Golf, a good walk ruined according to Mark Twain, but in modern times it acts as a gateway to untold riches and the ability to attract so many women it makes you crash cars into lampposts of your own volition, while the Chinese make weird animated gifs to celebrate your exploits. So where does Crazy Golf, the quicker, more “wacky” variant, fit into this picture? Zen Studios attempts to answer the question with their PlayStation Network release, Planet Minigolf.
The bright, vibrant visuals that greet the player upon starting the game allude to the type of atmosphere that Zen Studios are aiming for, and a title that obviously isn’t taking itself too seriously. The game is split into four different locations around the globe (Buccaneer’s Hideout, Soho, Polar Station and Ancient Valley) with each individually themed locale being further sub-divided into tournaments which start at the warm-up level, and progressively increase in difficulty. Buccaneer’s Hideout is framed around familiar tropes associated with this theme, so the player will find themselves playing within pirate coves and ships dashed against rocks on the seafront. Ancient Valley takes its cues from Mayan architecture, while Soho attempts a more upmarket feel. Without a doubt the best courses can be found within Polar Station as it revels in its UFO crash site, emulating that classic Sci-Fi horror film, The Thing.
Each course is busy with detail and little flourishes as it aims to keep the fast and loose spirit of Crazy Golf high on the agenda. Expect to encounter courses where the ball can be hit through the wheel of a ship that is spinning constantly if the player wants to attempt a hole in one, or they can play it safe using drop shots by skirting around the sides. To help aid progress towards better scores, there are power-ups that utilise the much-derided SIXAXIS control scheme. One such power-up (all of them are activated with a press of the Square button) allows the player to tilt their ball out of tricky situations, or hitting a lightning bolt will clear a hole of debris, allowing access to the previously cluttered area. Nothing quite beats hitting the ball sweetly into the magnet power-up, which in turn automatically attracts the ball to the hole for a nice hole in one.
Controls are as expected, with the swing initiated by lining up the trajectory of the ball with the Left Analogue Stick, while the X button controls the strength of the shot. While the game boasts PlayStation Move support, the controls are adequate as they stand, only when the player lands their ball at a more awkward angle does the game get slightly confused, having a bit of a seizure to itself before the player steps in and manually corrects the default angle.
There’s a hint at what should be the ability to pull off audacious moves, but the physics engine doesn’t quite accommodate these whims, resulting in frustrating `out of bounds` moves. The way the ball moves almost makes it seem too heavy, like the player is batting a snooker or pool ball around the various courses. It most definitely doesn’t feel like it weighs the requisite 45.93 grams.
While on the whole (no pun intended) Planet Minigolf provides a fun diversion, some of the courses are ball-achingly difficult (pun intended this time) and just plain annoying to boot. Hole three of the warm-up course in Ancient Valley in particular is just plain badly designed and, to add insult to injury, that scourge of many a shopping centre experience, pan pipe music, is the theme tune to the pain this course will put you through. The Pro courses naturally up the challenge, but still Ancient Valley provides just seems unfair as it plays host to some poorly designed courses, made all the more galling by virtue of the fact that there is some real quality hole design and optimum power up placement evident elsewhere in the game.
If anything really rankles with Planet Minigolf, it’s the commentator whose anodyne utterances are so terrible they’ll make many want to rip their ears off to avoid listening. Nothing infuriates more than having messed up a shot only to have his chirpy voice come up with a slice of dialogue so banal that it unintentionally adds insult to injury. Particularly after messing up a shot. Only this man could make an expression such as “Impressive!” sounds so empty and hollow, like he has nothing left to live for, and wants to end it all now.
The overriding feeling with Planet Minigolf is one of missed opportunities and, that with a bit more care in places (especially in one set of courses in particular) it would have been a real top drawer title. When it shines, it’s a fun and diverting take on golf. When it hits the lows it becomes a frustrating and baffling title.