The "Family" series of games has developed a reputation of being, well, a bit crap, really. They're bare-bones, budget versions of sports games you probably already have better versions of elsewhere, making you wonder why Arc System Works even bothers making them. This only serves to make the fact that Family Mini Golf is actually fun all the more surprising, though it's not without the same problems that plague the rest of the series.
As with others in the series, rather than creating a profile you simply select a character to play with from a choice of Mommy, Daddy and the kids. Again, there's no game options and the only information saved is the choice of language for the game menus and which courses you've unlocked. Honestly, we don't care if this is a budget release, at the very least can we please have the best score/time/whatever for the given level/course/etc. recorded, if not a leaderboard? How much effort could it possibly be to record a game result to be proud of or a target score to shoot for?
Visually this is about on par with the rest of the series: plain but serviceable 3D models and low-res textures, but it gets the job done. The ball physics are pretty decent (as are the "special" physics for Mom that come into play when she jumps for joy after getting Par or a Hole-In-One). It's not clear why your ball sounds like it's blowing bubbles as it rolls along the felt/grass/astro-turf courses, though the shower of stars flying off as it does so are pretty. There's only one audio track that plays endlessly through the menus and the game itself, but thankfully it's cheery and likeable, and will likely imprint itself upon your memory for enjoyment long after your game is over.
There are three courses included and two multiplayer options in addition to the single player game. Players can compete individually trying to get the highest score or have teams. In team matches only the highest scoring player's results for the entire course are used to determine the winner, so there's no unfair advantage in having a two-on-one game.
The controls will be familiar to anyone who's ever played a round of video golf in an arcade: you use left and right on the to change direction and then press to stop a constantly shifting power metre (introducing a tiny bit of randomness) at the power level you desire before using a remote wave to hit the ball (you can swing your remote like a golf club if you like, but it has no additional effect). You can press to go back to the map view that's displayed when the course first loads showing you a view of the entire course as well as your golfer's location; and swap stance from left- to right-handed by pressing in order to get a different angle on your shot.
As this is mini-golf, there's no weather conditions to worry about or clubs to change, and only nine holes in a vastly smaller course to play through than in regular golf. Nevertheless you will find hazards both in the lay of the course - which often includes hills and low borders where your ball can roll off into the sea; as well as electric fans that will blow your ball in different directions, "speed plates" that cause it to shoot off in a single (possibly undesirable) direction and pinball bumpers that knock your ball about. The courses are quite well-designed featuring different elevations and multiple routes to play through, and the par for each hold tends to be rather low providing a challenge for players. Annoyingly only the first course is available to play initially. Being more than two over par for each course means failing to unlock the next, which might be a big turn off for less experienced players who are easily frustrated. There's only three courses included so the idea of unlocking anything seems unecessary. We'd rather have had all the courses unlocked from the start and had online leaderboards to give us replay incentive, frankly.
If you like you can purchase up to three additional courses, creatively titled EXT1, EXT2 and EXT3. They're pretty small memory-wise (under 20 blocks each) and are actual downloadable content as opposed to unlockables, so you'll need to ensure you have the memory space available as well as 200 Points in your Shop account for each course before downloading. As with other games featuring "Pay to Play" content the extra save file for the DLC must be on the Wii itself to be accessible: you can copy it to your SD card to back it up, but you won't be able to see the added content in-game unless it's in the Wii's internal flash memory.
The extra courses have progressively higher difficulties and are all described as being "more acrobatic" - no doubt due to the fact that they consist of physics-defying, floating platforms. We punted on one and have to say it was pretty nice, but it would be good to at least have a screenshot to show what the course is like before you pay your points for it rather than being a blind buy. The extra courses are automatically unlocked, so we suppose if you get stuck on the first course you could always buy the extra ones, but it's hard to think many will go the whole hog and spend 1100 Points for the game and three extra courses for that reason alone.
Family Mini Golf is a bit of a surprise: a fun game that's part of a series which has become famous for not being much fun. Despite the egregious lack of leaderboards and options there's a good game of mini-golf here that's well worth the initial pricetag, and once you've exhausted the included courses the extra pay-to-play ones are pretty nice too. Given the surprising lack of mini-golf games on the Wii, we figure the budget price, easy-to-grasp controls and well-designed courses compensate for the barebones presentation enough to warrant a recommendation, though it's a shame there's not more replay incentive included.