For over 20 years, Japanese studio Clap Hanz has been known for exactly one thing: making really good PlayStation golf games.
It started in 1998 with Everybody’s Golf 2, having taken over the series from Camelot (which would then go on to make all of Nintendo’s Mario Golf games). The series would go on to span four generations of PlayStation consoles, as well as the PSP, Vita, and PSVR. In all that time, Clap Hanz has not released a single game that wasn’t part of that series, wasn’t golf, and wasn’t exclusive to Sony.
That is, until now. Earlier this month, Clap Hanz announced and simultaneously released its very first game to break most of those molds: Clap Hanz Golf. Though still a golf game, Clap Hanz Golf is not a part of the Everybody’s Golf series, and instead of being a PlayStation console game, it’s currently exclusive to Apple Arcade. It’s a massive step for the studio after all these years, and it’s a move that CEO Masashi Muramori says he hopes will better identify the studio as its own entity to a global audience.
“We wanted the global audience to know who Clap Hanz is, and what we’ve done in the past,” Muramori says in an interview with IGN. “By putting our name in the title, we thought it would be the best way for gamers to recognize Clap Hanz.”
Muramori reassures me that the studio does still have a good relationship with Sony, but that the studio does want to explore other options in the future beyond its current and former partnerships.
“The last Everybody’s Golf title was released in 2019 for PlayStation VR, and there haven’t been any new announcements up to this point,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean the relationship is over. We still have a very good relationship with Sony. […] We don’t want to limit ourselves to Apple and Sony. Just for your reference, there is nothing set in stone as far as other partners for the time being. But we would like to pursue any other opportunities that would arise in the future.”
Clap Hanz Golf isn’t just looking for new partners and opportunities. Muramori says the studio is also looking to expand its horizons beyond golf games in the future. He hopes in another 20 years that golf games are still a pillar for the studio, but that the studio is also able to establish other pillar titles “that showcase our abilities as a game developer.”
“There are actually a lot of games that are in the planning [stage], and they are not limited to golf games — all sorts of different genres,” Muramori says. “But realistically, we need to prioritize the ones that are most likely to succeed, so for that reason most of our games have continued to be golf games. But we always have the urge to develop other games as well.”
No matter its ideas for future projects, it’s clear that the team at Clap Hanz still loves making golf games. Muramori has been working on Everybody’s Golf since the very beginning, including being credited as a programmer on the original game as a part of Camelot. Now, at the head of the company, Muramori says he believes that it was thanks to Everybody’s Golf — and Sony specifically — that golf games became popular at all. And he’s glad to continue that tradition.
“We do have to acknowledge that before Everybody’s Golf and Hot Shots Golf, golf games weren’t really that popular,” he says. “It seemed really dull, like a chess game or Reversi game. But thanks to Sony and their promotion team, Everybody’s Golf and Hot Shotz Golf did receive lots of support from the gamers, and I think that was one of the reasons golf games started to become popular.
“I think the appeal is that depending on what kind of natural environment you’re put in, whether it be how strong the wind is or whether you’re stuck in a bunker or things like this, the gamers simulate how to shoot the ball with what club, how strong, things like that. When they’re actually able to reproduce their simulation in the game, it feels good. So for Clap Hanz, that is the core appeal, and what makes golf games so much fun.”
For Clap Hanz, making a game for Apple Arcade was about more than just breaking away from some of the publishing and naming conventions they’d been attached to for two decades. Muramori tells me that the team was specifically interested in the possibilities of bringing a golf game to mobile, where a controller was not the default method of input and touch controls would have to be used instead.
“If you’re familiar with [Everybody’s Golf], you will know that the controls are basically pushing the button three times,” Muramori says. “It’s essentially getting the hang of when to push the buttons. Once you get the hang of the timing, it really isn’t that big of a challenge. So in order to transcend that, Clap Hanz has taken advantage of new technology and new hardware, and the result of that is Clap Hanz Golf.
“…In order for an intuitive control mechanism, we needed to step back and do something analogue rather than digital. From that standpoint, the fact that the slightest difference in where you touch or how you touch and how you flick on the touchscreen was something that was very interesting for Clap Hanz. So that was one of the reasons that we focused on iOS.”
User interface lead Shunsuke Takashima notes that while the team doesn’t have time to play a lot of other games, for Clap Hanz Golf, they did look closely at PGA 2K21 for inspiration. “We found that PGA 2K21 was something that relied less on timing, so that was something we really went deep into,” he says.
And lead programmer Toshiyuki Kuwabara adds that developing for iOS with this goal in mind presented a particular challenge in that there were so many models of iPhones that the game needed to support, as well as Mac and Apple TV.
“Across all these devices, players get to choose to either use the touchscreen or use gamepads or use a track controller, so lots of different control mechanisms actually,” Kuwabara says. “In doing that, we needed to make sure that all the devices had the same difficulty, so that using a certain device wouldn’t give certain players advantages over other devices. That was something we were really careful to make sure everybody had a fair chance.”
Aside from the controls, Muramori tells me that there were two reasons for bringing a game to Apple Arcade specifically. One was that Apple Arcade’s subscription model meant they wouldn’t have to implement loot box-style monetization, and could design a game similarly to how they had in the past. Another reason was that Apple reached out to Clap Hanz at an opportune time — with its ambitions to make something new already in place, the studio was in the process of looking for outside partners to work with at the time.
The Clap Hanz team is eager for players to share in their new adventures. Lead artist Keisuke Futami says that he hopes players will enjoy the cast of characters and challenging courses. The other three emphasize their excitement about the controls again: Takashima says he believes what they have done with Clap Hanz Golf is “just as good, if not better” than the traditional Everybody’s Golf controls. Kuwabara mentions the same, adding that he hopes players will persist even if the difference from the team’s former games seems challenging at first.
Muramori concludes that he feels because of the control changes, Clap Hanz Golf is closer to playing real golf than the team has ever gotten before.
“Hopefully Clap Hanz Golf on Apple Arcade will be a new start,” he says. “Not in the sense that we are cutting ties with Sony, but as a new game franchise we hope to be able to build on, so that Clap Hanz Golf becomes something that gamers love to play.”
After 20 years of making one kind of game, Clap Hanz Golf doesn’t just feel like a next step; it feels simultaneously like a first step towards something entirely new.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.