Spring is well under way, and you know what that means: Time to put down that joystick, get off the couch, go outside and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.
One of my best gaming buddies says that if God wanted us to be outside, he wouldn't have invented air conditioning. And when video-game consoles can simulate just about every outdoor sport imaginable, what's the point of leaving your living room?
Of course, you don't get any exercise from virtual sports, and most hardcore gamers could probably use a little sun. But video games are definitely less expensive than the gear you need to golf or fish. And you can play a round of video golf in a lot less time than 18 holes on a real course would take.
- "Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99): The "Hot Shots" series has long offered the zippiest golf games on the market, providing a lighthearted alternative to more realistic simulations like EA Sports' "Tiger Woods" games. "Out of Bounds" doesn't mess around with the formula much, delivering the same bright graphics and lively, anime-style characters that fans have come to expect.
The most significant improvement is the advanced swing control. As in the past, you used timed button presses to determine power and accuracy " but instead of watching a flat meter, you have to watch your golfer's movements. It does make you feel like you're more in control of the character, even if it's not as intuitive as the analog "swing stick" that "Tiger" uses.
The other major addition is online play. You can now compete in tournaments with up to 49 other hackers; everyone plays simultaneously, so you don't have to twiddle your thumbs while the competition's on the fairway. It's fast-paced, challenging and addictive. My only complaint is a small selection of courses, which I hope Sony will rectify with some downloadable offerings. Three stars out of four.
- "Sega Superstars Tennis" (Sega, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, $39.99; Nintendo DS, $29.99): Similarly, Sega's new tennis game is pitched as a lightweight alternative to its more demanding "Virtua Tennis" series. The colorful courts recreate scenery from various Sega franchises, while the player roster ranges from Sega celebrities (Sonic the Hedgehog, AiAi from "Super Monkey Ball") to cult favorites (like Ulala from "Space Channel 5").
Oddly, even though "Superstars" was developed by the "Virtua" team, its controls feel less precise. Part of the problem is that lobs and drop shots require two buttons (on the Xbox, at least), which is ridiculous, given all the unused buttons on the controller. The Wii controls are a little better, although they're not as satisfying as the more lifelike swings in the "Wii Sports" tennis game.
Since the special shots are generally ineffective, most points boil down to long baseline rallies. Each character has a "superstar" shot that makes the ball do unpredictable tricks, but the computer opponents usually have no problem returning them. "Superstars" is loaded with minigames, some fun, some pointless, but the variety doesn't make up for the sluggishness of the main game. Two stars.
- "Sega Bass Fishing" (Sega, for the Nintendo Wii, $29.99): I admit that I find few activities less entertaining than fishing. But I doubt that even the most enthusiastic angler will find much to enjoy in this clumsy, lethargic attempt to bring the sport to the Wii.
First you heave your line into the water, then wait for a fish to bite. Then you reel it in by rotating the nunchaku and occasionally tugging on the remote. Most of your initial attempts will end up with a broken line, but even with practice the whole process is frustrating and repetitious. Which may be the point.
With drab, washed-out graphics and not much variety, there's little reward for mastering the tough learning curve. Even if you appreciate the Zen of fishing, you're likely to find this excursion boring. One-half a star.