At times, Powerstar Golf feels a lot like playing its real-world counterpart. Like real golf, Powerstar is filled with frustration, botched shots, curse words muttered under your breath as your shot bounces into the bunker for the hundredth time, and promises that you’ll never play again. But then you hit that one shot, that one perfect shot, and it makes all the frustration worth it.
Powerstar Golf is an arcade-style golf game through and through. You select one of the Pixar-stylized characters, then play them through a series of tournaments in challenges in increasingly dangerous and exotic environments that earn you coins and experience. Shots are handled via a power meter – tap A when it reaches its peak for maximum power, then tap A again in the middle of the accuracy gauge to try and hit your ball straight. It’s challenging, especially when factors like wind and water hazards come into play, and that challenge can be startling when contrasted with the cartoony animations and overall tone.
Each golfer has their own special ability that can be used a limited number of times per round, like a power boost or an energy field that draws your ball closer to the pin. You also equip a caddy with their own ability to either show the predicted flight of your drive or the predicted path of your putt. None of these abilities are overpowered, and they’re limited enough that they won’t save your entire round, but they can be a lifesaver in a tricky situation.
Early rounds in Powerstar Golf are rough. Your golfer (there are only two available at the start of the game) is woefully underpowered, and that means scraping for par in even the first few events. You gain experience and coins through completing holes and in-game challenges, and while leveling up your experience unlocks more courses and challenges, coins are your life-blood here.
Coins allow you to buy booster packs, and those packs contain random clubs and stat boosters that are the only way to improve your golfer. That means that you never know which upgrade you’re paying for, and that can be frustrating when you’ve already unlocked three sets of woods and you’re dying for a new putter. And like seemingly every next-gen offering on the Xbox One, coins can be purchased for real-life currency to speed up the process.
To complicate matters, there are also custom clubs that can be unlocked for each golfer, but those are also randomly inserted into the most expensive packs. The problem is that the more golfers you unlock, the more those elusive custom clubs will spread across your entire roster regardless of who you play with. It’s frustrating that the best strategy is to only play with one of the two initially-unlocked golfers to try and unlock all of their clubs first instead of unlocking the rest of the cast to experiment with.
Fortunately, the gameplay on the course really makes up for Powerstar’s microtransaction shortcoming, especially the brilliant Rivals mode. Powerstar Golf has no online multiplayer in a traditional sense – you can’t jump into a lobby and play live against an opponent – but Rivals mode puts you against three other friends or strangers who have already completed certain rounds, then lets you play through the round with them just like a live game. You see their shots and you rotate strokes just like in a normal online game, but the benefit here is there’s no waiting and no risk of an opponent backing out because they need to leave or are playing poorly. It’s a great way to earn coins and experience quickly as you get more reward for each player whose score you beat, and you can even earn XP offline if another player fails to top your score.
There’s also incentive to go back and replay holes because the best shots that you and your friends make are indicated by markers on the course, and you earn bonus XP each time you set a new personal best or outdrive your friend. It’s all wonderfully addictive and builds a great level of competition and oneupsmanship because your friends’ shots are always in front of you begging to be beaten.
Powerstar Golf isn’t the killer launch app that is going to send you running to the store for an Xbox One. Its graphics are akin to most Xbox 360 games, and there’s nothing truly new or groundbreaking at play. But what Powerstar Golf is is a heck of a lot of fun, and the online features give it a ton of replay potential.
Powerstar Golf Xbox One Videogame Review | Microsoft Game Studios | November 22, 2013
(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)
(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Manhattan Before8 and Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)