Hot Shots Golf: Out of BoundsESRB:
Developer: Clap Hanz
1-4 Players (Offline)
Required HDD Space: 4.05GB
1-8 Players (Online)
2-50 Players (Online Tournaments)
PLAYSTATION Network Compatible
Hot Shots Golf has been around for quite sometime. Known as Minna no Golf (translation: Everybody’s Golf) in Japan, it was brought to N. America in 1998 and released on the original Playstation. The first version was developed by Camelot Software however subsequent versions have been developed by Clap Hanz. I remember my first experience with the series as being quite enjoyable and I ended up playing various sequels on the original Playstation, PS2 and PSP. Acutally, I really did play a lot of Hot Shots golf on my PSP as it was such a great game to take on the run.
Well the PS3 has been out for almost 17 months now and Sony has started to release a lot of their franchise titles on their next-generation machine, and Hot Shots has finally found its way to its new home. Once again developed by Clap Hanz, the latest iteration, entitled Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds, brings the familiar gameplay to next-gen gamers everywhere. They have also made a few changes and added some online multiplayer support as well. So how does the game fair? After some extended playtime with the title I would have to say: “It’s great to have you back Hot Shots Golf, I missed you.”
Hot Shots has always had a very different approach when it comes to their visuals. Most people associate golf games with realistic graphics; however Hot Shots is not your usual looking golf game. The visual style can best be stated as a combination of real looking courses with cute Japanese anime inspired characters playing on them. The characters are very well developed and actually blend in well with each course you play on. They animate quite smoothly, from each of their swings to all the celebrations or temper tantrums they perform based on the results of their play.
As for the courses, they too are very well designed and they have a lot of scenery to look at. More then once I found myself taking the camera down the fairway while looking all around just to see what the course had to visually offer. Each course has a nice variety of trees, flowers and different types of grass (e.g. nicely manicured greens to wild weeds in the rough). There are also nice water effects, wind effects and even animals that roam around now and then. Of course there are also your traditional walking paths and clubhouses that are to be expected on golf courses too.
Technically this game has pretty much no issues. There is no draw in, no collision problems and no clipping or texture tearing to be seen. This is a very solid engine. As this is the first time that the game has appeared on Sony’s powerhouse console the graphics definitely show an improvement. This is evident from how well and natural the characters look in their environments to how Clap Hanz has implemented solid textures and special effects (e.g. the traditional fire trail on a well executed backspin) around the courses and during gameplay. Overall there is nothing to be disappointed with in the visuals and I am quite interested to see where they go from here.
The audio in Hot Shots is a pretty good compliment to the already great visuals and gameplay but there is a bit of room for improvement. Each course has an musical theme to it, and although it is good at the start it becomes quite repetitive. This is a little disappointing given that I enjoyed each one at first, but with repeated play the same music got somewhat annoying. They should have implemented something like MLB 08: The Show which allows you to play your own songs. Being able to play a round of golf to my choice of music through played via the PS3 would have been great.
As for the rest of the sound effects, including the voices attached to each anime inspired character; everything is well implemented and fits the look and feel of the game. From the sound of the club striking the ball to the effect of said ball flying through the air, all have a definite cartoon feel to it, but yet it just seems to fit into the scheme of the golf game in front of you.
As evidenced from the visuals and sound of this game, Hot Shots doesn’t look like your typical golf game. Many people have passed this title up thinking that this game is just for kids, or that the golf itself is not realistic. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Part of the allure of the Hot Shots series has been the ability for anyone to pick the game up and play. However, for those wanting to master it, extended playtime is warranted as there is a lot of stuff you can do to improve your best score(s).
Hot Shots has always utilized a three button approach to swinging a club instead of using the analog stick. Press x to start your swing, press x again to choose the power level, and finally press x a third time to hit (impact) the ball. This has been the way the game has been played since Hot Shots hit N. American shores in 1998 and nothing has changed, until now. It is somewhat fitting that Clap Hanz has made some changes on what is basically considered the 10th Anniversary of the series in N. America. New to Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is a hitting mode simply entitled “Advanced Mode”. This mode is a suttle but yet very important addition which changes how you hit the ball. It still favors the three button press, which is familiar to fans of the game, but what is new is that the focus is taken away from the traditional meter and now goes onto the golfer on the screen. You once again press x to start your swing, but now you pay attention to your golfers actual club as there is a small yellow flash on it to indicate the 50% power point of the swing. Once you have what you believe is your desired power, you press x again, then your focus turns to your golf ball. Here you watch a circle come down and around the ball, and you want to hit the sweet spot as this circle gets smaller and encloses on the ball. You again hit x for the third time in hopes of hitting that sweet spot. It may sound complicated at first, but in a matter of minutes you will find yourself adjusted to the new Advanced Mode and you will start to see how well it is implemented.
Many people are going to want to know why the control has been changed. Well the game is 10 years old for goodness sake so it is due for something different. That being said people have to understand that it is actually only the visual representation of the famed three button press has really been altered, and not the mechanics, as you focus on your golfer, the club, and ball, not some boring meter at the bottom of the screen. I am also sure that some die-hards will point out that this is not nearly as accurate as using a meter given that you know where 60% or 70% power is on the meter, but the Advanced Mode is a little more realistic given that you need to judge your swing, and out of all honesty it just feels more enjoyable. Even when I missed a shot, or misjudged my power, I found myself less annoyed given that I felt a lot more immersed in the game this time around. The interactivity level is higher this time around as you really do have to watch your golfer’s actions on-screen. I give some high marks to Clap Hanz for making what is no doubt a suttle, but yet so intuitive and well implemented change in the swing mechanic.
