Making the cut.
The ridiculousness of golf has been discussed many times over. Even in a world of extreme sports where players prove they can whack an object, whack each other, whack water, or whack themselves better than everybody else, golf is in a league of its own absurdity. Somehow, what is essentially a walk in the woods turned into an undiagnosed obsession of stuffing gopher holes with dimpled spheres. What started with a long, hard stick has become an elitist hobby about metal-wood drivers, space-age shafts, pretentious landscaping, and making love to nature with white, shiny balls. All that money spent filling artificial holes could have been spent filling a real one. Just ask Eliot Spitzer.
[image1]But as much as my idea of the perfect round of golf is to grab a five wood out of a bag, walk up to the tee, make sure no one is behind me, and then take a swing at a few screaming golfers, I am a slight hypocrite. I can actually tolerate watching an opening round of golf on the Golf channel, even if Tiger Woods isn’t playing, and I completely own Mario Golf 64 with Miss-245-yard, right-down-the-middle Maple. Note to parents and experts: Video games made me appreciate something I would never do in real life.
If there’s one word that describes a sport that generally demands the physical ability to swing your body and walk, and whose target demographic is elderly men with nothing better to do, it’s “casual” – and it’s this quality which is the focus of Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds.
With the exception of perhaps MySims (if you exclude the annoying residents) and Nintendogs (if you exclude the virtual poop), Out of Bounds is just about the most relaxing experience you can ever have. The soundtrack is airy and light – just slightly more exciting than Muzak. Characters are smooth and plump with big, expressive heads and apparently well-lotioned bodies. Environments are wide with gentle, rolling hills, bright green grass, and clear skies. Rain comes in delicate pitter-patters and winds never rise beyond a semi-calm breeze. I’ve always found it odd how the weather in this and most other golf games can change so drastically from hole to hole, but the cheery mood still hits the sweet spot between cartoony and realistic.
As you would expect from a friendly outing of golf, there’s nothing particularly grand here. After you pick a character, a costume, a set of clubs, a ball type, a caddy, and a tournament, the good ol’-fashioned style of golf gameplay rolls in:
[image2]Watch an eagle-eye-view introductory cut-scene showing off the hole from tee to cup. Use the camera to see where you’re aiming from the start position. Move target area onto the fairway. Blink. Select the right club. Check the wind direction and velocity. Check the incline of the hill you’re shooting on. Check how far up or down the target area is. Check that there aren’t any trees or walls in the way for this shot and the next. Blink. Start the swing. Try to stop the bar at the right power. Try to set the bar at the perfect accuracy line. Watch the ball fly off into the distance. Blink. Move on to the next shot.
If this kind of “get ball into hole in the fewest strokes” arrangement doesn’t sound fun or innovative enough to you, then you might as well unread everything up to this point and ask why you’re reading a review for a golf game in the first place. But don’t blame yourself. Out of Bounds doesn’t stray too far off the average ball-whacking course, perhaps staying a bit too close to its casual style.
Aside from the basic training and stroke play mode, the solo challenge mode takes a very slow-burn approach, pitting you in at least four twenty-minute tournaments before facing off against an unlockable opponent. Victory also means gaining new clubs and balls that can adjust various character stats up and down. Courses are recycled a tad too much, and the mirrored courses and longer tees don’t really change the pace. Oddly, there isn’t the usual immediate match play mode with skins play, or a mini-game mode with miniature golf or shoot-through-the-rings challenges.
Working your way up from the junior level to the pros isn’t that difficult, either. Even without Easy mode, which is unlocked if you start praying for luck instead of skill (ala Devil May Cry), A.I. opponents never really post much of a threat. Their final result always depends on your current rank: junior-level opponents usually end up with a score somewhere around +6; amateur, +4; semi-pro, +2; and so on. So many times in the middle of a tournament, you’ll think: “Oh, crap, Jacob just passed me on the leaderboard. But wait, it doesn’t matter.” because you know what his final score will be. Fortunately, winning does get procedurally more difficult, but a Hard mode of some sort would have been nice to bump up the challenge on the spot.
[image3]Out of Bounds relies solely on its new advanced shots system and online mode as marks of improvement over its predecessors in the series. The new system replaces the traditional straight bar with the character’s full golf swing to indicate power and accuracy. You set the power of the shot by stopping the swing animation of the golfer when the swing is at its highest, while the impact accuracy is set by stopping the animation when the club is about to hit the ball.
Since this technique is advanced and more realistic, the character gets a small range boost and more control over the impact, but the loss in control over the power is a heavy price to pay. Golf games are less about driving power and more about ball placement and calculating all those small factors together. Though some optional tournaments force you to use advanced shots, there’s no reason why simply using the traditional system with a few adjustments in club and ball selection won’t get you through.
Online mode, however, is definitely a selling point and something you shouldn’t miss. Working much like some other PS3 games, you create your own character (which not-so-unexpectedly looks like a Mii) and walk around various game lobbies in search of players who have game rooms open. You can also book a spot in public tournaments, which require you to be present at a specific time.
[image4]Either way, online matches are far more intense than anything in challenge mode for a single reason: they’re timed. It would take forever for up to eight players to play one turn at a time, but beyond that practical reason, it also creates a frantic pace – speed golf. Every player in the tournament has approximately one minute and a half, more or less depending on the distance from the tee to the hole, to get the ball into the cup. You don’t have time to just sit back and let the breeze mess up your hair. Unfortunately, timed matches are not available in solo play.
The casual nature of Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds almost makes its own subtitle too harsh. As ridiculous as the sport of golf might be, that it’s actually enjoyable despite the lack of variety, challenge, and well-integrated innovation (and that it needs four gigabytes of space on the PS3’s hard drive) is perhaps even more ridiculous. Few titles succeed without having your brain go into overdrive or your character constantly be on the verge of death, and this is gladly one of them. Laid-back, easy, and subdued, Out of Bounds may just be par for the course, but it whacks away the snobby sheen of golf and reveals all the fun that’s hidden beneath.