Games 4/16/08: Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds, Okami Wii

Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds
For: Playstation 3
From: Clap Hanz/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes)

We’re well into year two of the Playstation 3 party, and the familiar faces of Playstations past are finally trickling through the door, comfort food in hand.

Arguably no game embodies that sense of warm familiarity better than “Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds,” which takes what already was the girl next door of golf games and brings it to the PS3 with minimal fuss and tinkering.

Granted, “Bounds” sure looks new. The courses are fantastically beautiful, and the super-deformed golfers that have long been the series’ visual hallmark are polished to the point that they almost resemble living dolls. The graphical bump makes the courses look more lifelike and the characters look more synthetic, which creates a slightly creepy dichotomy until your eyes adjust and you lose yourself in the game. Per usual, “Bounds” is cheerfully colorful, and the vibrant design makes it a showcase game in spite of the unintentional weirdness the Chucky doll effect brings forth.

In terms of gameplay, the only headline-worthy change to “Bounds” — a new analog stick swing technique that’s reminiscent of EA Sports’ “Tiger Woods” games — also happens to be entirely optional. You can play “Bounds” just as you played past “Hot Shots” games, but the swing stick method works nicely for those who take the time to learn it and have grown tired of the three-click method. (Happily, perhaps miraculously, Clap Hanz abstained from any temptation to force Sixaxis motion controls onto the process.)

As with 2004’s “Hot Shots Golf Fore!” — and pretty much any self-respecting sports game in 2008 — “Bounds” puts a lot of focus on its online component, and with mostly satisfying results. Anyone waiting excitedly for Sony to kick off the Playstation Home experiment can whet their appetite in “Bounds'” online lobbies, which allow your custom-designed golfer to interact with others in a miniature virtual world while enlisting in a tournament with up to 49 other golfers. (Don’t worry; you can golf at your own pace while others in the tournament do the same. “Bounds” doesn’t make you wait.)

Unfortunately, Sony’s lax approach to console-wide online regulation results in “Bounds” not supporting the one feature — voice chat — that would have made it the perfect Sunday afternoon online game. As fun as it is to take on all your friends at once in a single tournament, the inability to actually speak to one another within the game means you might as well be playing strangers. Here’s hoping a patch adds chat capabilities before long.


For: Nintendo Wii
From: Clover/Ready at Dawn/Capcom
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood and gore, crude humor, fantasy violence, suggestive themes, use of alcohol and tobacco)

The world isn’t full of second chances, but Capcom’s giving you one this one time. If you ignored “Okami” when it premiered in 2006 on the Playstation 2, you now have an opportunity to right your wrong and play the freshest game to come out that year.

To say “Okami” models certain conventions after Nintendo’s 3D “Legend of Zelda” games is something of a kind understatement. But unless you’ve ever witnessed a watercolor painting come to life, enter the third dimension and move at the mercy of your two hands, you truly have never seen anything like this before. Clover’s art direction is so stunningly original and expertly executed, all charges of me-too-ism would be forgiven had “Okami” merely aspired to be a “Zelda” copycat in gorgeous clothing.

Happily, that’s not the case. Whereas Link employs gadgets to save the day, our hero in “Okami” — a wolf with a better backstory than perhaps any wolf ever — wields a paintbrush. A button press transforms the world before you into a canvas, and from here you’re free to alter it as needed to move forward. Paint a sun to light up the sky, swipe a straight line to cut down trees, color a path to reach point B. Sketch out a bomb when all else fails. The brush factors during combat as well, with some memorably original boss fights ensuing as result.

If this sounds gimmicky to you, guess what? During the first hour, as Clover lobs remedial challenges at you, it is. But once practice ends and your abilities increase, novelty gives way to integration. And if there’s anything more impressive about “Okami” than its art direction, it’s how Clover takes a should-be gimmick and brilliantly employs it as the heartbeat of an adventure that’s every bit as satisfying as Nintendo’s best.

Given the vast technological leaps that have occured since it first appeared, “Okami” has aged remarkably well. The art style was designed to be at least somewhat age-proof, and sure enough, “Okami” emerges as perhaps the Wii’s prettiest game despite only modest technical upgrades over the PS2 version.

Things are a little dicier when it comes to the controls. The PS2’s analog stick provided slow but steady brush control. The Wiimote, while snappier, isn’t as precise, and the game is accidentally harder as result. Fortunately, while strokes occasionally won’t register like they should, the problem is nearly prevalent enough to ruin the experience, and a little practice will mitigate most issues in this regard.