We're never quite sure why it always takes Sony such a long time to release Hot Shots Golf games in the United States. In the past, typically a Hot Shots game would arrive in the U.S. about 6 months after being released in Japan. For this fifth iteration, we've waited a total of eight months. Make no mistakes about it, as I'll emphasize this profusely: I wholeheartedly believe that the Hot Shots Golf franchise is the epitome of videogame golf. It's always looked deceiving, thanks to its heavily Japanese art-style, and yet it always features one of the best representations of the sport. Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is no different; it continues the tradition of the ongoing franchise, by never boring the gamer, and always offering a rewarding experience.
What's cool about golf is that you're always glued to it when you play it, be it in real life or a videogame of sort. Just think about how many hours you've probably accumulated playing a Flash-based golf game on your PC. Well, with Hot Shots Golf 5, be prepared to spend just as much time in front of your PlayStation 3. Yes, HSG 5 is just that addictive. Upon booting up to the main menu, you have your selection of modes. In Single Player, you can enter the Challenge Mode and embark on a bunch of tournaments, where winning means unlocking new gear, characters, caddies, courses, and other game features. Then there's the Stroke mode, and here is where you'll do your quick-plays. And if you feel your game isn't up to par (har-har, pun!), and you'd like to work on it, head into the Training mode.
In total, there are 17 characters to choose from, two of which you get from the start, and the rest you'll have to unlock. Each character is fitted with his or her own attributes, and they're all broken down by difficulties of use, falling under Novice, Intermediate, and Expert. Altogether, there are eight locations for you to play across, which includes a very fun practice course. The practice course, while it may look simple has challenges you can attempt to take on. You'll spot a barrel, a basket, and a paper cup in the stage – the barrel is about 41 yards ahead, the basket is close to 50, and the paper cup is about 7 yards in front of you. The fun comes when you try to pop the ball into either of the three, which takes incredible precision. The barrel is clearly the easiest target, with the basket being next, and the cup being the hardest. It took me a while, but I nailed all three, which was a blast. You can aim at other things, such as a flotation device suspending from a tree, and of course the actual hole itself, 234 yards away. And this is just one example of what makes HSG5 so fantastic; it's the little things that add up to such a fantastic package.
The standard way of play is still based on the timing bar that measures your distance/power and accuracy. So it feels very welcoming to come into HSG5 and know exactly what you're doing. Likewise, HSG5 still features the same grid displays that demonstrate the level/incline of the field to aid you in your puts. The game also offers an aid for you to play with, which simplifies the hitting process by automating the accuracy of your shot. It's not a setting I'd recommend using, because it lessens control of the ball; and when you're aiming for superb precision, the automatic clubs will not give it to you, in addition to decreasing distance. Stick to the standard setting.
As always you'll be able to control the power of your swing by using the club you want, and also control the pitch/angle of your club for when you're in deep ground (the rough, sand, etc.). But HSG5 does feature a new gameplay facet, and it's a new way of swinging. Instead of using the double tap with the timing bar, HSG5 now allows you to time your swing and hit manually. This is called the Advanced mode; first, you activate the swing by pressing X once, then your golfer will raise the club preparing for the hit, and depending on how hard you want your golfer to strike, you'll stop the wind-up by hitting X again to trigger the swing, and then zero-in with another tap of X when the halo centers on the ball. It sounds complicated, but it is a very intuitive system that you'll adapt to quickly.
For instance, if you want a powerful hit, you will wait until the club is by your golfer's head and the red circle appears (meaning that you're at maximum power). If you want a semi-powerful hit, then you'll hit X somewhere 3/4 up. If you want a moderate hit, then you'll stop it half-way up, and so forth. Long-range shots are easy to pick up on, it's the putting that'll take some time to get used to. Although, I suspect that versed golfers or enthusiasts will likely not have a problem with this new system, seeing as how personal experience will prevent them from swinging too hard. So it goes: start swing, select swing power, time impact. That's it.
Online is good for up to 50 people in an online tournament, and four people offline. Of course, don't expect to see 50 golfers all teeing-off at once, you're essentially playing against live-ghosts and competing against a real-time scoreboard that is doing exactly what you are. In any case, it is how golf is played, and playing HSG5 online is just as much fun as playing it offline, if not more so. My only complaints about the game are: a stage/course creator would be nice and more courses would be nice, too. Otherwise, this is the best playing entry the series has seen.
Visually, Hot Shots Golf 5 features some very lush details and it's hard to not appreciate the picture-esque scenery. The character detail is very much in-line with the rest of the series, albeit with a ton more polygons and significantly sharper texturing. What makes the game really pop, though, is its convincing use of lighting. The stages light up realistically no matter what the weather conditions are, be it cloudy, rainy, or sunny – the lighting here is always doing something right. The framerate, while not terribly important in a golf-game, is nothing to worry about, as it runs at a crisp 30 frames per second at all times. Unfortunately, Clap Hanz didn't address a certain visual issue with HSG5, and it's the game's jaggies and flickering. Smaller HD sets may notice jagged edges, as well as flickering when the camera moves around. It doesn't fill up the entire screen, but it is a bit bothersome, considering that HSG5 isn't exactly a technical powerhouse. Regardless, it will vary from set to set.
Lastly, the audio is a collection of lighthearted tunes, some sound effects, and random banter from either the golfer or the cabby. The golfer will speak in between shots, before a shot, after a shot, after a hole, winning a tournament, and so forth. A qualm of mine is that perhaps the cabbies are bit too worrisome, sometimes they'll help with hints, but other times they get you nervous during tense moments – the female cabbies are especially annoying, though. The voices fit the nature of the game, but I suspect a lot of people will not like half of them. Thankfully the tunes and effects are nice.
So after waiting eight months for our go at the fifth Hot Shots Golf game, I can certainly say that the wait was well worth it. Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is the epitome of the franchise, and perhaps the epitome of golf games. It continues to be both accessible and yet immensely deep, at the same time. The addictive nature of the game knows no bounds, and it makes shelling out $60 for the game very worth it. On top of that, the online sessions can make for some great fun, and supporting offline four player support is also a great move. A round of applause for Clap Hanz. And yes, that was yet another pun.