with other regular players.

Challenging individual holes is primarily used to get the “bonus” for each hole, which simply requires you to score under par and rewards you with a chunk of coins to spend in the in-game store or on copying Gallery NPC appearances. There are also occasional “Lucky Chance” quests that pop up at the side of the screen while you’re playing in Open Course mode, and these again provide you with rewards for various accomplishments, sometimes as simple as setting a score in a 9-hole round.

The whole thing has the feeling of a “golfing MMO”, though without any sort of requirement for you to actually play live against other people. Most of the competition on Open Course is asynchronous in nature, with rankings and rewards tallied daily. The Turf War mode is supposed to be a bit more immediate and “live”, giving two teams several minutes to capture as many holes as they can by recording the best score possible on them, but as I’ve noted, I wasn’t able to get this working at the time of writing.

I really like Everybody’s Golf so far, though it’s a bit of a bummer to see two additional courses as paid day-one DLC rather than included on the disc, and an even bigger bummer to see the ability to buy items to give you an advantage in the Turf War mode for real money, but ultimately these aspects don’t affect the core golfing gameplay, which is very solid indeed, with a whole ton of longevity between both the offline tournaments and the online Open Course gameplay.

I’m excited to play it more, and especially to get into the more unusual activities such as fishing and golf cart racing. Based on first impressions, though, I can give the experience a very solid thumbs-up.


More about Everybody’s Golf

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