Clap Hanz’s special brand of golf makes its long overdue Nintendo debut with Easy Come, Easy Golf on Nintendo Switch. Has it been worth the wait?
First up, a disclaimer: Yes, I am aware that Easy Come, Easy Golf is some form of port of Clap Hanz Golf, released for Apple Arcade in 2021. And no, I won’t be addressing the fact that it’s a mobile port in this review at all. That will come as a disappointment for some of you, who bemoan “lazy” ports and complain about which way the escalators run, but in this context, we’re reviewing the Nintendo Switch game in its own right.
That being said, it’s practically impossible to talk about Easy Come, Easy Golf without alluding to, mentioning, referring to, or comparing with its other ancestor, Everybody’s Golf. The series – developed by Clap Hanz since Everybody’s Golf 2 in 1999 – was a PlayStation exclusive for two decades, spanning four console generations and seven different platforms including portable and VR variants.
It may not be Everybody’s Golf in name, then, but Easy Come, Easy Golf coming to the Nintendo Switch is still a seismic shift, and probably has much to do with the closure of Sony’s Japan Studio, Clap Hanz long-term collaborator on the series. (It’s also not the first time this has happened. Camelot Software Planning, which developed the first Everybody’s Golf for PlayStation in 1997, switched sides and now develops its sports games – including the Mario Tennis and Mario Golf series – exclusively for Nintendo platforms.)
Right. Apologies for the brief history lesson, but it wouldn’t be a visit to a golf club without having to tug your forelock to the captain in halls filled with portraits of past champions. Now, with history duly respected, on with the round.
Stepping onto the tee box for the first time in Easy Come, Easy Golf, everything feels familiar. Comfortable, even. Yes, this is my first swing of the club on this game and on this platform, but I’ve been here before. Addressing the ball, alternate control methods are available – a fiddly touch screen swipe or an imprecise thumbstick waggle – but the three-click method is king. It takes a moment to adjust to the new UI (the power is vertical while the impact is horizontal, rather than sharing a single bar) but that muscle memory, honed over two-and-a-half decades, is a remarkable thing.
From the very first swing, I was booming drives down the fairway to shouts of “Nice shot!” from my caddy, chipping eagles in from off the green, and my average number of putts per hole was a very simple figure: one. In my first couple of tournaments (hampered only slightly by the characters available, which I’ll get to later) I finished four or five under par, with the nearest computer player on something horrific like 11 over par. A 15- or 16-shot victory in nine holes is just daft, frankly.
The competitiveness didn’t improve in my next few tournaments, and the boss battles – where you unlock additional characters beating them in matchplay – were all over after three holes, the computer throwing in the towel early in the face of such a drubbing. Other diversions, like long drive and near pin contests, were equally one-sided. Then a horrible thought occurred to me: Is Easy Come, Easy Golf just too easy? Is the latest in the loudest, most vibrant golf game series actually rather boring?
But it’s easy, especially with the change in name and platform, to forget about the value of 25 years of cumulative experience. Not everyone approaching Easy Come, Easy Golf has been playing its spiritual forebears since 1997. It may have lost the “Everybody’s” from its name, but its mission statement remains the same. This is a game whose raison d’être is the antithesis of most every real-life country club: To allow literally anyone to pick up a golf club and feel like they can play.
In the real world, access to golf is still very much a socio-economic concern, but historically there’s more to it than that. There are still golf clubs that don’t allow lady members; doubtless there are others that are still racist to their bones. Easy Come, Easy Golf might not outwardly concern itself with these matters, but its distinctly weird roster of players – that makes Dodgeball’s Average Joes look like an Abercrombie and Fitch commercial – cements the notion that this is still everybody’s golf, even if it no longer carries the name.
Once you remember that the presence of absolute beginners on the course means the on-ramp needs to be shallow enough to cater to their needs, it assuages some of those fears about the challenge on offer. It’s easier then to relax into the rhythm of Easy Come, Easy Golf, of tournament play, unlocking courses and characters, and leveling up your stats. And those series strengths are mercifully unchanged.
