Miniature golf is a bit of an odd sport. Courses range from accurate, shrunken depictions of the links, to fantastic places where we find ourselves putting through castles and spaceships; some courses are immaculately cared for while others dilapidated, in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. No matter the condition or themes, each and every course possess their own unique, distinct personality.
There’s no doubt Planet Minigolf packs a ton of content. Boasting 144 holes, tons of character outfits, a variety of multiplayer options, power-ups and a full course editor, there’s no shortage of game to be found, but none of it truly captures the quirky essence of mini golf. The most obvious place this crops up is in the overall visual design. The graphics are perfectly serviceable, some might even say impressive for a downloadable title, but the fact of the matter is it’s all terribly generic. Even with four unique themes, none of the sixteen 9 hole courses have any real character.
This uninspired, generic feeling is punctuated by the most lifeless game announcer in history. Without any inflection to speak of, each and every line is delivered with the same monotonous tone. Combine his general lack of enthusiasm with the profoundly worthless commentary provided and it won’t be long before you’ve found his on/off switch in the options menu.
Yet another missed opportunity to inject some life into the offering are the characters themselves. Rather than populate the title with some interesting, unique individuals, Planet Minigolf plays it safe with a group of common archetypes; you have the punk, the hulking sasquatch of a man, the perky co-ed, the buxom broad, and finally, the adorable little Japanese girl. What makes these characters even less memorable are the flimsy, robotic animations they’ve been given. Their faces are completely static, it doesn’t matter if they’re celebrating an Eagle or feeling the shame of a Double Bogey. The one saving grace is each character has an extensive wardrobe to unlock, so with enough effort and a little sense of fashion you might be able to inject a little of your own personality into these blank slates.
Even without a lick of personality, Planet Minigolf could still distinguish itself with the single hallmark each and every golf game requires: tight controls. Planet Minigolf offers up three separate control schemes, which sounds impressive, but none of them work exactly the way you might want them to. The ‘Easy’ control scheme uses a single press of the cross button. Depending on how hard you press it your power will increase faster, while releasing it executes the putt. As the name suggests it’s certainly the simplest to use and it may very well become your preferred choice. Next there’s ‘3-Click,’ which functions a lot like other golf games; button press one starts the meter, press two sets the power, while the final press decides accuracy. Theoretically this system should be the best, as it’s the one most players will be familiar with, but the timing of the meter feels strangely off. The final and most imprecise of the setups is the ‘Direct’ control scheme that uses flicks of the right analogue stick to set power and accuracy. For longer shots it feels fine but the imprecision really shows through within a foot of the cup; tap-ins are unquestionably awkward.
While each of the unique control styles have their own distinct drawbacks and quirks, the consistent problem found with each is gauging power versus distance. Most golf titles provide some sort of scale that equates the power of your swing to a certain distance, along with providing the yardage to the cup; Planet Minigolf gives you neither. Not having that info creates a steep learning curve, which can be especially brutal playing your first round on a new course. Obviously miniature golf in real life is a game of execution along with a bit of trial and error, often you have to try different angles and speeds to find the optimum route to the cup; Planet Minigolf reflects this. The problem is it isn’t nearly as fun here, and the bigger issue is you can walk a hole in real life to size up your shots, as well as the obstacles impeding your way. Without an effective camera to be found, reading a hole is a total crap shoot. When taking your putt you can toggle a few posterior cameras and rotate the view but each yields no better view than the last. There’s also a bird’s eye view to scope the entirety of the hole, but it ultimately serves no purpose without a functional zoom and can often be obscured by random scenery. Any sort of narrow obstacles, such as skateboards, that clutter the course disappear from the bird’s eye distance, leaving you to discover them unexpectedly mid-putt.
Despite all of these nagging issues, if you’re dedicated and vigilant enough to learn Planet Minigolf’s courses and quirks there is an adequate, occasionally fun game of mini golf to be played. As mentioned before there is a lot of game packed into this title and with a reasonably straightforward course editor to play with there should be no shortage of new, twisted holes to experiment with. Even playing the stock courses, once you’ve moved onto the Extreme and Wacky difficulty levels the game’s course design progresses from mundane to reasonably clever. Tack on the easy to use online mode and there are redeeming qualities to be found underneath the uninspired surface.
Being the first and only mini golf title on the PlayStation 3, Planet Minigolf should have strode onto the links with a little more confidence and taken a few more risks. It brings more than its fair share of content to the table but fails to ever truly distinguish itself as more than an average mini golf title. Perhaps if it hit the club house, had a few drinks and loosened up a bit, we’d get to see a little personality.