Reviewed: December 3, 2002
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
The GameCube is starting to come into its own with a good variety of titles covering all the genres and all of the age groups of the people who play it. There have been golf games since there have been systems to play them on and I have had the dubious honor of playing them all at one time or another.
Swingerz Golf is the latest golf offering to be made available to would-be golfers who prefer their living room to actually hitting the links. For me, golf has always been about fresh air, sunshine and exercise, so playing it on the PC or a console always leaves me with a twinge of guilt, but now that the cost of playing 18-holes in the real world is quickly approaching the cost of a video game, I can ease my conscience with the knowledge that I am saving hundreds of dollars by staying home.
The GameCube currently has a few golf games to choose from and the much anticipated Mario Golf is still looming around the corner with a 2003 release. If you want to get your golf game on you can go with staples like the aging Tiger Woods game from EA or the recently released Outlaw Golf that puts an irreverent and hilarious spin on a traditionally serious sport. The risqué nature of this latter title may put off parents of the younger golfers, so Swingerz Golf may be the golf game you have been looking for.
From the first moment I powered-up Swingerz Golf I couldn’t help but think to myself, “This is Hot Shots Golf on the Cube”. It features the same very colorful courses, oversized comic book-style characters, fun and fancy special effects, unrealistic power-ups, and a very intuitive and friendly interface. Even signature nuances like the NICE SHOT phrase and trademark camera angles seemed all too familiar. Of course, the Hot Shots Golf series was an excellent arcade-style golf game on the PlayStation and PS2, so if Telenet had to emulate a golf game then they picked a great place to start.
Swingerz Golf comes loaded with more features than you might expect from its fun-loving appearance. Check these out:
Looks are certainly deceiving when it comes to Swingerz Golf. From the carefree character design, colorful courses, and simple interface, you can easily be fooled into thinking this is a simple arcade golf game targeted towards kids and teens. I know, because I was fooled myself. Swingerz Golf has much more going on beneath its charming surface than you might expect.
There is a very realistic physics engine that drives the entire show. This comes into play the very first time you swing a club. While previous arcade golf games have relied on the tried and true method of clicking a button several times to generate a golf swing of varied power and accuracy, Swingerz opts for the newer and more realistic analog approach to swinging your clubs.
Modeled after the “True Swing” control scheme that Microsoft started using in their Links games a few years ago, you now reproduce the motion of swinging your club by moving the C-stick down then pushing it forward. This introduces several chances for error on your part and gives the entire game a much more realistic feel. The game determines the force of your hit by the length of your back swing, which you time to a horizontal power meter. At the moment the bar reaches the desired power level you move the stick forward to determine the accuracy of the shot. You can also force hooks and slices by purposely arcing this final part of the swing.
I had just come off a three-week tour of Outlaw Golf, which uses the exact same control scheme as Swingerz, so this was pretty standard stuff for me. Even so, it’s a very challenging system to master and one that may put off the casual golfer. One thing I did find nice was that the game actually draws a line on the on-screen C-Stick icon to show you how long and accurate your swing is. This allows you to quickly identify any errors in your swing and hopefully correct them.
Despite the obvious challenges in gameplay and control, the designers have gone out of their way to give you ample visual cues and information to help you pick your club and make an educated swing. You have a caddy that will select your clubs for you, but these selections are almost always based on your distance from the hole and the assumption you can make a perfect swing. They do not take into account the wind, terrain, your current lie, or any chance of error on your part, so your club selection needs to be reviewed before almost every shot.
You get a graphical representation of your current lie along with a percentage modify that shows the variation in distance of the selected club’s range based on that lie. Example: A sand wedge has a range of 30y in normal shot mode. Hitting out of a bunker will modify this range anywhere from 75-100 percent. You may need to pick a different club or over-swing to reach your desired distance.
To make things even easier the power bar has a tiny yellow flag that indicates just how far you should let the bar travel before swinging. Again, this is based solely on distance to the hole and your current club. In my experience I found that you almost always needed to swing harder than this flag indicated. Still, it’s a great tool for helping the beginning golfer get started and understand the gameplay mechanics.
You can modify your shots by giving them extra power or choosing an approach shot for chipping onto greens from close range. Power shots are great for giving you an extra 10-yards to your shot, but they do use up your character’s stamina and they do result in a higher risk of shanking your shot and greater penalty when you do.
