Thread: Mineshaft Pro Series Golf v1.39
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Mineshaft Pro Series Golf v1.39
Which is not to say that Pro Series Golf is perfect - far from it. Sometimes jerky animation, inexplicable pauses mid-swing, awkward shot changing and poor modelling of ball lies are blemishes which threaten to spoil the game. Luckily, there's one huge advance which outweighs all of the above - Pro Series Golf uses the N-Gage Arena to good effect, meaning that you can play against real people in real time even if they're on the other side of the world. Or, in Rafe's case, Sus***.
First impressions are great, as the game title screens look and sound very slick. Pro Series Golf works in portrait or either landscape mode, so it's easy to play the game in the way which suits you best. Interestingly, the number keypad is almost completely ignored, with the interface simplified to just the d-pad, plus '1' a couple of times per round, for the somewhat awkward procedure of changing your shot type (e.g. 'Chip' to 'Pitch'). The game's developer does admit that Mineshaft weren't able to put in all the things they wanted to - I'd have liked to see number keys mapped to applying ball spin, for example - something which isn't possible in this version of the game.
Game modes include '1' through to '4' player games, made up of mixtures of local humans and computer players, plus 'Career' and 'N-Gage Arena'. I played through several rounds on the opening course, trying to unlock the second course, to no avail - it turns out that you have to progress through stages of Career mode in order to unlock courses for general play. This is a bit of a hassle as the opening few challenges in Career mode involve multiple computer players and you have to have patience to sit through the animation of all their shots. A hotkey to bypass such animations would have been nice. Incidentally, the trial version gives you three full holes in 1-player mode - but this is fine for casual players and is in fact exactly the same slice of trial action that the famous EA's PGA Tour Golf used, back in the early 1990s - and which in turn inspired me to write the aforementioned Fairway - those parallels just keep on coming. But all game modes pale besides going online to play against others. Once you've tried online multiplayer gaming, it's hard to go back to pitting your wits against a mere computer. Previous N-Gage games have scurried around online play but Pro Series Golf hits this full-on. It's true there's no overall online ranking for ability or ladder system, but it proved very easy to arrange to meet a friend (e.g. Rafe) in a particular course's 'lobby' and set up an immediate online game. Latency was very short, less than a second, so there was little time wasted while waiting for your next turn. I missed any facility to send messages to the other player(s) - maybe this was something else left out for time/resource reasons. Rafe and I resorted to chatting on Skype while playing instead, by the way! One tip - don't challenge Rafe to a game without doing lots of practice first - he's quite good!
Online play. N-Gage integration is pretty slick and setting up a game was a piece of cake While waiting for a turn, a scrolling banner on the screen makes it clear that you don't need to do anything yet. And when your opponent strikes the ball, you see him or her in TV-style, taking the shot, followed (again) by a TV-style tracking shot or landing. And after each hole, you both see the scorecard, of course. There aren't any victory frills though - not even a 'You won' screen - another omission by the stretched developer?
'lfer's feet being chopped off by a hillock or 3D hidden-line-removal madness or a ball shown 6 feet under the surface of a lake. (As a programmer myself, I realise that these sort of things come with going down the whole virtual world route, and the glitches are relatively rare, thank goodness.) Less understandable are the occasional breakdowns of the ball perspective routines, causing the ball to appear over-sized and floating in the air over the grass...
Glitches, showing underwater, hidden-line problems, chopped off limbs One oddity which seems to have been planned in is that there's what I've been calling pin-capture, and it's only turned on when not putting. If you chip or pitch the ball in towards the flag and you get close enough (initial landing within a foot or so), pin capture leaps in and grabs the ball into the hole - a neat way of getting a few birdies and eagles on your card, even if it's not exactly realistic.
Pin capture works its magic yet again! And when you do get said birdies or eagles, there are no crowd samples of cheering or clapping, something which should surely have been easy to slip into the development cycle. Pro Series Golf takes up over 50MB of space on your memory card - you'd have hoped that there were a few crowd audio clips in there. You do get some looped music over menus, plus club swing and water plop sounds - and even a little birdsong if you leave the game alone for a while, but that's about it.
Enough of the problems - is Pro Series Golf worth Â£8?
Undoubtedly yes. Despite the holes (hah, a pun!) that I've been shooting in the game's design and implementation, Pro Series Golf is better than the majority of computer golf games I've seen in handheld format over the last 10 years. Even playing standalone it's worth buying. Titles like Tiger Woods 08 on the Wii have spoiled us really, but then the Wii title is Â£40 and has had far greater resources put into its development. As with any game, going online is where the fun really starts. You'll get a little jaded by playing computer players, but come up against a real, fallible, surprising human being and all of a sudden you're hooked. And excited. And challenged. I've a horrible feeling that AAS staff productivity is going to take a turn for the worse now that I can IM Rafe and say 'fancy a quick 9 holes at Pinehurst?' N-Gage Arena matches are easy to set up, can be password protected (useful for when the system gets popular in a few months time and there are possible gatecrashers to an arranged match) and you get to pick any of the built-in courses for '3', '9' or '18' holes. For the record, an 18 hole Arena match with Rafe took about an hour - 9 holes would be better for a quickie game with an online friend. Factoring in this working multiplayer facility, it's even easier to forgive Pro Series Golf's failings. If you have even a slight taste for golf, you'll enjoy the online challenge - run, don't walk and buy the game now. And I'll see you in one of the lobbies!
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