Reviewed: June 4, 2010
Released: June 1, 2010
For an E10+ game there sure was a lot of M-rated language being tossed around the office during our several frustrating and brief attempts to play Planet Minigolf, the latest PlayStation Store downloadable game. What was easily one of my most anticipated PS3 titles of the year has quickly turned into my biggest disappointment and a glaring blemish on Zen Studio’s otherwise impeccable portfolio. |
I am a huge minigolf fan, playing every game on every system I can get my hands on, which is pretty much most all of them. With such a rich history and legacy to build upon how could Zen Studios possibly release such a dysfunctional, nay, broken game. All they had to do was put a bit of their Pinball polish on the existing and successful formula of past minigolf games and take a ride on the money train. Instead, we have a train wreck of epic proportions.
Up until this point I would have to consider 3D Ultra Minigolf for the Xbox 360 the best miniature golf game available for console. It had (still has) it all; creative courses, fun characters, challenging multiplayer, and great controls. Planet Minigolf mirrors some of those elements right down to several of the course themes and environments, but it finds itself lacking in the most important of areas – CONTROL. And considering the game comes with three control schemes you think that one of them would have worked at least a little.
What good are clever course and hole designs if you are unable to plan your shots due to a complete lack of functional camera control, and an even greater inability to make your shots thanks to an input architecture that requires superhuman reflexes or the ability to slow time. Bullet-time…where are you when I need you?
Let’s analyze these controls schemes that range from embarrassingly bad to downright impossible. Easy mode simply has you pressing the X button to set the power of your shot on a radial power meter. The harder you press the faster the needle rotates with accuracy being handled automatically. Ultimately, this was the only method I could use to play the game and preserve any sort of self-esteem and even then the total lack of knowing just how far the ball is going to roll based on your set power (which seems to fluctuate at random) still makes the game problematic and unpredictable.
Moving on we have the standard 3-click system, a favorite of mine in real golf games as well as minigolf, and one that has never let me down until now. The first click starts the meter moving until you click again to set the power, which is still unreliable, followed by a third click to set the accuracy by clicking as close to the green area of the meter as you can. Anything on either side of the green sends the ball off in a miniature golf version of a hook or slice. The problems here lie in the speed and size of the meter, especially the pie wedge devoted to accuracy. Even on my 58” HDTV the meter is annoying small and the needle spins faster than the pitch indicator in MLB The Show.
The difference between crushing the ball and a tippy-tap can only be measured on a micrometer and in nanoseconds. God help you if you are only a foot or less from the hole because there is no way to nudge the ball. Even a double-tap action on the power gauge will send the ball in and right back out of the hole due to excessive force beyond your control. All they needed to do was make a bigger or slower meter, perhaps the standard linear bar along the bottom of the screen, or at least have the meter scale itself for precision shots.
The analog swing meter is the culmination of frustration, so put up that chicken wire in front of your TV to catch the controllers you’ll be hurling at the screen. Swinging back and forth with the analog stick sounds somewhat realistic and it is in Tiger Woods, but in this game you have that same tiny circular meter with radial rings of power that have no meaning or reliable response. Factor in even more way to strike an inaccurate shot and you’ll never go near this method of swinging a club.
To make matters worse are the atrocious camera options that prevent you from analyzing the 144 holes in any sort of meaningful way. You can toggle a binocular view and rotate around the hole from a distance, but much to distant to accurately plot angles around obstacles, and you can cycle through a few near/far shot cams then tilt up and down, but there are no reverse angle or cameras from the hole or even your ball target.
Planet Minigolf does do a few things right; sadly none of them have to do with gameplay. The graphics are exceptional, better than 3D Ultra Minigolf, and nearly worthy of being used in another genre such as a 3D action or adventure game. The environments and details are excellent, even if most of the holes become extreme versions of Rube Goldberg contraptions rather than a golf game. Concepts like hitting a ball into a bucket on a zip line or off some extreme ramp are really cool and interesting until you fall victim to the horrible controls that make finding just the right power level impossible to solve them.
There are 144 holes divided into several 9-hole courses that range from the pirate flavor of Buccaneers Hideout to the rooftop of SoHo to the top-secret icy wasteland of Polar Station, to the mysterious Ancient Valley. The rich details of all these locations make for a few substantially annoying load times every three holes.
In the spirit of 3D Ultra Minigolf you also have a variety of power-ups in the game that you can use to overcome certain obstacles including the poor controls. The Rocket will propel your ball forward with a burst of linear speed while angel wings will send your ball gliding upward over long distances. Glue slows your down while a lead weight will drop your ball to the turf with an instant thud, and a magnet will suck your ball right into the hole if close enough. My favorite was the Controller power-up that allows you to steer your ball using the SIXAXIS motion control.
Another cool idea is the Trick Shot feature. Once per hole you can hit Triangle and activate trick shot mode and then try to bounce the ball off as many bumpers as you can. The more complicated the path to the hole the higher your multiplier and score, but the ball has to drop to collect it. There are some subtle course side objects that serve as good markers for planning your angles on such shots.
There are a handful of stereotypical wacky characters; the buxom country tart, the muscular biker dude, the blue-haired anime girl, etc. and these can be customized as you unlock new gear by finishing, and if you’re lucky, winning games. Thankfully, they avoided the trap of having them all say annoying and repetitive one-liners during the game. Zen Studios saved that honor for the super-annoying announcer who I promptly turned off in the options menu. He tries to be funny like the guys from Outlaw Golf, but fails miserably. Aside from him, you have some cool environmental sounds and some annoying pop rock that loops in the main menus.
For those who find it impossible to play this game, perhaps you would settle on designing courses for others to sweat over. A full-featured hole and course editor allow you to create your own Rube Goldberg devices using any of the components from the main game. Test these out then share them with the PlayStation community.
Speaking of community, Planet Minigolf has some serious online chops with weekly tournaments and online multiplayer featuring a variety of modes ranging from 1-on-1 to 4-player single and team modes and even a 3-on-3 team mode for up to six players, and of course, scoreboards to track the results. There is also an online-ticker that scrolls news and player high scores much like what we saw in Zen Pinball.
Planet Minigolf, at least in its current form, is a huge failure and epic disappointment for me. I’ve been counting the days till its release since it was first announced, and now I am counting the days until it is patched so I can actually play it. Until then I’ll keep playing Zen Pinball. At least they got that game right.