There are 14 golfers you can eventually play but when you start you only have two to choose from, a male and a female. As you progress through the Tournament mode you will unlock two new golfers in each of the six rounds of the tournament. All of these golfers have their own unique personalities that range from charming to annoying and a set of statistics that determine how well they play the game even though in the end it all comes down to your accuracy with the C-stick and your knowledge of club selection and reading the course conditions.
Character stats can be modified with the huge selection of golf equipment that you can unlock during the tournament. New clubs and balls will give you greater range and accuracy while fictional items like a Sand Charm will help you avoid those nasty bunkers. There is even a pair of shoes that will help reduce the drain on your stamina. Each character has a point total and each piece of equipment has a point cost. You can pick special clubs, balls, and up to two bonus items as long as their combined point total doesn’t exceed your character’s available points.
Stamina is one of the most critical variables for each golfer. It wears down over time and your stamina meter takes a substantial hit each time you use a power shot. If you run out of stamina your shots simply won't go as far. You can replenish this thin green bar under your character portrait by hitting “excellent shots”. These don’t necessarily have to be long drives or perfect pitches; only a straight and well-hit shot with any club from any location.
My one big complaint with the gameplay in Swingerz Golf is the putting system. For some reason I simply cannot master the putting interface no matter how many games I play. There just seems to be way too many inconsistencies in how the ball responds to my putt. The game does put a grid over the green, and it also shows any elevation changes between my ball and the hole, but this information just doesn’t give the player enough to make an educated or accurate putt. I’ve never played a computer golf game where I couldn’t putt out in two or less shots. Unless I manage to drop the ball within 10ft of the cup I’m lucky to putt out in one or two shots, so shooting par golf becomes a challenge.
There is a very progressive feel to this game, as you earn new golfers and are rewarded with equipment that increases your range and accuracy. It coincides with your own skills in using the controller and you will actually become a better golfer the more you play. The only thing that gets in the way of this progression is the inconsistent accuracy of your computer opponents.
The difficulty ramps up way too fast for most gamers, including myself. You will blaze through the first tournament round and maybe even a few of the games in round two, but soon you will find that shooting par golf won’t win you any prizes or even the game. While you can actually win a few of the first games with scores in the 2-4 over par range, in round two your competition turns in scores like 4-6 under par. Your computer opponents are out-driving you off the tee and out-putting you on the green and most of it is out of your immediate control. They simply have skills that your character does not yet possess.
Even the one-on-one matches that you play to unlock the rest of the cast are a bit uneven and unpredictable. Computer opponents will play perfect golf for a dozen holes then for no reason shank a shot three or four times in a row essentially throwing away the hole. Whether this is an attempt to “even up” a game where the computer is pulling ahead of the player or simply an AI glitch, I really couldn’t say, but it is weird. Other times you can play the best game of your life and get beaten by a super-human effort on the computer's part that can only be described as "cheating".
Gameplay flows very smoothly with only a few minor glitches. There is a very obvious omission of “gimmie’s” and “mulligan’s”. While “mulligan’s” have no place in a scored competition they are useful when you are simply putting around and want to try and retry a shot to get your technique down. The lack of a “gimmie” was greatly missed considering the difficulty in knocking in those putts that were only inches from the cup. I can’t count the number of times I inadvertently hit the ball too hard and it popped out of the cup. Grrrr…
Weather comes into play in a small fashion. You have the ever-present wind that you can monitor with the speed and direction indicator. It really only affects your game if it is blowing at 5mph or faster. You also have random weather such as snow and rain but for some quirky reason the weather effects only last for a single hole. You get one hole with a dark cloudy sky then the next hole will have the actual rain followed by another hole were the clouds part revealing the sun and traditional rainbow. While I don’t like playing golf in bad weather it would have been more realistic to have the rain and snow last for an unpredictable amount of time.
Swingerz Golf has a visually appealing style that can best be described as “surreal”. You have some wonderfully designed courses that could easily be modeled from real-world locations. The photo-realistic backgrounds put you in locations like Hawaii or the Grand Canyon while the perfectly manicured fairways and greens and the huge selection of trees, rocks, shrubs, and sparkling water hazards all combine to create a lifelike atmosphere.
