I've always been a fan of the Hot Shots Golf series, and this game doesn't disappoint. It's one of my favorite games on the PS Vita so far, and I've definitely gotten more than my money's worth.
If you're unfamiliar with the Hot Shots Golf series, it's been around for more than a decade. Unlike the Tiger Woods series of golf games, Hot Shots Golf goes for a deliberately cartoony, over-the-top visual presentation. Don't let initial impressions fool you, though - the underlying gameplay is deep and can be very challenging. This game still sticks with the old-fashioned three button press system for hitting golf shots (push once to start swing, push again to set power, push once more to hit accurately), with the usual additions of allowing you to impart spin and extra power. The single-player part of the game primarily consists of a series of 40-something 9 or 18 hole events across the game's 6 different courses. A good portion of the events have modified rules to keep things interesting (maybe you get extra strokes if you hit in bunkers, maybe it's windy and rainy, etc.), and all the events have an optional bonus objective which usually is considerably more challenging than just winning the event.
The game starts easy enough, but near the end both the courses and the scores you need to shoot on those courses become very challenging. Some of the optional objectives are even harder. If you read mainstream reviews of this game, many critics have negative opinions about the game's difficulty, but I think a lot of those critiques are off-base. The difficulty ramps up slowly, so you have plenty of time to master the more advanced techniques you need to finish the latter stages of the game. If you are skilled, you can win all events without luck - just like in real golf - although luck at certain key moments doesn't hurt. There's certainly no luck involved in hitting good shots: if you have good timing, the ball goes where you ask it to go. Most importantly, the game provides all the tools necessary to help you improve and overcome the most difficult courses. There's a practice mode which allows you to play any hole an indefinite number of times with any conditions you like, so if certain holes (or even certain shots on certain holes) are giving you a lot of trouble, just experiment and practice to your heart's content until you figure out how to best approach that hole. Good shot selection becomes as important as execution by the end of the game, so don't be surprised if you have to experiment with different shot shapes and clubs to figure out how to play the hard courses (especially the final course) in a reasonable manner. Every time I failed to win a tournament, there was always something I could improve on.
I wouldn't say that any of the touch-screen or gyroscopic capabilities of the PS Vita add anything useful to the gameplay, but they don't detract from the game either. The graphics are fantastic, and the audio is, for the most part, well done. Each character only has a small number of catchphrases, so it can get a bit repetitive to hear them saying the same things over and over, but that's just a minor quibble. A 9 hole round only takes about 10 minutes to play, so you can get a quick session in while on a car (if you're not driving!) or during a lunch break. In any case, if you need to stop playing immediately, you can always put the PS Vita to sleep in the middle of the round and then wake up the PS Vita later.
Considering how few courses there are, the game lasts for a surprisingly long time. If you want to 100% complete the single-player and unlock all of the items in the game's shop (there's equipment, music selections, art, additional outfits for characters, etc.), expect to put in at least 40 hours. The game does a good job of constantly providing you with rewards, so you always feel a sense of progression, even if you're having difficulty winning events. There's also a multi-player component, although it basically consists of playing a round by yourself and then posting your scores to a global server. You can also play with friends locally, although I never had the opportunity to try this feature out. Then again, in real life golf is ultimately a solo game, so it's not too surprising that the multiplayer is a lot like the single player.
Are there any negatives to the game? There are a few minor improvements which I think would make the game more enjoyable. It'd be nice if there were more courses - 6 isn't really very many, although fortunately none of them are similar to each other. And if you've played a lot of Hot Shots Golf in the past, don't expect anything dramatically new here. Nevertheless, on balance, Hot Shots Golf is a lot of fun. It's a polished, deep, challenging game with a good amount of content. If you enjoy playing golf in video games, definitely give this game a try.