"It's only a golf game. It's only a golf game." Keeps chanting that, because prolonged exposure to T&E Soft's Swing Away Golf will make your friends think you have gone off the deep end. With a development team populated by the same folks who created Hot Shots Golf, the game features more of what golf fans have come to expect: more courses, more clubs, more match types, more upgrades, and more secrets than you can shake a club at.
Seconds after powering up the game, you have access to your choice of seven golfers and a few basic play options: tutorial, one on one stroke play, and tournament play. You can view your trophies, clubs, and prize winnings also, but without earning a few accoutrements, these menu items are better left for future perusal. With the depth of gameplay in Swing Away Golf, sitting through the tutorial is a good idea. You'll have to master club choice, stance, aiming, putting, pitching, wind resistance, slice, and a litany of other golf nuances. The most important of these facets has to do with the swing meter, a curvy dial of devastation that replaces Hot Shots' stripe indicator. Links and PGA players will know it well. For power, press the button to increase the meter along the dial and press again to stop on the desired distance level. For accuracy, let the meter fall and press the button when it's in one of the curve's three zones. If you're too early, the shot will land a few yards short. If you're too late, the shot will overshoot the suggested mark or die mere yards from where you stand. Though the prospect of gaining such knowledge is daunting, the developers of Swing Away Golf have encased the game with plenty of quirky characters and interwoven plot points. It is the unspoken successor to Hot Shots 2 after all, so it has to be somewhat entertaining.
Initially, the difficulty level seems high, but after an hour or so, the learning curve drops greatly - especially due to your ability to power-up your player. A few minor qualms exist with the difficulty of driving the ball, but the importance of this will vary from person to person. Deepening the game's replay value, success in competition modes can unlock a variety of secrets, such as new clubs, hidden players, more courses, skill points, and extra game modes. Furthermore, since all ten of the game's characters vary in innate skills and personalities, there's even an incentive to try out every golfer. Combine this with four-player capability, a random course generator, and comprehensive month-by-month stat tracking, and Swing Away Golf might be the best semi-simulation of golf ever executed. Visually, Swing Away Golf makes ample use of the PS2's graphical capabilities. Ponds and water hazards undulate and ripple as if the wind were really affecting them. Leaves and trees blow softly, while the flag on the pin sways ever so slightly in the breeze. Though the cut of the grass and location of tree hazards are present on the course map, the game's sheer graphical crispness makes them visible from the play screen as well. For a closer look, the dual shock analog sticks allow real-time panning and zooming across the course. The game's visuals even enhance the gameplay, as the putting graph adds a high level of control vs. Hot Shots 2's lackluster putting experience. Wrapping it up, the super-deformed character models are well drawn and amusingly animated, and they flow as freely as 60 frames per second allows. While no single graphical nuance is strikingly impressive, the game's overall production values are exceptional.
Truthfully, it almost feels traitorous to find a drawback to any aspect of Swing Away Golf, but if there is a complaint to be found, it's in the sound. Background music is fittingly serene, but there's just not enough variety to it. Sure, each mode has a couple background tunes, but considering that your average golf match takes around 30 minutes, any single song gets old quickly. On the other hand, sound effects are plentiful, crisp, and dripping with quality. From the unmistakable sound of graphite clubs striking a golf ball to the ball rattling in the tin cup, Swing Away Golf is a foley lover's treat. Additionally, the game also features a good hour or two of digitized speech, mainly from your caddie and the various opponents you'll encounter. Indeed, few moments go by when you're not either being complimented or razzed by someone.
All totaled, Swing Away Golf is a game whose features and execution could barely be explained by a book, let alone by a review. T&E Soft has delivered a winner of a game for both golf fanatics and casual gamers alike. Though it couldn't hurt, becoming a pro isn't required in Swing Away Golf, and, as such, access to the game's quirky cast and various play modes is available to most audiences. For many, golf is boring and lacking in entertainment value. Swing Away Golf, though, is both exciting and entertaining, while at the same time it doesn't rob gamers of a decent simulation experience.