The golfing game that is part of the Wii Sports disc that comes with every new Wii (at least in North America) isn't a particularly good representation of the sport, and it only has nine holes. But it is kind of fun in a "tech-demo" sort of way, and if nothing else, it leaves you craving a more fleshed-out golf game. And now, just weeks after the system's launch, that game has arrived in the form of Super Swing Golf, an entertaining and extremely quirky, albeit sometimes frustrating, golf game from Tecmo.
Super Swing Golf is based on the popular (and free) online PC golf game known as Albatross 18 in North America and PangYa to most of the rest of the world. The two games are identical in many ways, though Super Swing is a strictly offline affair. There are several different modes of play, including stroke and match play tournaments, as well as a training area where you can learn and practice the basics. Up to four people can share one controller and play against each other in basic stroke or match play. That's all well and good, but the best multiplayer game is called balloon bash. This plays like any other round of golf, except for the giant balloons in the air and strewn about the ground. Your goal is to not only finish the hole in the fewest amount of strokes, but to also pop as many balloons as you can along the way. Because you can mess with your opponent by activating "party goods" such as a graffiti crayon that can write on the screen or a "wind god" fan that creates wind when you move the remote up and down, each person will need his or her own controller to play. Balloon bash is a lot of fun, but it's a shame that you can't play against the CPU or eschew the party goods so you could play against other human players and share one controller.
Most of your time will be spent playing Pangya Festa, which is the game's single-player story mode. Many years ago, Pangya Island fell victim to an evil force field that surrounded the island and began draining all of nature's energy away. The island's residents came up with a plan to rid themselves of this menace by concentrating the spirit of all living things into a ball called the Mystical Phoenix Ball and then shooting it into a hole in the force field using a stick called the Air Lance. A nameless warrior from another world used the stick to hit the ball into the hole, and now, many years later, the island commemorates the historic event with a symbolic festival where they play the game of Pangya, also known as golf. You'll start the game as a young boy named Scout, who was invited to the island and given the opportunity to win the Pangya championship. Along with the help of your caddie, a feisty girl named Pipin (who can freely travel between time and space, in case you were wondering), you'll take on an eclectic cast of characters such as Max, a tennis star who wants to become a fighter pilot, and Kooh, a little girl who also happens to be the captain of a pirate ship. Short cutscenes feature the golfers and their caddies engaging in some nonsensical banter before and after each round. The story's obviously not meant to be taken seriously, and it works on some levels, but sometimes it's a little too bizarre for its own good.
Super Swing can be played in one of two ways: by swinging the Wii Remote like a golf club, or by simply hitting the ball with timed button presses. To swing the club using the remote as a club, you stand as you would if you were preparing to address the ball in real golf. You start your swing by moving the remote back, and when you've reached the desired level of power, which is displayed on a meter at the bottom of the screen, you hold the A button and swing forward. You'll want to keep the remote straight as you swing through where the ball would be, because having the remote turned in or out has the same effect as having your club face open or closed in real golf--you'll slice or hook the ball. You do need to keep your head up a bit to see when you've achieved full power, which can sometimes cause you to not hit the ball quite straight; but for the most part, using the remote as a golf club works surprisingly well and you really feel as if you're hitting a ball. Putting is performed in the same manner as a regular swing, which doesn't quite replicate a real putting stroke, but it works.
Unfortunately, there are several things that will likely cause you to prefer to swing using the remote's buttons, rather than using the motion-sensing controls all of the time. Swinging the remote is plenty accurate when playing against friends, but it's just not precise enough when taking on some of the more challenging CPU-controlled golfers. When you've got 45 minutes invested in a round, you don't want to lose because the game registered your shot at 15.9 yards when you needed 16.0 for the putt to drop. Despite its many similarities to the fast-paced Hot Shots Golf series, Super Swing is extremely slow paced. You can't fast-forward through your opponents' turn, much less skip the entire thing, which makes for some very long matches. Moving the camera, adjusting your aim, and just getting to the point where you're ready to hit the ball is cumbersome because you've got to move the pointer around onscreen, and hold odd button combinations. If you think you've got your shot lined up and then change your mind just before starting your swing, you've got to stand up and go through the whole process again. To be fair, it's not much simpler when you're using the buttons to control your swing, since you've still got to point to do everything else--but at least you're not constantly standing, crouching, swinging, and then standing while your opponent swings, for hours on end.
