Noted author Mark Twain once said that golf is a good walk spoiled–clearly, hed never had an opportunity to play Hot Shots Golf 3.


It's hard to believe that the golf of today–a complex game that crosses age and demographic lines around the globe–was most likely created by a group of bored Scottish fishermen who used a crooked stick to smack pebbles toward rabbit holes. Its also hard to believe that such an innocuous game could be responsible for defeat on the battlefield, too, but history notes that King James II banned the game with a Scottish Act of Parliament in 1457. The King was concerned that men were too busy playing golf to worry about practicing their archery in order to be prepared for skirmishes with the British. This ban, and countless others in subsequent years, went largely ignored.

By 1744, several men formed the Company of Gentlemen Golfers, the first golf club in the world. From there, we eventually arrive at the golf of today–a game played and revered by millions of people. That such a deceptively simple game has managed to transfix so many people never ceases to amaze me. Theres something intrinsically pleasing about the game–whether its the languid pace, the beauty of the courses, or the Zen-like state a player reaches when in the zone, I cant say. I can say that Hot Shots Golf 3 manages to capture those qualities that make the golf so addictive and seamlessly translates them into videogame form.

Perhaps the games greatest strength is that it mirrors real golf while being simple enough that someone who's never played the game can pick up a controller and hit the links with minimal effort. Even if a gamers never swung a club in real life, Hot Shots Golf 3 will have the player launching monster drives within a few short minutes.

The Hot Shots Golf formula remains unchanged from previous installments. The three-click shot mechanics are intact; spin can be achieved by pushing on the D-pad while swinging, and making good shots will earn you points, which can then be spent in the pro shop. If you've experienced any of the earlier Hot Shots Golf games, youll be right at home here. Unlike Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 (which has tweaked its gameplay mechanics, particularly in regard to swinging the club), Hot Shots Golf stays true to its roots–which lends a comforting amount of familiarity to the proceedings.

Another strongpoint is the games variety. It will take countless hours for the player to unlock all of the goodies littered throughout the game. New golfers are attained by winning in the vs… mode (there are 15 or so characters for the player to unlock), tournament wins increase your rank and open new courses, caddies can be purchased with your point earnings, and souped up clubs and balls are available as well. Because of this, Hot Shots Golf 3 has an amazing amount of replay value–and thats not even factoring in the multiplayer modes or the national tournament.

While the game itself doesn't offer up a lot in the way of innovation, developers Clap Hanz have tweaked the title's formula just a bit–and in a positive way.

One of the nicest new additions is a mercy rule in vs.. mode. In earlier installments, the player would have to complete a full round to win (or play until it was mathematically impossible for the computer to come back and even the score). In this new version, any time a player gets ahead by four holes (or the computer gets ahead by four), he automatically wins the challenge. This feature certainly makes the game play a lot faster.

Game speed seems to be one of the areas where the game has been tweaked the most. A player can run through an 18-hole tournament in under 20 minutes, provided he skips the animations of the swings and ball flights. If thats not fast enough, the game also has a nine-hole par three course. One can play through that in less than ten minutes. These are nice features, making it so you can play the game on the fly, without having to set aside forty minutes or so just to get in a round.

With 15 playable characters, all with different skill levels and strengths, there's all but guaranteed to be a golfer to satisfy every gaming style. Couple that with the fact that the golfers all have different personalities and the replay value only increases. All of the gameplay mechanics are the same no matter whom you choose, but mastering each character will take some work.

Graphically, the game looks a lot like a higher resolution version of the earlier titles. Characters are still made in a slightly deformed anime style with large heads and normal sized bodies. Each character is a unique caricature–be it Pete the redneck, the lounge lizard guy, the Australian accented Crocodile Hunter wannabe, or the blue-haired Goth guy. Each character has some decent animations for their swings and hole-out poses they use after finishing each hole. The only downside here is that the hole-out poses quickly become tedious through their constant repetition.

Hitting the links will allow the gamer to choose from a number of well-designed courses, complete with adjustable season settings. The courses are traditional, but the graphics are sharp and the layouts challenging. Choosing one season over another will affect the weather and the overall difficulty of the course.

One of Hot Shots Golf 3's most innovative features is a password system that allows for players to compete around the globe. While its not an online game, players can log into the official Hot Shots Golf 3 website and acquire a code. The player then inputs the code during the national tournament phase, plays a round, then gets a code which he puts into the game's website. He then gets a ranking and can compare how he stacks up against players from other parts of the globe. High scores can win prizes, including Toys-R-Us gift certificates. It's a simple idea, but it certainly brings another dimension to the game.

Whether you're the next Tiger Woods or a person who doesnt know a putter from a hockey stick, Hot Shots Golf 3 will almost certainly appeal to you on some level. Ive never stepped foot on a real golf course, but that hasnt kept me from jumping around the living room after making a difficult putt. Hot Shots Golf 3 is a game not unlike chess–it takes a few minutes to learn, but quite some time to master. Thats what makes the game so much fun–trying to hit the perfect shot is both addictive and rewarding. Dont be fooled by the cartoonish graphics. The presentation might be simplistic, but this is real golf with real ball and swing physics. Theres not any kind of major innovation in the gameplay, but as the old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, dont fix it." Rating: 9 out of 10

Mike Bracken
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