Thursday, November 02, 2006

Putt Mania Review

Putt Mania, developed and published by
The Good: Realistic and predictable physics, simple controls, courses vary in difficulty, very flexible hole editor
The Not So Good: Adjusting shot power requires too much mouse movement, bland environments
What say you? A lifelike and enjoyable miniature golf simulation: 6/8

Miniature golf has wide appeal because it is easy to play and almost anyone can do it. The small learning curve makes it a viable family activity. But with the growing decline in the number of miniature golf courses (the one closest to me was replaced by a Rooms To Go), the availability of a nice evening out is getting lower and lower. Computer games can fill this ever-growing void, and Putt Mania lets the entire family crowd around the monitor for some wholesome putting fun without all that needless fresh air.

The graphics in Putt Mania exemplify the game’s small developer roots. While the hole graphics are pretty good, the environments leave a lot to be desired. The individual holes in the game have good textures on the surface and the various objects in the game. There could have been smoother surfaces for ramps and curves, but the holes in Putt Mania look like holes that you would find in real life, which is the whole point of the graphics. The game, however, takes place against a featureless backdrop of colored graph paper. It would have been better to place the holes in some kind of environment, such as a forest, mountains, or a parking lot: something to at least give the impression of being location in a real place. As it stands, the graphics in Putt Mania are too disconnected from real life to deliver a complete game experience. The sounds are pretty basic: generic new-age background music, putting effects, and a female voice seductively announcing the result of each hole (my favorite sound bite is after a bad shot: “ouchhhhh!”). You won’t mistake Putt Mania for Tiger Woods 2007 anytime soon, but the graphics and sound do their job: the game doesn’t look bad and you know you’re playing a miniature golf game.

In Putt Mania, you and three friends can tackle various courses featuring typical miniature golf obstacles and design (there are no computer opponents, as the holes themselves provide the challenge). The game includes a tutorial, although playing is very straightforward. You can choose to use different scoring methods (stroke, skins, or closest to the hole), a certain number of holes (full 18, front or back 9, or a single hole), and allow for mulligans and maximum strokes per hole. Putt Mania features five courses of varying difficulty; the more difficult courses usually involve tight spaces or jumps that require finesse with shot power. The game is played by moving the mouse to set the trajectory and pushing the mouse forward for power. You are limited in the amount of time you have to assign power to your shots, so some poor decisions are made as you are competing against the clock. Applying the correct amount of power requires some practice, as the method used in Putt Mania entails faster acceleration for more powerful shots instead of pushing it further. It takes some getting used to, but it makes sense once you know how to drive the ball farther. The game shows your trajectory with an arrow, which is accurate until your ball hits a wall, which makes finishing when you’re close to the hole very simple. Putt Mania features believable physics, although the ball seems to bounce (and subsequently slow down) more when hitting a wall than in real miniature golf. Still, Putt Mania is a pretty entertaining game that does a good job in providing a convincing experience. Putt Mania includes an editor where you can construct almost any type of basic design that real miniature golf courses feature, or at least any objects the game developer used. Designing holes is simple enough and the objects are organized effectively. Lining up pieces could be a lot easier: the game displays red overlap indicators even if the pieces are lined up properly, which tends to be quite confusing. It would be nice if pieces snapped into place when close to another object. Also, like the base game, more environmental objects to spice up the hole would be welcome. The editor is powerful enough to extend the replay value of the game, and hopefully we’ll find courses floating about the Internet soon.

Putt Mania is a good enough miniature golf game that eschews the outlandish designs of other games for a more realistic and classic approach. The graphics are effective, the mechanics are easy to learn, and the game is friendly to new players, making it an ideal piece of software for the entire family unit. And most importantly, I liked it. The game offers a good deal of difficult with the more challenging courses, and it takes some practice to become proficient at the game. Anyone who has at least a passing interest in miniature golf (and who doesn’t?) should definitely check out Putt Mania. It may not have the flashiness of other games, but the core gameplay is intact and it’s an entertaining affair.