The game features a number of fantasy courses that are well designed and reminiscent of those found in Hot Shots Golf. Day or night, snow or desert, mountains or lagoons--there's plenty of variety to be found to the courses. Some of them are quite difficult by design, but even the easier courses provide ample opportunities for you to challenge yourself with creative shot making. There are often tempting shortcuts surrounded by hazards, and there are also many objects that you can ricochet the ball off of to get to the green faster. For example, you might choose to hit the side of a lighthouse to get the ball to bounce toward the pin at an angle that would otherwise be impossible, or you might want to hit the sloping base of a volcano to give your ball some extra roll. Super Swing rewards great shots, but it's very punishing when you're anything less than near-perfect. The ball tends to roll extremely fast, whether it's on ice, the fairway, the rough, or the green, so it's easy to zoom right past your intended landing area. You also never know exactly how far a ball will travel. Sometimes the ball will travel one distance, and the next time it will go 10 yards further when hit the same way with similar course conditions. This presents a big problem when so many landing areas are surrounded by out-of-bounds markers, on the edges of cliffs, or near water.
And then there's the game's putting, which can be maddening because you'll need to sink nearly every putt on the first try to beat the often-cheap CPU, which can go from shooting a 10 on one hole to chipping in from off the green on the next two. Like in most other golf games, a grid is placed over the green, but the traditional dots that move along the grid to show its slope are replaced with stationary dots that are inside the grid's squares. The dot's location is meant to tell you whether the green slopes to the left or right, and if it's uphill or downhill to the cup. But it's tough to see all of the dots on the green for long putts because of the game's low resolution. It takes a while to learn exactly how you need to adjust your putt based on the slope, but while you may eventually become proficient, you'll still miss some easy putts. You're constantly being told that putts that look 12 to 15 feet away are closer to 30 feet, because the game's sense of scale is way off. If the distances the game gives you were accurate, your character (a scrawny young boy) would be about 10 feet tall. To top things off, because your power meter is constantly changing size based on the length of your putts, it's hard to figure out how much power you need to add to a putt that's going uphill, or how much to take off of a downhill putt. The game's pretty unforgiving when it comes to what putts will and won't go in, so you're in for a lot of heartbreak before you come to grips with the putting system.
At this point it may sound like Super Swing is a bad game, but it's really more frustrating than it is bad, and you'll probably have fun if you're not the type that gets frustrated easily. The courses are creative, and the characters, while goofy, are interesting. Where else will you encounter a caddy named Dolfini (yep, she's a dolphin) that is so convinced that she'll one day be able to fly that she carries a parasol around to assist her for landing? It takes a long time to unlock new golfers, but in the meantime you can customize your existing golfer in a number of ways. There are lots of wacky costumes, new clubs, balls, accessories, and even hand-drawn artwork from the game's development that can all be purchased with pang, the in-game currency that you earn with good shots and by winning tournaments.
As you may have guessed by now, Super Swing's visuals have more in common with Hot Shots than they do with Tiger Woods. The character designs are certainly creative and have an anime-style look to them that fits the game's theme nicely. The courses are bright and colorful and are adorned with lots of nice little touches such as windmills, lighthouses, sailboats, volcanoes, snow, and even battleships. While there's nothing here that would seemingly push the Wii to its limits, the frame rate isn't always smooth, particularly when there are effects around the ball, or when the camera is moving. The game's presentation also suffers because of the drab, poorly designed (and poorly translated) menus that worked fine when they were on the PC, but are much less intuitive on the Wii. Other than the catchy music that plays during a round and in the menus, there's not much to the game's audio. Besides your caddy yelling "PangYa!" when you hit a perfect shot, there's no speech, which is a shame since it would have helped flesh out the characters' personalities.
There's a lot to like about Super Swing Golf. The courses are great, balloon pop is lots of fun, and the Pangya Festa story mode will keep you busy for weeks. While it's not ideal when playing against the computer, swinging the Wii Remote like a golf club works well, especially when playing with friends. Unfortunately, there are numerous issues that make the game significantly less enjoyable than it could have been. The gameplay is inconsistent, and quite often, frustrating; many people who have played the game on the PC will miss being able to play online; and in some cases, the game can be a little too quirky for its own good. It's likely to be the only golf game headed to the Wii for some time, and it's certainly better than Wii Sports Golf, so if you're really looking to hit the links on the Wii, this is your best bet.