Although NCAA March Madness has the broadcast audience’s attention, “spring” to videogame and nice-weather-loving folk means it’s time for golf. PlayStation 3 owners get the first taste of the digital fairway with the latest edition of Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds, which has finally arrived in North America. Those looking for golf simulator (i.e. Tiger Woods PGA Tour) should look elsewhere; this is a “simple” series, a common-man game type native to Japan and something along the lines of Mario Party. In other words, it’s easy pick up and play, which makes it both inviting and addicting.
This isn’t to say Tiger Woods PGA Tour fans wouldn’t enjoy Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds, but this game provides a very different style and appearance, and the only thing the games have in common is their sport. However, while the Hot Shot series may seem at first like a simplified or watered-down game, at its core is the depth and subtlety of a fighter.
With three simple taps of the X button, anyone can hit the ball down the fairway and into the cup. But this simplicity is also where the challenge lies and the addiction sets in. Out of Bounds introduces the Advance Swing, which is also just three taps of the X button, just minus the power gauge. This mechanic makes you pay very close attention to your 3D golfer’s swing, which requires good knowledge about each character’s nuances and styles. It can make it challenging if you play with different characters, and there’s definitely some risk to “eyeballing” shots like this, but the trade-off is better distance, and it’s hard to argue with the depth it presents. For those who are on the fence, though, it is just an option, although the game forces you to use it in certain Tournaments.
Presuming you don’t use the Advance Swing, the display also includes the club type you’re using, its estimated range, a power meter, the ball’s condition, wind speed, the hole’s location and both the location and height of the pin itself. The course selection is relatively diverse, but for the most part they’re just high-definition versions of courses you’ve already seen from the series.
The bulk of your time in Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is spent in Challenge Mode, in which you face a series of tournaments, then play an unlockable character, rank up to the next level, wash, rinse and repeat. You’ll unlock various items as you win, including new clubs, balls, caddies and (by playing the same character again and again) “loyalty points” that unlock outfits and special abilities. Difficulty ramps up gradually at first, but it increases rapidly a few tournaments in and throws some nasty tricks at you. Still, because Hot Shots Golf has always been about having fun, you’ll still find yourself knocking in (or at least aiming for) Eagles and Holes in One.
Actually nailing those shots will unlock outfits in which you can dress your character when you play online. That’s right, online. For the first time in a Hot Shots Golf game, you can take your player online and compete against friends. To go online, you must create a character much like a Mii, but in a slightly more advanced and slick system. Before each game, you have the option of interacting with other user-created Hot Shots in the lobby, which was a nice and surprisingly compelling option. Unfortunately, there’s no voice chat (it’s text only), which can be off-putting to some. It was to us.
Some gamers might also be put off by the multiplayer gameplay style, as it’s not your traditional “take a turn” game, but one in which everyone plays at once. This decision is easy to understand when you consider each room has a limit 50 players, so waiting your turn could take literally hours. What won’t take hours is finding a game, though: all online tournaments are hosted and non-ranked, and much like a movie schedule, they go on even if there’s no one there. This seems odd, but it’s also convenient; if you miss one tournament, there’s another one coming up every five minutes or so.
Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds includes six different courses, and fans of the Hot Shot series won’t be disappointed. You’ll encounter various forms of wildlife amidst the courses, which can prove hazardous distractions the first couple of times out as you watch the wildlife rather than the ball. There’s also an attention to detail that freed the designers rather than restricted them to realism, which is apparent in the course and character design.
Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is not as simple as it pretends to be. The gameplay is locked-down solid, and there’s never a moment where you question the game at all. In addition to the online and offline tournaments, a free-play Stroke stage opens up for each unlocked course. This is a nice addition, as it lets you practice each hole and determine where you can make improvements the second time around. And believe me, you will definitely be playing this game more than once. It’s just that fun.
– Phillip Vollmer