Big console launches are exciting enough, but they're often short on surprises -- after months of build-up, hype and planning, when whichever big black box you've opted for arrives in your living room on day one there's never that much room in the launch line-up for unknown quantities.
All of which makes some of the less hyped games like Zoo Tycoon all the more pleasing, as I discovered last week -- and Powerstar Golf's another little surprise awaiting people who pick up an Xbox One at launch.
It's humbler than the likes of Dead Rising 3, Ryse or Forza Motorsport, but it occupies a different, more relaxed space. Having started off as an Xbox 360 downloadable game built around avatars, Microsoft liked what they saw enough to give UK-based developers Zoe Mode a boost up to its next-generation console, and to have Powerstar Golf prepared to be sitting on the Xbox One's download store on day one.
What'll be waiting there for you is a take on the sport that's more Everybody's Golf than Tiger Woods - in fact, with its soft-edged caricatures and beaming colour palette, Powerstar owes an awful lot to Clap Hanz's long-running PlayStation series. Its debt goes beyond the aesthetic, and the clean and simple game of golf that Powerstar offers is backed up by a deep pool of systems.
If anything, Powerstar Golf runs deeper than its PlayStation counterpart -- and quite likely any other golf game out there. The RPG elements that are part and parcel of the majority of sports games aren't a casual overlay - they're as intricate and detailed as the loot and skills in the likes of Diablo.
At the base level you've got a slim selection of different golfers with different starting abilities -- you can think of them as your classes. Building on top of that are booster packs that can augment a skill over the course of a round or hole, and equipment that can be bought in the shop or even collected as a set for an extra kick to your stats. It's all fuelled by the in-game economy and yes, you can give your income a little boost with a real cash microtransaction - but Zoe Mode insists that it's not at all necessary to pump in money to see success.
The idea, instead, is to have a rich and deep progression system that makes you go back to holes and courses in order to improve your score, and hit the initially elusive three star ratings. Many of the skills and systems in place suggest that Powerstar Golf can have that pull: the loot's inspired in part by Borderlands' vast arsenal, and the skills themselves range from a little extra power to more delightful tricks like improving your ability to skim the ball across lake surfaces. You can even loan out your caddie, a character that has their own attributes and progression system, to other players before getting them back, a neat lift of the pawn system in Capcom's Dragon's Dogma.
There are some other neat ideas, too. Powerstar Golf doesn't have direct online multiplayer, but it does layer in competitive play in some more interesting ways. Pretty much everything you do within the game, be that sending a drive down the fairway, chipping on to the green or pushing a putt towards the hole, is measured against friends on leaderboards that are actively pulled into the game. Think of it like Forza's Rivals mode, or Need for Speed's Autolog, but just within the sedate world of golf. It's a philosophy that's also extended elsewhere -- it's possible to download other players' efforts around a course and compete against them, a system that's effectively like downloading a ghost in a racing game.
That's a lot of pretty smart ideas for a small game that, thus far, hasn't really garnered much attention before its release on Xbox One at the end of next week. It probably deserves a little bit more -- and it definitely deserves consideration if you're picking up an Xbox One at launch.
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