Golf is a fine game that takes much skill and practice to play, and plenty of patience to appreciate. Unlike most competitive sports, golf doesn't pit players against one another (unless it's a tournament). Instead, it puts them up against the course itself. A player's excellence is determined by how well they perform against the set standard (par), rather than how they impacted another golfer's performance. The same could be said for golf video games, for which Tiger Woods and Hot Shots have both established a set standard for what we should expect. Powerstar Golf doesn't quite match up with its contemporaries, but it's a solid first effort from Zoe Mode longtime golf gamers will appreciate.
Powerstar Golf has a lot more in common with Sony's Hot Shots Golf than it does with the likes of Tiger Woods, but it's still a solid simulation sports game above all else. The art direction follows a uniquely '50s aesthetic, and the holes follow a creative adventure design rather than something you'd see in real life. From former astronauts to jewel thief magicians, all of the playable characters have a fun backstory which gives them personalities adding more life than just generic golfers in something like Avatar Golf, which was found on the Xbox 360. The same can be said of the various courses, all of which take you to somewhat exotic locales with wonderful backdrops like a volcano, or this world's version of the Great Wall of China. The landscapes and players are all colorful, and the outstanding weather effects really make everything on screen pop with vibrancy.
Unfortunately, the action just doesn't match up with the presentation. The basics of Powerstar Golf work well enough. The three-button press swing meter does its job just fine, and the ability to adjust the hook, slice and spin on the ball are all relatively in line with what we've seen before in a golf game. It does take a little while to get used to the timing on the meter, but once you do, you'll be able to put the ball where you want it with consistency. It isn't until you start leaving the fairway that things start to go awry. Landing in the rough or a bunker should make your shot more difficult, but Powerstar doesn't do a very good job of showing you just how buried you are in such hazards. More frustrating is hitting a tree, or rather, hitting the leaves of a tree. Even grazing just the outermost leaf on a tree will cut your distance tremendously, which sucks since it's often difficult to determine the close proximity of the tree's reach.
To counter the challenge put forth by the courses, Zoe Mode has included specific abilities for each of the golfers. For example, former astronaut Frank has a sound barrier-breaking power boost, and physicist Reiko has a magnetic Tesla coil she can use near the pin. While you can't swap these abilities between golfers, finding out which character's abilities best help your handicap can go a long way in making sure you're getting the most out of every shot or round. Caddies, too, feature some special abilities to compliment the golfers. Astrid features a putt preview, which comes in handy quite often, and Kirby's overall shot preview is nice, but doesn't feel as necessary as Astrid's. You can earn more skills to give the caddies by purchasing packs of cards, but for the most part, these two abilities are the ones you'll use the most.
Where most golf games feature a steady unlock system where you earn in-game currency to purchase specific items, Powerstar uses collectible card packs for its items. Everything you unlock is random, including clubs, balls, clothes and boosters. There are four tiers of items to earn, with the best items costing the most in-game money, and the least impressive ones costing the least. If you're familiar at all with EA's Ultimate Team mode, this practice should feel very familiar. It's also a poor way to provide access to needed upgrades for players. As you progress, courses get more challenging, requiring you to continually upgrade your loadout to keep up with the demands of wind, hills and rolling greens. The micro-transaction portion really holds Powerstar back, as you'll spend more time replaying courses over and over again to get needed credits to buy items than you will replaying them for fun. Fortunately, you will never have to spend any real money on in-game currency as the virtual cash does flow rather freely provided you can keep winning.
You can also earn more by playing Rivals Mode, an asynchronous online offering that pits you against friends or other random players in special matches. Every time you complete a round in Rivals, your entire performance is recorded and saved for other people to play against. If you beat out the other three players, you earn bonus experience and credits. If another player's character still ends up winning, they'll earn experience while away from the game. It's a nice touch, and offers a new twist to online tournament play. That said, there are no real online modes beyond Rivals, which is not detrimental to the overall game, but would have been welcome. You can still get your fix locally against a few friends, but until you get all the characters and clubs unlocked, it's not as fun.
Powerstar Golf borrows a lot of what works from other, better golf games, but does an admirable job being it's the only golf game on the next-gen market. There's a lot of content here for the price, but most of that content is hidden away in collectible card packs, which can suffocate your progress at times. Still, Zoe Mode has done a nice job with Powerstar, and with four courses and six characters, you shouldn't run out of excuses to play a round any time soon.
This review was completed using a purchased download of Powerstar Golf for the Xbox One.