Sports games tend to be perennial cash cows for publishers. Want proof? Look no further than Madden; sales of the newest iteration of that franchise are probably all EA needs to stay in the black every year. For the longest time, golf wasn't a money-maker. The stuffiness of the sport itself tended to result in golf video games only appealing to hardcore golf fans. That mindset changed forever when Sony dropped Hot Shots Golf onto an unsuspecting populace.
Hot Shots Golf (known as Everybody's Golf in Japan and Europe) punched through golf's pretentiousness with laser-like precision. The characters you can use are super-deformed anime-ish creations that are just ... simply ... adorable. Even though they are only 2D characters, they are very well-animated, even having very cute reactions to winning and losing. Even the announcers' voices are pleasant; I never got tired of hearing the female voice say "Nice Shot!" In fact, the visuals overall have aged extremely well for a PS1 game. Even though I can tell the trees are 2D, it's not apparent unless you zoom in on them. The texture-work is smooth, and I couldn't find a single jaggie. This is one PS1 game that still looks fantastic even playing on an HD screen.
Even with enough cuteness to rival a Hello Kitty store, the game is serious about providing a legitimate game of golf. There are six courses to play on, and they are all created to be challenging but fair. There are even random rainstorms that add additional challenge. The characters all have distinct stats (including natural tendencies to fade or draw), and you even receive a limited number of power shots to use in the round, making reaching the par 5 greens in two very doable. Before the shot, the camera can be moved manually, making fine-tuning your aim extremely easy. Even putting spin on the ball is dirt-simple by holding the d-pad in the appropriate direction during the swing. The only weakness in the mechanics is a slight delay with the button inputs which can be compensated for by hitting the X button a half-second sooner. Other than that, the game plays like a green jacket winner.
There is a ton of things to do in Hot Shots Golf. Five of the courses and eight of the characters are locked in the beginning. Unlocking courses requires experience points which are earned by playing tournaments or pulling off great shots like birdies or chip shots. Beating characters in VS mode unlocks them. The number of XP required to unlock courses can be considered too high unless you play tournaments; expect to spend a lot of time playing the first course. There is even a full-fledged mini-golf course to play! It may be basic, but it's great all the same.
Hot Shots Golf is truly a golf game for everyone. It radically changed the way people perceived golf games, making them accessible to any player, young or old, pro or amateur. The series continued to improve over time (World Invitational on the PS3 is one of my favorite golf games ever), but I will always have a soft-spot for the one that started it all. Don't let the cuteness scare you away; this one deserves a shot.