Golf is a tough game to simulate. Not because there’s nothing to it. Indeed, the sheer volume of factors in the success, or failure, of any single trip around the links gives the game a variety and a challenge that makes it perfect for adaptation to the videogame world. No, what makes it hard to simulate is exactly that which makes it well-suited for simulation in the first place – the variety, the challenge, the complexity of the sport.
Constituently, your average video-gamer would have no problem adjusting to wind speed, or wind direction, or spin, or carry, or shot accuracy, or shot power, or putting, or approaching, or any of the million other factors that make up your average golf game. Combined, though, they can be infernal to deal with, especially if the developer hasn’t made dealing with those factors intuitive, appealing and fun. Thankfully, the team behind Everybody’s Golf has made a good fist of it, delivering a quiet and unassuming entertainment.
Everybody’s Golf, the first PS Vita instalment in the popular series of ball-whacking simulators, isn’t as user-friendly as some of the greats of the genre. This is, in part, because of the limitations imposed on it by its home – this small handheld console with fewer buttons and less sensitive analog sticks than your average console controller, not to mention the smaller screen that the in-game interface is jammed into. When contrasted with older console games - for example, Links 2004, which offered an extra degree of sensitivity and nuance through the use of analog controls for shot power and spin - Everybody's Golf is positively retrograde, a revival of Microsoft Golf with big-eyed anime characters.
But then, to compare it to its flashier cousins – cousins with more resources and heftier price tags and no cartoon roots – is to do this outing a disservice. As a golf game, Everybody's Golf gets the fundamentals right. It achieves a negotiable balance between the various factors in any given round, and, for the most part, it makes understanding and adjusting to all those factors accessible and manageable.
The in-game interface is, by and large, clean and easy to handle: wind direction and speed in one corner, point of impact in another, and a power bar dominating whichever side of the screen you choose. The game even gives you various options for determining your shot's type and accuracy, granting the player the ability to tailor their mechanical experience as they see fit.
There is some clumsiness, however - the game (or at least, the code I was playing) had a distinct reluctance to give me the exact wind speed and no manual or options menu could help; further, the game's insistence on having the player set the spin on the ball and the shot's power and accuracy (determined by playing an unforgiving timing game) at the same time feels unnatural when starting out, though it becomes more manageable as the game progresses.
Despite these hindrances, however, the interface is relatively easy to use and ensures that any given round is challenging in the right ways; no gamer ever had any fun wrestling with controls.
The golfing itself is simple to explain and even simpler to evaluate. Everybody's Golf has three singleplayer modes - Challenge, wherein the player spends the bulk of his or her time beating challenges, earning points and unlocking characters; Stroke, a typical stroll around the links focused on personal record-beating or laid-back ball-whacking, depending on individual preference; and Training, which is pretty self-explanatory.
The multiplayer comes in both ad hoc and online varieties, the ad hoc multiplayer happening in real time, and the online multiplayer taking the form of a daily international golf tourney in which you play your round to see how you compare against the world. Devoid of any frills or gimmicks, the resulting experience is uncomplicated and enjoyable; the challenges come in the form of combating the elements, your own feeble timing, and the often-ingenious layout of the courses themselves. It's a simple formula, but it works.
But golf isn't the only thing Everybody's Golf stands for - it also stands for anime, and lots of it. Like any other design style, it works and it doesn't. Some of the more exaggerated, Tezuka-esque characters, such as the giant and loveable Max and the neurotic, blazer-wearing Chang, are enjoyable to play as and with.
However, too many of the women are ingratiating moe stereotypes with short skirts and high-pitched verbal tics (Grace, a no-nonsense Australian golfing pro, is a breath of fresh air in this respect); meanwhile, some odd racial stereotypes find a home in Pancho, a violent, rap-loving Mexican wrestler. The designs are broad and colourful, however, and while the exaggerated character animations jar with the tranquil realism of the courses, their looks are far more complementary.
Everybody's Golf falls into a lot of the traps that more cartoonish sports titles are prone to - the music wouldn't be out of place in an elevator, the low-resolution menus are attention-grabbing in their inadequacy, the characters are hit and miss (doubly so given the anime stereotypes on display), and the detailed, beautiful course designs feel out of place among such heightened caricatures.
Look past certain design flaws - and certain mechanical issues – however, and you'll find a highly enjoyable, highly addictive golf game that's accessible to all types of player, from the kid in the back seat during a car ride to the most dedicated gamer.