The environmental graphics are sharply contrasted with some comical character designs that have a telltale Japanimation style to them. Some characters look like they stepped right out of the Final Fantasy games while others are crazy caricatures of stereotypical personalities from all walks of life. You can even customize your appearance from a large and colorful wardrobe of costumes. The character designs are all simple in construction but wonderfully animated with some of the best and most accurate golf motions I’ve seen in a golf game. I only wish my real-life golf swing looked as good as these guys.
The menus are a bit cluttered and often confusing to navigate. You have options on the sides and across the top of the screen. At times it reminded me of navigating a complicated DVD menu where you aren’t sure which direction you are going each time you move the stick. You pick characters from a top menu and your rounds from the bottom menu. You have to pick equipment from menus that run down the right side of the screen and these open more menus of items to fill-out your inventory.
Once in the game you have a great informational display that gives you detailed info on your character, the hole you are playing, and your current status including lie, club selection, and distance to hole. My only complaint with this part of the game is the wind indicator. Why they couldn’t have simply used an arrow that looks like an arrow I have no idea. Instead you get a triangle that is nearly equal on all three sides so you have a very hard time determining wind direction. I often had to pivot my golfer nearly 90-degrees to find the pointy end of the triangle.
Camera angles are excellent with some incredibly fly-bys and reverse angles where the ball actually smashes through the virtual camera shattering your screen. There are particle effects that trail the ball and give it the illusion of supersonic speeds and special effects like flaming golf balls that leave fiery comet trails are a fun diversion.
Grass looks like grass and sand looks like sand. It even sprays onto the green when you chip out of a bunker and leaves tiny brown and tan particles on the grass. Transparent water shimmers in the sunlight on the coastal course and there are plenty of water hazards on the other inland courses. My only complaint (more of an observation) with any of these visuals is the over-saturation of color that takes away from the realism. There are also some noticeable repeating textures in the greens and fairways but these are hard to detect from the ground and mainly visible only from the lofty replay angles.
There are a handful of fun sounds in Swingerz Golf like the “swooshing” of the ball as it whizzes by the camera, but for the most part the sound design is horribly disappointing. The music in the game is the traditional overly cheerful stuff you expect in a Japanese game. When music plays during the actually game you will race for the option to turn it off. It is painfully repetitive and not even that good.
Voices are obnoxious, both in their sound and their content. Most of the characters have high-pitches voices that cut through you like a rusty saw and the caddies only have one or two lines at the most in their library of one-liners. If I hear that annoying bit...err…caddy say, “Here goes nothing” one more time the only thing that will be going is my controller through my TV screen.
There is no commentary other than the occasional “NICE SHOT” when you crush a ball off the tee. There is a lot of crowd chatter but for some reason the courses are strangely unpopulated. Even the Hot Shots golf games had a few bystanders lingering around the fairways and the greens to offer their moral support. Here, their comments just come out of the ether.
One amusing aspect to the speech is that each character has a few select taunts that you can choose to “send” to your opponent during multiplayer gaming. This is even more fun when they don’t know about this feature and they think the game is taunting them.
With six courses and six tournament rounds making up the bulk of this game you will be playing for 30-40 hours to unlock everything Swingerz Golf has to offer. The characters are all wildly unique and great fun. Unfortunately, your earned equipment for one character cannot be transferred to another, so you are forced to repeat the tournament for each of the 14 golfers if you want to fully unlock everything for everyone. Plan on at least 100 hours if you embark on this epic quest.
The multiplayer game modes make this great fun for the impromptu family challenge and the mini games will make this game a hit at parties. The only problem is that you can easily create a very unbalanced game situation if you take an experienced character loaded down with bonus items into a game with standard characters who don’t have these items to help their performance.
Swingerz Golf is a very good golf game that rides the fence between arcade and simulation. It mixes some realistic gameplay that will appeal to adults with a fun visual design that will draw in the younger crowd. Once you learn the controls you will find a computer golf game that comes very close to reproducing the mechanics of its real-life counterpart while keeping the sport fun and accessible to gamers of all skill levels.
In the end, I enjoyed Swingerz Golf more than Tiger Woods but not as much as Outlaw Golf. There is a good selection of courses and an even larger selection of golfers and bonus equipment to keep this game fresh and competitive with all of the other golf games currently available for your GameCube. The sheer scope and challenging gameplay will keep you playing Swingerz Golf for months to come.