Planet Minigolf, developed by Zen Studios and published by Sony, is an arcade minigolf game for the PlayStation Network. Zen, makers of 2009's Zen Pinball, have demonstrated with their past projects that they know how to foster community. Zen Pinball was praised for its numerous multiplayer features and comprehensive online. Thankfully, the same case is true for Planet Minigolf, which features up to six player online, a level creation system akin to LittleBigPlanet, weekly tournaments and more. Unfortunately, all of these features lose considerable value due to poor controls, generally half-assed presentation and an overall lack of feedback for the player.
Planet Minigolf presents the player with three control schemes from the outset - easy, three click, and direct. Easy is a streamlined system that only requires the player to click once to determine the power of their shot. From there the ball will pretty much head in a straight line. Three click takes off some of the training wheels, adding an accuracy gauge into the mix. Finally, Direct changes things up by replacing the button pressing actions with a swinging motion on the left analog stick.
Having the ability to choose from a variety of control schemes is nice, however, none of them work particularly well. It takes quite some time before players will feel remotely in control of their shot's strength as certain design choices make the learning curve steep initially. The main culprit being the sensitive button press system which alters the power of a shot. For example, lightly pressing the X button will cause the gauge to move slowly, whereas a quick, heavy press will have the opposite effect. More than anything, this system seems completely unnecessary and it just made it difficult to get into a rhythm. The Direct control scheme also feels overly sensitive and frustrating, especially considering the lighthearted nature Planet Minigolf presents.
One problem that's consistent across all three options is the lack of feedback Planet Minigolf provides the player. Unlike other golf games where distance and other course information are easily conveyed to help predict a shot's path, Planet Minigolf turns the whole thing into a guessing game. There's no real way of knowing where the ball will end up, leading to a great deal of trial and error. This quickly gets frustrating as the par requirements for even the introductory courses are very low. The game's design forces the player to experiment, but the progression requirements don't reflect this at all, which doesn't make for an enjoyable time.
To Planet Minigolf's credit, there's substantial replay value and content to check out. If players push past the initial frustration, they'll get a good bang for their buck. There's a level creation and publishing system along the lines of Sony's "Play. Create. Share." titles, a long single player campaign and numerous multiplayer options. Creation in Planet Minigolf is very fully featured, allowing players to share, rate, browse, and organize levels online as they see fit. Getting into it is relatively easy as designing a single hole isn't overwhelming and the tools are fairly straightforward. Being able to constantly experience new courses really gives the game lasting appeal.
In terms of presentation, Planet Minigolf is all over the map. The visuals are competent but easily forgettable, the text based tutorials aren't very engaging, and the announcer is just bizarre. It seems as though the developers were trying to create a wacky world for players to explore, but it comes off as very uninspired. For instance, the announcer serves no real purpose, occasionally making obvious statements and attempts at humor that fall flat. The soundtrack mostly consists of forgettable soft pop/punk tunes. Overall, it's a bland package.
Ultimately, Planet Minigolf is a mixed bag. The core gameplay isn't particularly strong, feeling a little too frustrating for its subject matter. The game's design requires trial and error, which directly clashes with the challenging progression requirements. However, those who do enjoy it will have plenty of content to occupy their time as the game posses a long single player campaign, various multiplayer options, and user-generated content.