Review: Fun! Fun! Minigolf (WiiWare)

So much fun they named it twice, but it is really up to par?

Wii Sports golf - which, lest we forget, comes bundled for free with the Wii console - offers a taste of what playing golf with a Wii Remote can be like. However, with only nine holes and a clunky putting mechanism that can often feel inaccurate, the game is just not satisfying enough to capture the hearts and minds of hardcore putters. Fortunatly, just as the concept of Mini Golf is a viable alternative to the full-blown game in real life, so is the case on Wii. Nanostray creator Shin’en has come to the rescue and served up a beautiful minigolf game with spectacular 3D graphics -- but is this game about little more than good looks, or is the gameplay up to par?

The graphics truly are among the best we’ve seen on Wiiware, with bold colours and bags of character. Even so, they are what could be described as GameCube quality, so it’s not exactly a technological marvel. There is visible pixelation, especially in the characters, even when displayed in 480p. Still, the graphics are certainly easy on the eyes.

You have a choice of 27 holes across three 9 hole courses. Each course represents a different difficulty level. It goes without saying that you can blast through all 27 holes in less than an hour if all you want to do is see them, but the challenge of minigolf is to get a good score, and this will require you to play each course repeatedly to learn the best shot for each course.

The skill difficulty is slightly uneven. We made it through the easy level course with no problems, landing four holes-in-one on our first play through. That’s good, because it’s the easy level after all and not everyone is blessed with innate putting skills. The problem comes in the medium and hard levels when, mixed among some modestly difficult holes, you will run into holes that are (golf)ball-bustingly difficult: holes so confusing that after 6 failed swings when the game moves you on to the next hole, you’ll wonder if a solution even existed.

Part of the problem is the concept of "out of bounds." Maybe we don’t know as much about minigolf as we thought, but we’ve always played the ball where it lies. Meaning after each stroke, you hit the ball from where it ended up. That is NOT the rule in Fun! Fun! Minigolf. Here, the course has a narrowly defined white line bounded area within which the ball remains in play. If the ball goes outside of this area, it is out of bounds. On many courses this means you must get a hole-in-one or else you will always be out of bounds. If you don’t land the ball in this tiny area near the hole, then you are penalized a stroke and must try again from the starting point.

Sometimes, after much trial and error, you will get the ball near the hole, but it will be moving slightly too fast and bounce back out of the "in bounds" area. This is when you will be grateful for the reminder notice to attach your Wii remote strap before play, as golf rules usually require you to throw your club whenever this happens.

The gameplay is somewhat different from Wii Sports golf in that in addition to controlling your aim and the strength of your swing, you must also time your shot to keep your aim on target. A simple mechanic of a targeting crosshair swinging back and forth shows you when to swing. Frankly, this feels like a step backwards to a time before the Wii remote. Nevertheless it does add an extra layer of challenge to line up not only exactly the right strength of swing, but at the right time as well. This mechanic requires more concentration and therefore rewards the more skilful player.

Fun! Fun! Minigolf provides no options to customise the game settings: none at all. In our interview with Shin’en we asked if weather effects would be a feature. They said no because things like rain and wind were "too unrealistic." While this is true and most people would not play minigolf in the rain, we have to wonder if it might not have been worth the effort to put it in anyway, since as things are, there are simply no toys to play with to make the game fun for a longer period. Similarly, there are no high-score leaderboards or unlockable items to reward the player for getting better. What you see is what you get from the moment you first fire up the game.

Because of this lack of features, the only reason for repeat play is if you have a friend or three present to play with you. This is where Fun! Fun! Minigolf shines, as the multiplayer aspect is as fun as the real thing. But as with the single player game, some of the more difficult holes are impossibly hard to make on your first attempt. This means you and your friends are stuck with the easy 9 holes, as the harder 18 are not "fun fun" for the new players.

Conclusion

Fun! Fun! Minigolf provides a satisfying first time play through on the easy difficulty holes and will frustrate you to no end if you are up to the challenge of figuring out all of the harder 18 holes. Minigolf fans will enjoy the challenge, but for everyone else this game is of average entertainment value. It is, in many ways, just another puzzle game for Wiiware. There are only one or two "solutions" to each hole, and your challenge is to figure them out. Once you have done so, the game has little in the way of repeat play value. The problem-solving aspect isn’t a bad thing, however; if anything, it’s the only reason to keep coming back. We just wish the game offered more of a reason to encourage repeat play than the high difficulty level.