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Planet MiniGolf
Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 6 (Local or Online)
Genre: Sports (Golf)/ Editor/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
I'm a big fan of Zen Pinball. I love the idea of taking a well-known game to places its never been to. So, when I heard that Zen Studios was developing Planet MiniGolf, I was immediately intrigued. After spending some time with the game, I can't say that it's quite as well-designed as Zen Pinball. However, I can say with no reservations that it could have been. Still, it's not a bad first effort.

Planet MiniGolf looks like it's stuck in the visual limbo between downloadable game and retail release. The courses aren't quite as inventive as the tables in Zen Pinball. A full-on character creation system would have been welcome, but at least there are some customization options. Appearance modifiers and accessories invite you to get creative. Some of them (putters, balls, etc.) don't affect your avatar. Animation work is passable, and sometimes it's even funny. For example, the burly Bruce putts one-handed and hardly ever looks at the ball. Lots of putts look stronger than they should. When you win a match, your avatar will dance around to frat boy instrumental party rock.

The sound design usually stays out of the way, which is a good thing. Most of what's here is quite annoying. It's forgettable and usually completely unnecessary. Planet MiniGolf has the single most annoying announcer I've ever heard. Seriously, Zen Studios. What were you thinking? This absurdly obnoxious personality doesn't have a name, but I'll give him one: Captain Redundant. If Zen Studios didn't offer the option to turn him off, the score at the top would be at least five points lower.

Zen Pinball is pinball as you wish it could be. Planet MiniGolf takes the same approach to miniature golf. You can play one of several fantastical nine-hole courses that could not exist in real life, no matter how hard you wish they could.

Planet MiniGolf is structured similarly to most other unconventional sports games. You play through the courses, earning unlockables and new locales. There's a key and badge rewards system. By performing well, you will earn differently-colored keys. These keys allow you to unlock certain content, provided you have the right colored key. Badges are earned during play; if you sink a particularly tough putt, chances are, you'll get one. As you play through the courses earning keys and badges, you'll want to try the harder difficulty settings, which brings me to one of Planet MiniGolf's shortcomings.

Planet MiniGolf has one really big strike against it, and that's the difficulty curve. You will have to wrestle with this game for a good while before you can convince yourself that you've got it down pat. Every now and then, you'll sink a putt that you thought was impossible, and you'll find yourself feeling quite awesome. However, much of the time, you'll be just be thinking "Seriously?"

Courses have a number of difficulty settings to play with, but the Wacky courses deserve a paragraph of their own. Wacky isn't even the word for these frighteningly difficult exercises in trial-and-error. You'll need sheer luck or some sort of unnatural freakish skill to score pars or lower. Warm-up, Pro, and Extreme challenge you to reduce the number of putts you must take to sink the ball. Wacky asks much, much more of you. Good luck!

Game Mechanics:
Though it doesn't tell you off the bat, Planet MiniGolf actually offers three putting styles. The default setting, Direct, seems eager to replicate the success of the control scheme from the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, but here, it doesn't work as well. In golf, the short game is the most delicate part of the sport. The sensitivity is extreme with Direct putting, and it's hard enough to tell how hard you need to hit the ball. I can't guarantee that the other putting styles will completely work for you, either. Planet MiniGolf offers the classic 3-Click setting. Easy is the most agreeable setting for me, though I find the pressure sensitivity to be unnecessary. It's been confirmed that Planet MiniGolf will support the upcoming PlayStation Move, so keep the fingers crossed. Better controls could make all the difference.

This game actually makes room for power-ups. Shockwave moves objects out of your way, while others will affect your ball's speed and weight.

Planet MiniGolf offers some creation tools, and they work just fine. The only problem I have with them has more to do with the fact that the game doesn't quite play well enough to warrant the time investment. Still, if enough people become good at the game, we could see a nice little community sprouting up on the PlayStation Network.

One more thing. It's funny that Planet MiniGolf is so difficult, because the replay system allows you to record your most insane moments. You can then choose to save or upload them to YouTube.

Planet MiniGolf has a lot of potential, and I'd like to see Zen Studios give this idea another try. However, this release is too difficult for its own good, and the presentation is more than a little off-putting. Try before you buy.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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