The game of golf is all about precision, patience, and looking swank in plaid. Unquestionably, this checklist of golfing requirements was on the developers' minds when they started designing Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds. If we take those three terms and translate them into the context of videogames, it would sound something like this: precision comes in the form of an intuitive yet complex gameplay; patience describes the progressive difficulty and the game's longevity; and lastly, plaid symbolizes a stylish design. Well okay, plaid isn't that stylish, but you get the point right?
As Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds introduces a new style of play, it still is more or less true to its roots. We've enjoyed the game immensely and we've got to clap our hands together for Clap Hanz. Nice shotto!
The biggest difference between Out of Bounds and other Hot Shots Golf games is the addition of a new way to play the game. Called "advanced shot," this play style makes the golfing experience feel more authentic; it's more about actually swinging the club and getting the feel of a swing, rather than monitoring a gauge like in the traditional style. While the first few tries with the advance shot feel awkward, it's not too long before it becomes second nature to play with. The advance mode is such a better way to play, we ended up using it for 88% of our total playtime according to our in-game stats.
While the traditional shot requires players to keep an eye on a guage at the bottom of the screen to adjust power and accuracy, the advance shot needs players to carefully watch their characters. As a character draws their club back, he/she is charging energy for their swing. To make sure you know how much kick goes into the swing, keep an eye on the yellow and red flashes (50% and 100% power respectively), then adjust as you so desire. After the power is set, it's time for accuracy. In advance shot, a circle will appear and continue to shrink until it's the size of the golf ball. To hit absolutely accurate shots, players will have to press x at the point when the circle is the smallest and right on the golf ball itself. Hit too early or too late and you'll face some disastrous consequences. This might sound tough, but it's not; it's really quite easy to get a hang of. It's also a whole lot of fun.
The single player "challenge mode" is the core of the game. It's here where you sign-up for tournaments and advance your rank. When you win a challenge, you can net yourself a prize. The prize is chosen by the player from a set of six mystery cards; only one card can be chosen. Oddly enough, multiple prizes can be given out if you've met certain other requirements at the same time, like say finishing ten challenges will bag you a new character. One annoying thing about this though is that prizes are not always unique and can repeat. It becomes annoying because winning a tourney should always be rewarded, it's lame not to get something new each time. It becomes slightly more of an irritation knowing that you're unrewarded for coming in second. The Prizes themselves range from: new courses, characters, caddies, color palettes, clubs, golf balls, and lobby parts for your online avatar.
To unlock certain characters, you'll need to face-off with them in special matches in challenge mode. You'll have to qualify for these matches though; to do this you need to finish a certain number of challenges depending on your rank. When you finally reach these versus matches, they play out using the "match play" rules. This means that instead of tallying your total score of birdies and pars, you're scored separately by how many holes you've won. It's completely possible to win way before reaching the ninth green, if you keep a consistently better record than your opponent. When you've beaten the character, you will also move up to the next rank. These versus battles come off feeling like "boss battles" in a sense; they're also a really great way to mix things up.
If the challenges are not your cup of tea, then there's always room for the training and stroke modes. The training mode obviously lets players play around with taking shots; shots can be retaken over and over again in order to get it just right, and the wind can be adjusted to test out other conditions that will affect play. Stroke mode is basically just playing a round of golf at one's own leisure.
The game is not overly difficult. There is no optional adjustment for difficulty, instead the game just gets progressively more difficult as you move up in rank. The courses get harder as there's more and more water hazards, out of bounds areas, physical obstructions, and dastardly-placed sand traps. In the earlier stages, it's possible to get by only making par a few times and fumbling bogeys every now and then. By the intermediate stages, it's about the right time to start cranking in some birdies. Indirectly tied to the difficulty, one complaint about the courses is that they are so few and spread far apart. There are only six in total and this means that you'll be playing the same course multiple times before getting to a new one. This can make things feel a bit repetitious, especially in the beginning.
As golf gear is unlocked, you'll have a treasure trove of clubs and golf balls to use. These tools will modify a character's stats, so it's important to choose the right gear that will bring out a character's strength. As you continue to win challenges, you won't only unlock prizes, but will also increase in player's level which unlocks the use of special skills like the "Super Top Spin." Also, as you continue to play as a specific character, their loyalty level goes up; with every level increase, the character will get an added bonus such as an extra special shot allowance as there is a limited number of uses of these specials.
Other factors that affect the outcome of a match include weather conditions like the appearance of the rain, or the intensity and direction of the wind. The angle of a slope while putting is another; getting caught in a sand trap or finding yourself in the rough can make things difficult to get to where you want to be. Also, you can add a spin to a shot by tapping the d-pad while a shot is powering up. These elements are nothing new to the series, but are still worth mentioning because they add such a complexity to the title and make the experience so enjoyable.
The multi-player mode supports up to four players. There are only two ways to play multi-player: stroke (a regular match) and match play (similar to the boss battles in challenge mode). You can adjust HSG rules in stroke mode adding special conditions like having a bigger cup than the standard size, or including stroke penalties. Also, a fun little part of multi-player that's not possible in the single player or online modes is that you can taunt your opponents while they putt. Use a different direction on the d-pad to execute unique taunts.
Now the reason why taunts are not possible in online play is because you won't wait and watch your opponents take their turns. Instead, everyone plays simultaneously and under time pressure to complete a hole. When a hole is over, you'll be taken to a status screen displaying everyone's position. At this time, it's possible to make comments about the previous match until another timer runs out and the next match starts. The tourney we were in had about four players, though the maximum allowance was around eight. You can make a customizable avatar to meet up with buddies; you can edit the head, face, body, and two accessories with items unlocked from the single player challenge mode. There are around 20 lobbies, each with a different theme -- everything from an African safari to Japanese onsen. A disappointing part, however, is that your lobby avatar is not usable in actual golfing matches. It's a minor complaint, but it's one that does make the customization of an online character a bit moot.
The graphics in the game are great. They're sure not pushing the PS3 hardware though, and that's fine. The anime-ish bright atmosphere is always a pretty sight to look at it. The environments aren't particularly stunning but they have enough charisma to warrant interest in seeing the same scenery again and again. The music, however, does tend to get boring pretty quick. Some of the spectator comments can get on one's nerves, too. Hearing some bloke continuously mouth off "hit it over there pal," at the beginning of a shot is all it takes to get hot and bothered. Often times, we'll end up turning the music off and listening to our own.
Another excellent feature of the game is that it automatically records your unbelievably amazing chip-ins and putts. It's a huge boost to the ego, especially now that you can show off to friends about that hole-in-one. These recording also take up a negligible amount of space on the hard drive as they're included in the regular save file. However, on the note of HDD space, there is a 3.6GB mandatory install. While this may sound like another blow to gigabyte conservatives, it's a well spent install. To sum everything up, Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is a worthy game to add to one's collection and definitely an experience that shouldn't be passed up.
PS3 Fanboy score: 8.5