I have fond memories of playing NES Golf as a kid. I knew nothing about golf and never had an interest in the real-life sport, but there was something about the way that game boiled all the complexities of golf down to simple, intuitive game systems that just hooked me. Everybody’s Golf reminds of that game, and for many much the same reason—it’s golf, simplified—and it’s got the same hold on me. But Everybody’s Golf is also decidedly modern game, in its presentation and online focus, creating a game that feels both contemporary and classic.
Like NES Golf (and many other golf games), Everybody’s Golf lives and dies by its power gauge. To take a swing, you simply press a button to start the gauge, press it again to select the power, and then press it a third time to determine the impact. The timing of the second press determines how far the ball will go; the closer to full the gauge is, the more powerful the hit. The third press is, ideally, in the middle of the “impact zone” within the gauge; the closer to the centre of the impact zone, the more accurate your shot.
It’s a simple and elegant system, which is why it’s been cribbed endlessly since the earliest golf games. Everybody’s Golf adds a few other tools to it, like the ability draw, slice, add topspin, or add backspin to the ball by tapping a directional button at the point of impact. You can also make small adjustments to the power with the third press by choosing a different button: X is the default, triangle adds a little bit more power, and circle removes a bit. It’s a good of way of fine-tuning your shot or fixing up a poorly-timed second press.
With these systems in place, Everybody’s Golf opens the door to some deep and tactical golfing. You can play through the whole game without ever paying attention to ball spin, but having those options allows you to better adapt to the terrain and weather, and squeeze out those extra yards, and make every shot count.
The courses themselves are fantastic, covering a range of settings from the heights of Alps to the beaches of Hawaii. Each course includes a good balance of different types of holes, from long par-5s that favour power to shorter, more hazardous ones that test your accuracy. It can be easy for the different courses and holes in a golf game to blur together, but those of Everybody’s Golf do a good job of each having their own identity.
One really nice touch is that each course is a whole, complete golf course, rather than a series of isolated individual holes. When you’re playing one particular hole, you can see any others that are nearby. You can even land a ball on a neighbouring fairway and play it from there, rather than it simply going out of bounds—not that you’d want to, necessarily, but you can. Despite the general cartoonish presentation of its characters, Everybody’s Golf is great at creating the sense of playing on a real-life golf course.
The continuous nature of each course is most apparent in the aptly-named Open Course mode, which puts a sort of open-world, MMO-like spin on the game. In this mode, the course is your playground: you can wander around, play any hole you like, play a full set of 9, go cruise around in a golf cart, go fishing, go fishing—pretty much do whatever. It’s a shared online space, so other players are all doing their thing, and you can talk to them or start a round of golf, but you never have to. With this set up, Everybody’s Golf captures one of the best things about (good) MMOs: there’s a sense of community and a constant bubble of activity, but you can appreciate that without being forced to actively participate in it. A wealth of player customisation options—none of which are gender-restricted, as far as I can tell—allows you to create your own identity within this space. Even when you’re not golfing, Open Course mode is a great way to just relax.
Between the solid play mechanics, the smart course design, and the liveliness of the online space, Everybody’s Golf has everything it needs to be a brilliant game. Unfortunately, it also has a habit of standing on its own toes.
The biggest issue I have is how much of a chore it is to unlock new courses. Courses are tied to your rank as a player, with a new one opened up with every other rank increase; to raise your rank, you have to beat three NPCs in one-on-one matches; to battle those NPCs, you have to earn experience by playing single-player tournaments. The cumulative effect of all those systems means that to unlock the next course requires playing upwards of 20 9-hole rounds on whatever the current one is. As interesting as the individual courses and holes are, it’s a massive grind to play the same content over and over again just to gain access to other core parts of the game.
I can understand this sort of grind for clothes and other customisation options, which are more optional (and more plentiful, so the rewards come much more frequently). I can understand having some sort of system for unlocking courses, to avoid overwhelming new players and create that sense of progress. But when it takes so much time just to get from one course to the next, and you have to spend that doing the same things repeatedly, it gets more than a little tedious.
Worse, you can’t play any course in multiplayer that you haven’t unlocked in single-player, and you can’t earn experience by playing online. The Open Course mode is one of Everybody’s Golf’s best features, but the game forces you to avoid it for hours and hours just so that you can see everything it has to offer. At the very least, the grind to unlock courses would be less tiresome if I could enjoy the community aspect of Open Course while I’m working through it.
Online play also suffers from a levelling system that works well in single-player but completely breaks any competitive multiplayer mode. In short, you level up your clubs by playing well, which in turn makes their stats better—hitting with 100% power increases a club’s range, long shots onto the green increase accuracy, and so on. Again, the progression here is nice for solo play, and it always gives you something to shoot for, but it means some players have a decisive advantage over others simply for playing the game more. With no way to filter for similar-level opponents, multiplayer is just a crapshoot, and for a new, low-level player, finding someone you can battle on even footing is practically impossible.
Still, Everybody’s Golf has plenty of enjoyment to offer in its single-player mode and the more casual side of Open Course. It captures the simple joy of the golf games of days gone, but with the beautiful sights that only a modern system could provide. Open Course gives you a great space to play in, whether it’s for golf itself or just for hanging out, and the community and social aspect of it brings the whole game to life. It’s a shame that the more direct multiplayer systems are so poorly balanced and that unlocking new courses is such a grind, but Everybody’s Golf is still a golf game that everybody can enjoy.
Everybody’s Golf is developed by Clap Hanz and SIE Japan Studio, and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It’s available now for PlayStation 4.
A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.