We normally try to avoid comparing games directly to one another in reviews, but it’s impossible to even look at Pangya: Fantasy Golf without exclaiming out loud, “Damn. This looks exactly like Hot Shots Golf.” It does. Although it was originally a Korean PC golf MMO, Pangya is so similar to Sony’s expertly-crafted golf series, which has two PSP releases already, that we’re surprised Sony approved it for PSP release. But it copies the gameplay beautifully, and Pangya has one thing Hot Shots has never had: a crazy, captivating storyline.
In most golf games, the setup consists of something like, “You are on a golf course and holding a club. Play golf!” Not here. You’re not on Earth and you’re technically not even playing golf. Instead, you’re in a mystical fantasy world where every year the whole land commemorates the victory of an ancient hero, inexplicably from Earth, over the Dark Lord. How? By sending fairies (actually caddies) to Earth to kidnap humans, who then play “pangya.” It’s a game in which the player swings a lance (club) to hit the Aztec (ball) into a hole. Just like the hero did to the Dark Lord.
Wait, what? With a setup like this, is it any wonder that the story mode keeps you guessing as it zooms from motorcycles to pirates to the possible rebirth of the Dark Lord – all with huge amounts of golf shoehorned in with little regard for logic or even sanity?
This madness extends to the 18 playable characters, who range from a normal kid and a chubby, fried chicken-loving cop to a tennis pro who talks to paper bags and looks like he’s from Metal Gear, a polar bear/cat shaman thing, and a seeress who turns into a dragon. The nine courses are a bit more tame, but you’ll still find giant mushrooms, frozen levels covered in snow and ice, and a hellish course where lava pools and volcanic ash replace water hazards and sand.
Whether you call it golf or pangya, the gameplay itself is solid, though there is one infuriating difference between the rules here and in “real” golf. In normal golf, when two or more players end a tournament with the same score, they shoot playoff holes until someone can be declared the victor. Here, a tie means you lose and the CPU-controlled character wins. And this will happen a lot, especially as you get deeper into the game and your opponents get better. And you will hate it because it isn’t fun and it feels like a cheap waste of your time.
Beyond that, our only real gripes are that this feels a bit dated. There’s no analog swing mechanic (it’s the reliable three-button-presses system golf games have used for eons). And while there are several free play and tournament modes, multiplayer options are limited to local ad-hoc for up to eight players. This is a big let-down considering the original Pangya is an MMO and Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 had 16-player online modes, with better looks and shorter load times, a year ago.
On the plus side, we actually like the putting green better than in Hot Shots. Plus, power-up items and limited-use special shots – such as the Spike shot, which doesn’t roll when it touches down, or the Cobra, a ground-skimming shot perfect in wind – add a layer of extra strategy. Finally, there are a ridiculous number of costumes and upgrades you can buy. Pangya may not be as technologically robust as its competition, but it definitely makes up for it in personality. Golf is rarely this weird, but we loved every minute of it.
Jul 7, 2009