Don't let those big eyes fool you. The same thing goes for those anime faces or the caddy's Roadrunner-like sprints down the fairway.

"Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds" is tougher than it looks. For nearly a decade now, Sony's sports franchise has wrapped a cartoonish sensibility around the serious game of golf, and the experiences have always been a fine balance of the absurd and realistic.

This is a title that has special moves like a super backspin and a power stroke but also the physics engine to calculate how these shots would land in real life. The locales are exotic with kiwis running around or elephants hovering in the background. In addition to those decorative frills, the game factors wind velocity and elevation on the course.

Despite this odd mix of fantasy and reality, "Hot Shots Golf" is a golfing series that works. With "Out of Bounds," Clap Hanz refines the franchise further, overhauling its shot system and bringing in online gameplay that makes a solid offering better.

Players start off with a choice between two golfers, Jasmine and Nick. As they win tournaments, they pick prizes that include more powerful clubs, balls and even characters.

"Out of Bounds" opens up in the same way a racing game does. Players have to learn the layouts of six courses and figure out the proper lie for each hole. It takes a while to master the intricacies of each stage, but thankfully, playing through a nine-hole tournament doesn't take longer than 20 minutes.


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Along with learning the courses, players also have to adjust to the strengths and weaknesses of each character. In the beginning, I picked Jasmine and realized that she couldn't tee off like Tiger Woods, but she had good control of her shots and almost never missed the ball.

Despite her shortcomings, I stuck with her, and eventually, she grew into a powerful golfer through the loyalty system. This role-playing element rewards players who stay with a character. As they run through tournaments, fans will see their favorite golfer gain abilities and new costumes.

It's an interesting system, but Clap Hanz should have introduced more characters earlier. By the time a player settles on one character, she may be so used to him or put so much work into his development that she may not want to try some of the other golfers who are unlocked via face-offs against the computer.

As for the Advanced Shot System, it works well. The transition between the traditional shotmaking and this new one isn't difficult. Instead of judging a stroke by a bar on the bottom, players must be able to estimate how hard they hit the ball by looking at the path of a swing.

On top of that, they can also add different spin to the ball, which is vital if players want to avoid bouncing off into a water hazard or rolling into a sand trap.

The new interface is fine and good, but the bigger improvement from the previous "Hot Shots Golf" is the online system. In this generation of consoles, Internet play is becoming more vital to the experience, and "Out of Bounds" answers this call with a unusual online experience.

Instead of setting up a match and going into a game instantly, players who log on to the network and create an avatar are brought into a virtual clubhouse where they can chat with other characters and mess around with the environments.

It's similar to what Team Ninja tried to do with "Dead or Alive 4," but somehow this system is more fitting for a slower-paced game. After dropping into the lobby, players can go to a concierge and choose a tee time for a tournament that can include 50 players.

Then, the waiting starts. Players have to bide their time for 10 minutes or so while players gather for the contest. They can pick up a magazine or make themselves a sandwich until the game starts.

But when the round does begin, "Out of Bounds" works flawlessly. Players hit their way through the green and sling around comments afterward while they wait for others to finish within the time limit.

For the most part, it's a great system that matches the speed of golf. Although I was 18 strokes behind the leader, the game was still fun because I was able to chat with other players and make fun of myself.

"Out of Bounds" is a solid step in the right direction for the "Hot Shots Golf." The changes to the shot system and online play are good improvements. The whole experience should keep fans happy with a game that's up to par.

Reach Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@ bayareanews group.com. Read his blog at www.iba buzz.com/videogames.

video game review

n WHAT: "Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds"

n PLATFORM: PlayStation 3

n RATING: Everyone

n GRADE: B