The golf physics in Hot Shots is also part of the whole package. Although the game looks, and in someway plays arcadish, the physics are quite real. You will find that the flight of the ball is affected by such things as wind, elevation (e.g. above or below the hole) and the ground that your ball lands on (e.g. the slope or type of grass). You will have to compensate not only for the weather or surface that you are hitting from, but you will also have to take into consideration where your ball is going to arrive after. I started to plan out my shots far more often as I got deeper into the game. I took the time to see where my ball would land prior to my shot, where my next shot would have to go, and what my various options were to get the ball to the green. I also implemented backspins, forward spins and the occasional hook and slice if needed (and if I thought I could do it successfully). Overall the physics involved in playing a round of Hot Shots definitely play an integral part of your overall game experience, and in a good way too.
As you progress through the various challenges and courses in the game you can increase your abilities. This comes in the form of new characters, new features to each character, and of course new equipment (e.g. golf clubs or balls). As you choose your character to play with you will be awarded loyalty points each time you finish a round with them. Your loyalty awards are such things as added shot power-ups or the ability to adjust your power bonus mid-swing to name a couple. I liked this little feature as it allowed me to power-up my favorite characters as I played through the game.
There are basically two areas where you will find yourself logging a lot of playtime, single player and multiplayer modes. Single player has a few different play modes to choose from including Challenge Mode, Stroke Mode, and Training. In Challenges Mode you will have to compete in various challenges (e.g. general stroke play or special rules within a round) in order to open up new courses, new characters and new gear. The Stroke Mode is a simple round of golf where you try to better your score on any given course that you have open. Finally, Training Mode is where you can choose a course that you have open and you just practice each hole, allowing such options as being able to re-hit your ball if you are not happy with it. This mode allows you to gain a really good perspective on each course. All these modes allow for some level of customizability too. In the Challenge and Stroke Modes you can change your caddy, type of swing mode (Advanced or Traditional) to whether you are left or right handed. In the Training Mode you have more flexibility as you can choose your course, specific hole, tee, round start and a few other things in order to get a feel for a course or certain hole. Most of your time will be spent in the challenge mode given that you can face off in the various challenges and open up new stuff. As well, each set of challenges ends in a face-off with another Hot Shots character in match play. Beat this character and you open them up for play in your own game.
Multiplayer is very important in a golf game as you can only play the computer AI so often. The best experience I have had in this area to date was with Links on the original Xbox, especially online. Yes, that was Microsoft’s entry into the console golf world via their XSN Sports brand. Hot Shots has followed in this legacy and ranks pretty high in multiplayer enjoyment. Of course you can play on one PS3 with up to four players. But new to the Hot Shots series is the inclusion of online multiplayer and this is where the game is starting to shine, although there is bit of tarnish to it too.
Your online experience starts with designing an online character from a choice of items (e.g. face type, hair, accessories and costume) which you open more of in the single player mode. When you have chosen the online character you want others to see you then go to a 3D lobby where you walk around with your custom character and chat it up with other players. Now “chatting it up” is not what it seems as there is no support for voice chat. This is where I see a little tarnish. You can only communicate via a USB keyboard, in-game keypad or quick messaging system. I believe voice chat would have been beneficial here as being able to talk to people in the lobby would help out, however that being said the lobby would be pretty loud given that there are up to 50 people in a lobby at any given time.
Once you have found a game or tournament that you want to enter it is as simple as clicking a button and in you go. Hot Shots supports up to eight players playing a single game at the same time or a 50 person tournament. I haven’t entered any tournaments yet as I just like to play with my friends online. Once you are playing in a game with others Hot Shots does something that only one other console golf game has managed to get right to this date, everyone can play at the same time with no waiting for others to hit the ball (the aforementioned Links on the Xbox is other game). If you want to see others playing you can toggle them on or off by clicking one of the analog sticks. In my opinion this is the way to play online golf as you don’t have to sit and watch others play their shots and you can go through a round quite quickly, but quite comfortably too. There is a time limit for each hole though and this was designed out of necessity to allow for a game to flow. I give more high marks to Clap Hanz for implementing this style of online play as it allows the game to be quite fun online.
My limited time online was quite pleasant as the online experience was pretty much lag free and played quite well. Given that I do a lot of gaming online, especially on Sony’s competitor’s online service, I definitely found that I missed voice chat, and once again a bit of that tarnish starts to show. I like to be able to sit back and chat with those that I play with online. However that being said I am sure that there would be a jackass or two online that may not know online etiquette and talk smack, which really doesn’t’ belong in a game of golf. However the voice chat was definitely a feature I missed especially when golfing with anyone I may have known.
If there was one thing I was somewhat disappointed in overall, which affects the single player more then multiplayer modes, it was the total number of courses. There are only six initial courses in Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds. There is no doubt that they do offer some good play and each course gets progressively harder. And of course besting your previous top score on any given course is also part of the replayability of this game, however with only six courses there is no doubt that some, if not many, will get bored with playing the same six courses over and over again. However, I distinctly remember posting a press release awhile ago about Hot Shots’ plans, and they did mention DLC including new courses. So there is definitely hope for more courses which means more playtime for sure. I myself look forward to seeing how Sony implements DLC for this title, and I hope they have a pack of courses for a fair price given that people will have already paid for this game. In the big picture six courses just doesn’t cut it for long term gameplay.
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