Powerstar Golf Review (Xbox One)
Zoe Mode's Powerstar Golf is unquestionably charming. From the lush visuals to the comforting background music, there isn't a moment where the game doesn't welcome you with open arms. And even though it's far from a true to life simulation of the sport, it brings the same kinds of triumphs and frustrations. Despite a few noticeable flaws and omissions, Powerstar Golf provides a reasonable amount of depth for only $20.
Powerstar Golf doesn't bring a whole lot of innovation to the table, but it's great at what it does.
The control scheme is easy to pick up and learn, but it doesn't stop the game from being extremely challenging at times. In my first few hours of play, I played in various tournaments in a career mode, and didn't win a single one. The game utilizes an easy three click system that should be familiar to anyone who has played a classic golf game: click once to start your swing, click again for power, and then press the button one last time to determine accuracy. The needle that determines your shot moves up and down the meter (which lies horizontally across the bottom of the screen) fairly quickly, so timing up a perfect shot every swing isn't likely to be an issue.
That said, the game rarely has you stray very far from the fairway. In no less than ten rounds, I don't think I missed the fairway more than 20% of the time. The game attempts to reconcile with this by placing a variety of hazards in the middle of the fairway, including bunkers, ponds, and even large rocks. It makes for an interesting challenge, but not having to worry about a bad slice or hook takes removes some variety.
Putting isn't a whole lot different than the Tiger Woods series, as the green is laid out on a grid to help you read your putts. The formula is a little worn at this point, but putting is difficult enough that just reading the grid isn't going to land you a whole lot of one-putts. Instead, a unique caddy feature is available to give you a one-time look at how the putt is going to break off of your club.
Chipping is likely the easiest part of the game, but getting out of a bunker or deep rough isn't an easy task. The game gives you three options (a "pitch" shot, a chip, or a normal swing) to use for whatever situation you might find yourself in. Though, as with the driving, you aren't likely to chip one too far off your intended path. Instead, there's an emphasis on reading greens and putting a nice touch on the ball.
What makes the gameplay unique is a feature that allows you to "boost" your shots. These boosters are unlocked through experience points, which you acquire while playing the game. While a few of them are pretty interesting, most end up being simple stat upgrades. Much more interesting is the ability to upgrade your caddy. With experience points, you can unlock unique abilities and attach them to your caddy in order to give them a little flair. Depending on the course and what character you choose, pairing them with a compatible caddy is significantly important.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Powerstar Golf is that it manages to relax you in a way that reminded me an awful lot of Sunday afternoons out on the links. The game opens up with a few very helpful tutorials that display the colorful visuals and diverse character models. There aren't a ton of characters to choose from, but those that are there are original enough to give you incentive to unlock more.
The sound isn't perfect, but there's a noticeable difference from hitting the ball out of the rough from hitting one out of the fairway. Moreover, hitting a good shot gifts a satisfying ping where as you'll just as soon know when you've duffed one a few yards down the way. The game also has a narrator that will talk about new courses, characters, and game tips. The voice acting is otherwise pretty unspectacular, but every character has a few different quips original to their character.
Other things like swans floating across a pond or airplanes flying overhead give the game a really immersive feel. The graphics aren't perfect, but they often feel nostalgic while giving you something pretty to look at. The colors emit a soft glow that's easy on the eyes, and the lighting changes perfectly as you make your way through a round.
The game doesn't have a ton of depth, but it gives you just enough to leave you satisfied. Career mode is easily the deepest mode in the game, giving you various tasks across four different golf courses -- ranging from tournaments to one on one challenges with the CPU. Challenges spread out throughout the game provide an interesting way to earn extra XP as you play, but they wind up repeating themselves more often than not. For every new task within the mode, you are given the ability to earn a bronze medal, a silver medal, and a gold medal. Getting gold on every assignment is surprisingly difficult. In my time with the game, I failed over and over again in an attempt to earn gold for each challenge. Fortunately, this gives the game a ton of replayability.
Powerstar Golf is lacking an online multiplayer mode -- something that would have fit in really nicely with the other game modes. It's disappointing, because I got to play the game locally with some friends, and we all had a blast. Even though it doesn't make up for it, the game gives players the ability to enter something called "Rival Mode". This mode allows the player to challenge other friend's high scores (weekly, or all-time) and earn a good chunk of XP. Don't have any friends that play the game? Not to worry, as the game will allow you challenge other players from across the globe. It's a lot of fun to beat other high scores, but I couldn't help but scratch my head as to why there was no real head-to-head online mode. Adding in the ability to play a scramble or team up for some best ball would be a game changer, if Zoe Mode were to ever add it.
If Powerstar Golf is any kind of indicator to the future of indie sports gaming, we are in for a treat. Even though the lack of a true online mode and relatively basic gameplay get in the way of the game being a truly great experience, there's no doubt that hardcore and casual fans of the sport will find enjoyment in the game.
Gameplay: A simple control scheme doesn't get in the way of Powerstar Golf providing some surprisingly tough golf. There isn't a ton of variety, but the engaging courses to just enough to keep things fresh.
Presentation: Easily the strongest aspect of the game, providing a great way for fans of the sport to enjoy it in the comforts of their own home. From the soft lighting to the detailed life surrounding the course, Powerstar Golf makes this virtual world a lot of fun to be in.
Game Modes: The lack of a real online multiplayer option certainly doesn't help, but a fairly deep career mode filled with upgrades and challenges is enough to keep you playing for upwards of a dozen hours.
Score - 7.5 (Good)
Scoring Note: A 7.5, or good on our scale, indicates a game was close to achieving greatness but some flaws are holding it back. These games are very playable and are worth checking out if you are curious about them. Good games offer good value, and should be treated as such. Had Powerstar golf had working online multiplayer or done a couple of other things better, it would have scored in the great range.