Mini golf is a right of passage in many a culture, specifically suburban United States. To take putter in hand, journey to a small set of courses and accidentally drive a colorful ball into the parking lot time and again while the girl you nervously asked on a first date keeps laughing and you’re not sure if it’s derisive or genuinely full of mirth. Are you going to get a goodnight kiss if you can’t get it through the windmill? Does it matter that you’re three strokes ahead? All these questions and more are not relevant to Infinite Minigolf, but I figured I would at least set the stage before diving into Zen Studios’ newest entry onto the Nintendo Switch.
Right out the gate, Infinite Minigolf is as wholesome and poppy an entity as you would expect it to be. It has a definite vibe of The Sims, with very cartoonish-yet-realistic avatars that offer varying degrees of customization. Most of the customizations are unlocked through leveling up and “purchasing” them with cards you get from finishing stages and levels. You can also use the coins you get from each round (more on that in a moment) to buy booster packs that will contain cards and, in some cases, avatar items. I bring this up now because Zen Studios clearly put a lot of thought into players wanting to design and make the game their own, and that includes a slew of hairstyles, skin tones, accessories and clothing that can be won, bought and lucked upon. If you are really into making the game your own, Infinite Minigolf does a pretty solid effort of presenting options to players of all walks of life.
The courses that you encounter in Infinite Minigolf are far away from the traditional concrete jungle setting that you may have dropped five dollars at one hot July evening a decade ago. These courses all take place in fun and non-conventional areas, such as inside someone’s house, a haunted mansion or Santa’s factory. Each set of courses has different obstacles and a lot of variation in how curvy, wild and otherwise insane the lane may be. You also are treated to three difficulty levels, and a player might be pulled into a false sense of smugness if they only played the “casual” setting. Even if you know nothing of the game or even the basic concepts of mini golf, the casual setting is there to hold your hand and get you to score hole-in-ones with little to no effort. Players who are worried that it might be too easy will be quickly swayed by simply moving up to normal.
The courses themselves, besides being peppered with intrusive Santas and maddening monster trucks, are also host to gems and powerups. The gems are pivotal to getting the best score, winning top rank and, as such, unlocking even more custom choices for your character. A quick experiment found that getting a hole-in-one with no gems along the way is worth far less than taking two swings (and getting a birdie) but picking up even just one gem. Although this may seem counter intuitive, it fits in well with the motif of the game. After each hole, your character celebrates or bemoans his performance, and you want him or her to look their best with the ensemble of your imagination, and that sweet haircut doesn’t come for free!
The powerups are also essential to maximizing your score, but they can be tricky to understand. As they don’t carry between greens, you need to get and use the powerup before you get to the hole, and it can sometimes be a matter of getting and using it immediately. Since the holes can, at times, be quite short, it might not be immediately clear that you’ll need the rocket boost as soon as you encounter it, and it’ll cost you a precious stroke. Others, like the “ball control” powerup, seem specially designed to make an otherwise overly complicated course turn into something of a walk in the park. It stops being about adding a unique factor to the game and, instead, almost becomes a justification to coding in the powerup in the first place.
The controls themselves in Infinite Minigolf are solid albeit a bit touchy. After lining up and angling your position, you have to gently pull back the right control stick, hold it for a moment and then release to swing. If you sneeze or have a strong pulse, you’ll pull back even farther and, like that sweltering night at Pirate’s Cove back in 2004, launch the ball way out of bounds. It will definitely take a few tries to get it right, but you may not have the time: the game is absolutely unforgiving about making a mistake. If You don’t get into the groove for what is expected, then kiss your lead in the tournament goodbye. There are no mulligans or do overs: trying to restart a level reminds you that the tournament is forfeit if you do so, and then the whole expedition just becomes “for fun.” I wasn’t that upset by the prospect, as I wanted to get a score better than “eight over par,” but serious fans could harbor some real anger at the idea.
Additionally, the local multiplayer, while good, is the only game in town as of right now for people who don’t want to golf solo. It’s been talked about all over the internet, but Zen Studios appears to be having some issues getting their console versions to work online, meaning that there is no online multiplayer as of right now. I guess I’m a bit surprised, because this isn’t a new studio and, technically, this isn’t even a new game. Though new to consoles, Infinite Minigolf has been working its way through Early Access on Steam, so I imagined there would be at least a little bit of prep for the launch onto the new Nintendo indie machine. Still, hiccups happen, so try not to fault the developers too much, just know that it’s not currently available and will be in the future.
Lastly, the Infinite part of the title is certainly true to form, as the level builder that comes with the game is quite well handled. It’s pretty simple to select everything you need to make your very own course within one of the three currently available scenarios, and I’ve already seen people put serious pen to paper and come up with some creative and brilliant designs (and some that are just smash-the-controller hard). Grabbing new courses is even easier, and a running tally lets you know how many have been made and uploaded (4012 and counting at the time of this article). I have no idea if those are exclusively from the Switch crowd or if cross-console love is at work, but I’m blown away by the community’s support of this game already. Even if you’re not totally impressed with what’s given to you on the set menu, these fan made adventures are pretty spectacular.
Infinite Minigolf isn’t perfect, at least not at the current time. The broken online multiplayer is a big issue (though it’s been recognized by the team) and the controls are too sensitive to get through a long play session. But it’s cute, and it’s a great realization of a simple concept on a huge scale. The success of the initial launch could very well translate into new scenarios for future courses, and this could become a runaway hit if the fan designs continue to have some Mario Maker caliber behind them. If you’re not a golf person, Infinite Minigolf may not necessarily persuade you to hit the links. But, if you have any interest at all in short round fun, then grab your putter and your best cargo shorts, because you can swing the night away right from the comfort of your won home.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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