Detached from the tyrannical topography of the real world, courses are pure, ideal designs. In Golf Architecture In America: Its Strategy And Construction, first published in 1927, George Clifford Thomas wrote: “The spirit of golf is to dare a hazard, and by negotiating it reap a reward, while he who fears or declines the issue of the carry, has a longer or harder shot for his second; yet the player who avoids the unwise effort gains advantage over one who tries for more than in him lies, or fails under the test.” With Clap Hanz’s stylistic approach to world building and hole layouts, that spirit, that ancient principle is applied better than it ever could be in the real world. Long holes will have juts and spurs of fairway, floating islands of safe landings that, if you’re tempted and you hit it just right, you’ll save crucial yardage off your next shot. If you’re feeling really cocky, well-placed (and oh so tempting) cart paths offer a bounce bonus for monster drives. That sort of thing is the difference between getting a shot at eagle or settling for birdie or par on a good day, or heroically converting a potential double or triple into a scrambled par under circumstances more dire. But if you miss, you fail under the test as GC Thomas so eloquently put it, you’re significantly worse off as a result. With its exaggerated features amplifying the risk and reward, Easy Come, Easy Golf is the drama and dilemma of golf, writ large in a comical, bubbly font.
But often, it’s a moot point: you can’t reach these advantageous landing sites at all. At least, not straight away. It’s practically Metroid-like in its level design, showing you a path that you might be able to take if you were only a bit more powerful. And that’s where Easy Come, Easy Golf’s massive roster of misfits comes into its own. On the face of it that’s all pretty standard stuff – unlocking new, better characters by defeating them in matchplay has been a series staple since day dot – but combined with a new gimmick that mixes up tournament play, things get interesting.
Imagine the Ryder Cup. Yes, we’re talking serious golf for a moment. You have two teams, captains pick their starting order (not knowing the other’s selections), then send them off to do battle. Now imagine someone with a short attention span looking for a way to make that more exciting to watch and, instead of golfers playing full matches, each one only plays a single hole in the overall round. It’s like the ultimate scramble, and it’s certainly a better gimmick than Mario Golf: Super Rush’s frenetic, first-past-the-post racing mechanic.
Now imagine that you only have three players in your team to choose from. You might expect that you’d just rotate your trio, three holes each through nine, but Easy Come, Easy Golf has other ideas. Instead, it will loan you a batch of Tintin-looking homunculi, coconut-headed golf baby clones, who all drive the ball precisely 172 yards. Which is just not far enough to challenge that risk/reward threshold, even on the early courses. And while your characters level up the polo-shirted perma-toddlers do not, perpetually stuck with that dismal driving distance.
To be truly competitive, you’ll need to unlock (at least) another six real players so you’ll never need rely on the children of the corn ever again. As the courses get longer and the conditions get tougher, any slots not filled by “real” golfers turn from a minor hindrance to an Achilles heel. Meanwhile, the posted scores from the computer players creep downwards, a little better each time, and before you know it – right around the time you unlock your ninth “real” character, maybe the fourth or fifth course, and the game starts chucking hurricane-force winds at you – you’ll have found a little hint of bite in Easy Come, Easy Golf.
How much longevity you’ll find in Easy Come, Easy Golf rests on how happy you are with that loop, with being underpowered on freshly-unlocked courses until you can best a new character (or level up your existing ones) to push their limits. There are hints of 2019’s always-online, live-service Everybody’s Golf in its single-player mode, with tournaments and challenges refreshing regularly. (It’s worth reiterating that that game was also Clap Hanz’s last outing on PlayStation, with its multiplayer servers turned off just last month. It was actually a great game with plenty to keep you busy, but unlike Steep or Forza Horizon where other players make the world come alive, the hustle and bustle was a distracting nuisance on the course.) Often this constant refresh includes mirror courses, extreme weather, unusually sized holes, and other quirks, which adds a little extra variety to the unlock cycle. And there are, of course, online and local multiplayer modes which are fantastic fun.
But for someone who’s used to a dozen characters and even fewer courses, who still pumped a frightening number of hours into vintage Everybody’s Golf over the years? Easy Come, Easy Golf feels nothing but modern and generous in comparison.
Game: Easy Come, Easy Golf
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Clap Hanz
Publisher: Clap Hanz
Release Date: September 14, 2022