Back in June, ZEN Studios launched Planet MiniGolf exclusively on the PlayStation Network. Just a couple of weeks ago they came back to the title with a free PlayStation Move update to the core game, as well as some brand new DLC that adds a whole new official golf course into the mix. Here’s our look at the basic game, as well as at the update and new course.
It’s not unusual to find minigolf video games, but it’s a bit harder to find minigolf games that are full featured and that are actually fun to play. Planet MiniGolf excels in both of those areas by providing many options in all areas and for all types of players. Straight out of the download, the game offers four course locales: Ancient Valley, Polar Station, Soho, and Buccaneer’s Hideout. Each course features a variety of golf holes distributed through several levels of difficulty, and each course is uniquely themed with special environments and obstacles you’ll only find in those areas. Once I got the feel for putting, the difficulty settled into a comfortable ramp up from Warm-Up through Wacky and Extreme. The courses look great, too, with lots of color and cartoon-style obstacles to navigate.
The five golfers that come with the game are as varied as the courses. Players can select their character from several archetypes ranging from a little girl to a big, burly dude. The characters respond appropriately to how well you’re playing with animated fist pumps, leaps, and defeated sobs.
I’m a sucker for the carrot-and-stick mentality in video games, and that’s one of the things I love about Planet MiniGolf. On its own, it’s a fun and well executed golfing game, but ZEN threw in a bunch of clever unlockables that keep me playing over and over, just to grab one more key. The game features the usual PlayStation trophies (4 bronze, 5 silver, and 1 gold here), but it also includes a badge system. As you play through the holes, you will unlock bronze, silver, and gold badges for doing various things like nailing a long shot or getting a hole in one. These badges accumulate and grant you keys of matching colors. You then can take those keys into the character customization screens to unlock add-ons for your golfer with locks that match your key colors. I’ve spent a lot of time in there buying new outfits, hairstyles, clubs, and balls for my characters. Yes, I like playing dress-up with my little digital people.
Having a good unlockable system wouldn’t mean much without the gameplay to back it up, and this is another area where Planet MiniGolf really works well. It’s no secret that golf games can be unwieldy beasts when they’re not handled the right way. And further, “the right way” tends to mean different things to different players. Some people prefer a triple click system for swinging their golf club while others might like a simpler push-button-and-release interface. Planet MiniGolf takes all of these interface methods into consideration and gives the best of all worlds by letting the players choose between control schemes. The initial game provides three control options: Easy (press the X button, hold, and release it to strike the ball with variable force), Direct (pull back on the analog stick and then push forward to strike with variable force), and 3-Click (press X once to start the swing, again to determine the force, and again to determine accuracy).
The new and free update to the game provides PlayStation Move capabilities, making Planet MiniGolf one of the first PlayStation Network games to embrace the new motion peripherals. Move integration is smooth and intuitive, allowing players to make natural putting motions to hit the ball. As an extra incentive to use the motion controls, going the Move route adds a 3x multiplier to your golfer’s Style score on each swing.
All the control methods are responsive and provide good feedback on the course. The 3-Click method definitely seems to be the most challenging, but all methods have a brief learning curve you’ll need to pass before the putting becomes natural.
ZEN could have been content to ship the game with the four packed-in courses and to fill out the rest of the roster with DLC packs later, but they took a step down the LittleBigPlanet path by including some awesome tools for building your own courses. This is probably my favorite thing about the game, as I’m a sucker for all kinds of customization in games (not just for dressing up my little digital people). The course creation tools are flexible and easy to jump into, and making courses and holes even snags you a few more trophies. Once you’ve made a course, you can publish it for all to play, and it will become a part of the game’s player-created archive. At the time of this review, there are 1,970 player made courses and 31,966 player made holes available for free download and play. That’s a lot of minigolf.
At the same time ZEN patched Move controls into the main game, they also dropped the new Stronghold Island DLC onto the PlayStation Network. Stronghold Island is a new course pack that adds a medieval / fantasy themed minigolf course into Planet MiniGolf. The new holes are cleverly designed and introduce some new elements like knights with swinging axes and dragons into whose mouths you have to knock your ball. The difficulty matches that of the courses in the original release, and the fantasy theming is so much fun that this new course quickly became my favorite of the official packs. Stronghold Island also adds four new trophies into the mix, all specific to this new course.
If you’re itching for some minigolf action on your PS3 or just want to try out your new Move controller on some more games, you can’t go wrong with Planet MiniGolf. The main game is available on the PlayStation Network for $9.99, and you can add Stronghold Island for an additional $2.49.