With one look at Powerstar Golf, you'll get a pretty good sense whether or not this game is for you. It targets a niche within a niche: gamers who enjoy virtual golf, and prefer a vibrant, cartoony world to Tiger Woods and his mundane-looking peers. Still interested? Excellent, because Powerstar caters nicely to those with fond memories of the fairways in Hot Shots and Mario Golf. It may not be quite as accessible as its progenitors, but Powerstar will satisfy your inner golf enthusiast in all the right ways. That includes the high highs of fist-pumping after sinking a perfect shot, and the low lows of cursing profusely when your putt stops just short of the hole.
First and foremost, you should know that Powerstar utilizes the classic "three click" method for making shots; no analog stick funny business here. That familiar, old-school feeling pervades much of Powerstar's mechanics, from the colored grid representing the slope of the green to setting the spin of your shot with the D-pad. Such a clear-cut presentation helps ease you into a comfortable groove fairly quickly, with one exception: the power gauge itself. It's a lot more fickle than most, with a rapidly moving needle and a very small margin for error; if your timing isn't on point, your shot will swerve a good deal off its intended course. Rarely was I able to pull off a full-power shot, and I still send the ball sailing to a watery grave from time to time. It's not insurmountably difficult to control, but getting consistent distance on your drives may very well take a few hours of play.
Putting is just as tricky. You will want to slam your virtual club into the ground when trying to get the ball into the hole, because the faintly slick physics produce a lot of in-and-out near misses. It can be difficult to judge the slope of the green, and your caddy of choice usually defaults to stating the obvious. The ball physics aren't poorly designed, by any means--but they might feel unforgiving, especially when your stroke count seems to just barely graze over par time and again.
But you won't mind putting in the work to get better, because Powerstar's courses are a delight to spend time in. There are four 18-hole links to conquer, with their own distinct aesthetic and challenges. What they all share in common is a profound sense of the serene; flybys let you take in the gorgeous environments, which are saturated with rich colors and sunny lighting. Upbeat, jazzy music complements the scenic courses, soothing you into a dreamy contentment (when you're not swearing up a storm after narrowly missing a putt, that is). And though the courses do skew towards realism, they're not above getting a little crazy. The picturesque Burning Sands course starts out as your typical seaside paradise--but when an active volcano starts spewing lava all over the fairway, it feels like just the right amount of zaniness.
That tempered zaniness also applies to the golfers themselves--and when compared to the blatant stereotypes of Hot Shots or the Nintendo cameos of Mario Golf, Powerstar's personalities aren't half bad. Everyone's got an appealing Pixar-like flair to their design, be they a retired astronaut, a bookish physicist, or a Zen master. There are only six golfers to choose from (and unlocking them all will take quite awhile), but the limited selection is offset by the fact that they all have a unique, game-changing ability, like a magnetized ball that briefly veers toward the pin, or a shot that splits the ball into five copies, then chooses the one closest to the hole. They're totally overpowered; thankfully, their limited uses per course make them exciting highlights instead of cheap, assured-win superpowers.
Unless, that is, you've got a few boosts on hand--and this is where Powerstar starts to feel a little dicey. Yep, this golf game has the kind of microtransactions your mother warned you about, and though money never buys power directly, it can certainly grant you the means. New clubs, balls, and temporary advantages (like extra uses of your special ability) come in virtual booster packs, which you can buy with the in-game currency that can be replenished for cash. Items come in special sets and have rarity values--an ingenious move in terms of making collecting fun, but one that still feels icky in an exploitative F2P kind of way, since you can never buy or trade for the exact item you're looking for. Fortunately, every item in the game can be acquired simply by playing, and collecting a decent set of clubs doesn't take long. Better yet, you can totally enjoy yourself without ever spending a cent. I suggest making a pact with friends to just play the game as-is and ignore the fleeting boosts entirely.
And playing with friends is one of Powerstar's strong suits, whether they're sitting right next to you or fast asleep in another town. Every swing, putt, and chip-in you make gets stored as data, which is then fed to friends and online rivals alike. As you golf, you'll notice little indicators on the course showing off your buddies' bests, like their longest drive or closest approach. Beating these records gets you a pat on the back and some bonus experience, making it so that you're constantly (but never invasively) in competition with your pals, even if they're not actively playing with you. You can also test yourself against your friends' best scores or enjoy local co-op, both of which benefit from how easy it is to skip any repetitive animations or lengthy rolls on the fairway.
Powerstar Golf succeeds at doing what all golf games should strive for: making you really feel like your skill grows the more you play. And it has fun doing it, with a cheery, inviting atmosphere and a carefree approach to friendly rivalries. If you're the type to obsessively chase after global leaderboard spots, or you've got money burning a hole in your pocket, the various boosts will help you become your own worst enemy when it comes to having fun. But even with microtransactions occasionally muddling the mixture, this is still one of the most enjoyable, whimsical golf games around. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go perfect the timing of my tap-tap-tap swing.