I’ve never been a fan of golf. I subscribe to the oft-quoted opinion of Mr. Mark Twain who said that the game of “golf is a good walk spoiled”. Of course, I have also heard that it’s a game for swingers with dimples in their balls so perhaps it’s not all bad. Minigolf, on the other hand, is an entirely different proposition. Far from the reserved fairways of the PGA, this is a game which encourages you to crack your ball over bridges, down tunnels and through moving hazards. Tiger Woods can’t do that. So when Zen Studios released Planet Minigolf on to the PSN my interest was immediately piqued.
The game is bright, colourful, cartoon-like and eye-wateringly vibrant in every frame. There’s an impressive amount of customisation, from the limited range of characters and clothing to the decent selection of tools for building your own holes and courses. The course-creation mode is a little cumbersome and certainly nowhere near as intuitive as the LittleBigPlanets and ModNation Racers of this world but you should have no difficulties after an hour or so of getting to grips with it.
The actual game is spread across four locations with four sets of nine holes at each. Locations range from steamy South American jungles to the Icy plains of Antarctica, stopping by with Pirates and – perhaps oddly – a skate-park-themed Soho. There are comfortably over a hundred pre-made holes already included and, while the omission of a funfair-themed course seems a little remiss, the backdrops are entertaining and interesting enough. Some of the power-ups that you collect by rolling your ball through them are designed to make the game more interesting. Among these are speed boosts and jumps to get you through and over obstacles, heavy balls to prevent too much bouncing and a magnetic one which drags your ball into the cup if you’re not too far away. The power-ups do add an extra dimension to the game and learning how and when to use them is often the key to success.
The visuals are just about acceptable for this generation with an art style that allows for scarcity of texture and some slightly wooden character animation being the stand out characteristics. The sound, too, is functional without ever excelling. That’s not the point of a game like Planet Minigolf though; a game like this is all about how it plays.
There are three control schemes to choose from. The first involves using your analogue stick to swing backwards and then forwards to strike the ball. The game is almost unplayable using this control mechanism. The precision required is often infinitesimal and regularly feels random yet at other times it seems very forgiving. The end result is an entirely unpredictable method of judging shot power and accuracy.
The second control mechanism is slightly less frustrating: tap the button once to start your swing, again to set the power and a third time to set precision. Again, the power and precision feels almost random and incredibly tricky to stop at the correct moment. Using either of these control schemes made this less of a game and more of an exercise in Zen-like self-control.
Luckily, the “Easy” control system involves holding the button down (softly for slow back-swing and harder for faster back-swing) until you reach the required power and then releasing it to strike the ball. This made the game much more enjoyable, less punishingly difficult and a lot more consistent.
The loading screens after every three holes left a small reason to find frustration but the times are not unbearable and the holes are generally well-imagined enough to reward the wait.
The multiplayer modes (online and offline), leaderboards and creation mode will lend this title some longevity and the impressive number of holes in the single player tournaments should keep you amused when you can’t find a friend. If you ever find yourself stuck on a hole then the YouTube upload facility means that there is likely to be a video to show you where you can improve.
- Good number of pre-made holes.
- Accessible creation tools.
- Good multiplayer and social options.
- Two practically unusable control schemes.
- Awkward animation and visual presentation.
- Frequent loading screens and clunky menus.
Ultimately, this game is one of contrasts. A multitude of pre-made holes and reasonably well-imagined creation tools contrast with infuriating and clunky control schemes. Accomplished physics models contrast with merely adequate sound and visuals. Impressive multiplayer functionality and social tools contrast with frequent loading screens and clunky main menus. It’s a game that may divide many players but if you’re looking for a little casual putting after the pub then this is your only option. If you want presentation and the pursuit of perfection then look for Tiger.