Review: Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds

HSGolfOOB-pack front.jpg Within the span of a month, SCEA has delivered two top contenders for best sports game of the year honors. MLB 08: The Show got the ball rolling, and now the team at Clap Hanz putts it home with yet another champion’s effort in Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds.

Out of Bounds has everything you’ve come to expect from a Hot Shots Golf title. It’s got the lovably wacky characters, exotic courses, rewarding progression of unlockable content and easy to learn, hard to master gameplay. But building off of this series-standard formula are three new elements that make this the best Hot Shots Golf game yet, in my humble opinion.

First is the all-new Advanced Shot swing system. While not radically different from the traditional three-click swing gauge the series has always used (and is still available as an option for beginners and purists), the new system allows for greater shot-making precision and has a smooth, streamlined feel to it that is simply a joy to use. It’s still a three-click mechanic, but instead of setting swing power on a horizontal meter at the bottom of the screen you now simply watch your character’s backswing and set your shot based on how short or full you let the club go back, then on the downswing a circular impact zone closes in around the ball and the smaller the circle is when you click, the crisper and more accurate the shot will be. I know, it probably doesn’t sound all that riveting in print, but in execution it truly is a remarkable, evolutionary improvement to a swing mechanic that’s been around for decades. For me, all other swing mechanics that’ve been introduced over the years pale in comparison. I’d say that’s quite an accomplishment.

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The next piece of the puzzle that falls so masterfully into place is the online play. Sure, golf games have had online well before now, but I can’t think of any that have had an online component as balanced and quick-paced as this. After creating a little Mii-like character avatar from the various unlockable accessory items you’ve collected, you head into the lobby area of choice (generally the one with the most players if you intend on finding a match) where you can run and jump around a 3D lobby environment chatting and meeting up with other players before heading to the tee box, sorta like a virtual clubhouse.

From there, you can hook up with others for friendly eight-player rounds, or you can put your skills to the test in real-time, 50-player tournaments. Having 50 players involved you’d think tournaments would drag on, but thankfully each player proceeds through the course on their own with a timer dictating how long each player has to complete each hole. Once you finish a hole, you’re brought to a leaderboard menu where you can post quick comments while waiting for all players to finish and move to the next hole. If you don’t complete a hole within the time limit, though, you’re automatically retired from the tournament for slowing down the pace of play. One thing I’ve always hated about playing sports games online is how long it almost always takes to finish a game, but with this system that problem is no more. I don’t think I’ve played a tournament yet that’s lasted more than around 30 minutes, gotta love that!

And last but not least, the final ingredient that pushes the game over the top are the eye-popping graphics. You may not expect it from a simple golf game, but Out of Bounds is one of the most visually appealing games to grace the PS3 yet, no joke. Thanks to the power of the PS3, the game’s cast of quirky characters is meticulously detailed and animated, which makes their distinct personalities shine brighter than ever before. The powerful hardware has also enabled Clap Hanz to design larger, more stunning course locales with some of the prettiest lighting, weather and foliage effects around. Larger chunks of the courses can be rendered at one time as well, so from each tee you can play off to fairways from other adjacent holes and potentially find shortcuts. So the better technology does more than just add visual flair, it brings an extra element of risk-vs-reward strategy to the gameplay as well, and that’s a lot of what golf as a sport is about.

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The course designs are amazing, but sadly there just aren’t very many of them to play on, which is really my lone complaint with this game. In total, there are only six courses (plus a training course), and it takes playing through the 10-tier single-player Challenge Mode just to unlock them all (and that takes a while). Don’t get me wrong, six courses is still enough to keep you plenty entertained for a long time to come, but when you see most other golf titles, especially the upcoming Hot Shots Golf PSP sequel, featuring twice as many, it’s a bit disappointing that more weren’t included. But who knows, maybe there are plans for more to come in add-on packs. I’d be down for that, as long as they’re free or don’t cost too much.

Aside from the meager course lineup, Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is the best golf game I’ve played in years, hands down. Not since the Tiger Woods series was overhauled with the Game Face character editor and all those new modes (which was the 2004 edition if I remember correctly) has there been a golf game so addictively brilliant. Yes, it really is that damn good. Buy it, play it, love it. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.

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Pros:
+ New Advanced Shot swing mechanic works brilliantly
+ Top-notch online functionality; 50-player, real-time tournaments, need I say more?
+ Beautiful HD graphics are a pleasure to behold
+ Deep single-player Challenge mode with tons of unlockables to keep you busy

Cons:
– Only six courses seems pretty limited

Game Info:
Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Clap Hanz / SCEJ
Release Date: 3/18/08
Genre: Sports – Golf
Players: 1-50

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!