Nintendo's "A Little Bit of..." series of DSiWare releases has received criticism in some quarters for offering severely cut-down versions of full titles at barely reduced prices. Well, A Little Bit of... Nintendo Touch Golf survives the transfer from cartridge to download pretty much intact, missing a few features but still offering a solid pocket golfing game.
The most commendable aspect of Touch Golf is its control scheme, which manages to be as accurate and flexible as any other recreation of the sport on console. The touch screen shows the ball and club face, and taking a shot is a simple matter of dragging the club's head back to set the power then swinging it forward quickly to connect with the ball and send it flying majestically through the air. By hitting diagonally across the ball you can add curve and top or backspin is activated using a small icon to the side. Depending on the type of shot and club you choose, the ball's impact marker - a red and orange target displayed on the ball - can become larger or smaller. If you swing and miss the impact marker, you'll slice your shot and fail to get any real power behind it, but hitting the marker dead-on will result in a sweet shot. It's even possible to miss the ball all together, so it becomes a matter of concentration and stylus skill on the fairway.
After a brief tutorial the controls soon become second nature. You've got the regular array of clubs to choose from and can also change the distance marker on each, for when a sand wedge is your best option but you only need half the power. When you land on the green, a helpful red line appears showing where your putt will travel, making putting a straightforward matter of sliding the line over the cup and swinging away. Although this makes the short game a lot easier than many other handheld golf games - particularly combined with some enormous cups in certain courses - it's still a welcome addition, making draining those clutch putts far less straining on the old ticker.
Initially you only have one course to choose from, but by completing stages in the Challenge Mode you unlock a further three courses, each of which has a mirrored version to offer a little more variation. There's no bizarre volcano or ice levels, just a series of smaller fairways, bigger bunkers and more unpredictable greens as you progress, plus you always have access to three difficulty levels that throw increasingly inclement weather conditions at you.
Graphically speaking, the game does reasonably well for itself - your player animates nicely, the courses are decently modelled and overall there's a lot of blue and green on display. The trees don't look hugely realistic and when you sink a putt you'll notice that the texture on the green leaves a lot to be desired, but overall it does a lot right/ Similarly, the audio department does its job admirably, with some jaunty, typically Nintendo-sounding tunes in the background and the sounds of swinging, hitting and putting nice and clear through the DSi speakers. There's no speech in the game - not even the customary "nice shot!" - but the sounds here are more than enough to do the trick.
The Challenge Mode is where the game offers most of its longevity, with three different ranks and over 100 tasks in total for you to overcome. Starting out at Rookie rank, you're given specific objectives on the course, from hitting tee shots to total 400 yards and getting a chip-in from a tough bunker lie. Clearing each challenge allows you access to the next, but excelling - hitting over 600 yards or getting two chip-ins for example - gets you a level-up in one of four areas: Power, Control, Technique and Recovery, relevant to the challenge you conquered. You can also get level-ups playing regular rounds by landing your tee shot in the target somewhere on the fairway, and with 30 levels to improve for each stat that equals a heck of a lot of golfing before you've maxed out your character. At first it looks like the levels make little difference, but the more you play the more you realise you're slowly growing into a master golfer, and it certainly helps to keep your interest in the game.
You see, without the level-up system there's not really a lot to keep you coming back. Unlike the full retail release, there's no multiplayer mode available, so it's a strictly solo affair on DSiWare. You can play against other CPU players in the Rounds mode, but of course it can't compete with real human competition, particularly considering the original game had PictoChat support for taunting your opponents.
You'll spend most of your time getting stuck into the Challenge mode, which does become very challenging in the third stage, but some ugly problems rear their head before you get that far. To access Junior rank you have to conquer Rookie, and that involves completing 25 challenges back-to-back: you can suspend your data at any time, but you can't retire at stage 20, play a round elsewhere and come back to pick up where you left off. Although it doesn't take that long to complete 25 challenges, it becomes a real chore to repeat earlier stages if you want to get to the later levels.
Also, suspending your game in either Challenge or Round mode means you have to load that game next time you fire up Touch Golf - you can't get halfway through Challenge mode, suspend it and check out your stats or practice a few shots, you have to pick up where you left off almost immediately. The game itself is understandably small and there are admittedly very few times you'll want to flit between game types like this, but it's still irritating to be forced into completing your Challenge stages if you just want to play a few practice shots.
Overall, A Little Bit of... Touch Golf is actually quite a lot of Touch Golf, really. There's stacks to accomplish in the Challenge Mode, four courses to unlock and over a hundred level-ups to gain for your character. Graphically it looks good, the audio isn't bad either and it's hard to see where it puts a foot wrong. The removal of its big brother's multiplayer mode knocks it back, limiting this to a totally solo pursuit, but in DSiWare’s limited sporting library you'll struggle to find a more enjoyable game of golf.