Thursday, February 02, 2006

True Swing Golf

Late start today because my stomach is having a revolution and declared itself the independent nation of Freedonia.

I've picked up a few Nintendo DS games in the last three months. All of them have been fun for about thirty minutes, but the endless screen tapping through dialogue and/or repetitive gameplay generally kills my interest shortly after that. So all the DS games I've played have been like little bags of potato chips.

Last week, totally on impulse, I picked up True Swing Golf. I think I've played just about every golf game that's come out in the last twenty years. It started with Leader Board on the Amiga and Mean 18 on the Apple IIGS (it was why I bought the IIGS). Actually, it goes all the way back to the second computer game I ever played--St. Andrews: The Home of Golf (I think that's right). It featured an overhead perspective and one little square pixel moving across the screen after you swung.

And it was fun.

So I started playing True Swing Golf. After about an hour, when my tee shot had "thudded" onto the fairway for the hundredth time, it hit me: I recognized that sound effect.

There was a very crappy golf game on the 3DO called Pebble Beach Golf Links, which was released in 1995. I say it was crappy because, among other reasons, the sound of the ball landing on the fairway was closer to something being dropped on the floor. In golf games, that's a big deal, because it constantly reinforces the artificial nature of the world.

The developer of Pebble Beach Golf Links was T & E Soft. The developer of True Swing Golf?
T & E Soft. So like a ghost from the past, a ten year old sound effect had returned. And I'm pretty sure that large amounts of code returned as well.

Here's the odd part, though: that sound effect doesn't bother me at all on the DS. My expectations are much lower. And the game itself is a blast. On the bottom screen, the course is represented in a traditional top-down perspective. On the top screen, though, it's in 3D. For some reason, seeing both views at the same time feels exactly right. The courses themselves are extremely well designed. The sound effects, particularly the gallery, are excellent. Electronic Arts STILL can't put in correct sound effects from a gallery after year upon year of Tiger Woods titles--the gallery still reacts inappropriately or at the wrong time. This little game, though, has it figured out.

Putting is nothing short of phenomenal. At the higher difficulty levels, the contour of the greens is nothing short of beautiful in terms of design. And putting with the stylus feels perfect.

Here's the strange thing, though: it's almost impossible to mishit a shot. Using the stylus on a regular shot always seems to result in a nearly straight outcome, no matter if you're contacting the center of the ball or not. That sounds like an absolute deal breaker, and it should be, but course management, even with straight shots, is very challenging, and I can't seem to stop playing. The effects of lie and slope are almost flawless, and in particular, it models shots to uphill greens better than any golf game I've ever played.

So it has one gigantic flaw and a ton of other features that are done exceedingly well. And it's great fun to turn on the DS and play golf in bed until I get tired. If they had modeled the swing correctly, it would be one of the best golf games I've ever played. Even as is, it's extremely entertaining.

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