One of the most important things I’ve learned to do as a fan of video games is keep an open mind. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been unimpressed by a game’s concept or marketing, only to find myself having a surprising amount of fun once I’ve picked up the controller. Case in point for this review: having never really been a big fan of the real-life pastime of minigolf, I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much fun I had with Zen Studios’ take on the sport, Infinite Minigolf. While the principles behind the game are largely the same, there’s just enough “video game-ification” here to make things more exciting than your average trip to the amusement park — and the developers make great use of the sort of pick-up-and-play principles that make or break a project of this type.
When I say “pick-up-and-play principles,” I mean the ease of the average person to start playing and understand the game right away. Casual concepts like minigolf rarely lend themselves well to complex, dense mechanics (although I’d love to see someone successfully pull that off!), and so there should be relatively little time between picking up the controller and the satisfaction of getting feedback. Infinite Minigolf is about as simple as it gets with regard to the basic mechanics: you simply pull back on the analog stick to choose the power of your swing, indicated by an onscreen meter, then push it forward to follow through. With the central mechanic being so simple, it’s left up to the little wrinkles to make things more exciting — which is precisely the right way to do things.
Taking Advantage of the Medium
In this case, those little wrinkles are the “video game-ified” elements I alluded to earlier. The first of these are the point pickups and powerups littered throughout each course. The former add some incentive to replay courses to aim for the highest score, while the latter can create some truly wacky and wildly fun situations. Some are fairly basic: the spring pops your ball up in the air to leap over small obstacles, for example, while the magnet automatically draws it toward the hole. Others have the potential to create real challenge: the wings send your ball soaring into the air, then plummeting back to the ground when a) the meter runs out or b) when you use the additional “weight” powerup — and the combination of these elements can make timing a landing on a floating platform an exciting and difficult task. I also really enjoyed most courses that employed the controller powerup, which gives you the ability to take direct control of the ball for a short time.
The other difference that makes Infinite Minigolf more exciting than a trip to the course in real life is, naturally, the design of the courses themselves — which don’t deal with the limitations of silly things like physics. The developer-built courses, seen in Quick Play and Tournament mode, are generally the best at the time of this review; however, since the game will soon be available to people a lot more creative than me with regards to level design, I can see user-created levels getting a lot better in quality than they currently are (every third or fourth course seems to be a generic “straight path to the hole” one, probably put there by lazy folks trying to earn the achievement for sharing 10 courses). Either way, what’s important is that when courses are good, they’re really good, often encouraging multiple playthroughs to try to beat the other scores on the leaderboard.
The last “game-ified” element offered by Zen Studios’ take on the pastime is the overarching system of challenges and unlockable gear for your avatar. Sure, this isn’t exactly revolutionary given the prevalence of “achievements” in games today, but it provides a steady sense of progression and gives you some goals to go after as you enjoy yourself in the various modes. Things start fairly simple — playing three courses in a row with the same “theme” won’t exactly make you break a sweat — but get much more challenging as your avatar gains levels. As you gain levels and special currency, you’ll be able to unlock a steady stream of clothing and such for your customizable character. Again, it’s nothing totally new, but it offers just enough incentive and focus to make your time with the game feel more meaningful.
It’s the Little Things
I just want to briefly return to the concept of “pick-up-and-play” for a moment, because Infinite Minigolf does several things that might be taken for granted, but are completely essential to making the experience as surprisingly fun as it is. Among these is the aforementioned Quick Play mode, which allows you to play through an unlimited series of random courses — a fun and fast-loading little diversion to turn on when you’re waiting for something else to install or otherwise need to kill some time. I also have to express my appreciation for the options to instantly skip and restart courses, which make the user experience so much more convenient (I can’t believe the number of games in the modern era that continue to force you to fail a bad run without the ability to restart). As far as I’m concerned, it’s attention to little details like this that really make the difference between a fun casual experience and a frustrating one.
A Couple Complaints
I mentioned user-designed courses before, and yes, there is an Editor mode available if you’re inclined to torture people with your sadistic levels (they do have to be possible, though — the game forces you to successfully play through them before it lets you share). Personally, I gave up in frustration long before I built anything worth showing to others; Infinite Minigolf was originally released for PC, and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that using the course creation interface is a lot more fun and intuitive with a mouse and keyboard. Sure, the DualShock 4 is functional, but I constantly found myself mixing up which button and stick did what, and the onscreen reminders did little to rectify this. Trying to sort through all the different options was a cumbersome and tedious process, to say the least — others may get more mileage out of this mode, but I have little patience for such things.
If there’s another weakness Infinite Minigolf has, it’s the graphics, which are… passable, I guess. My biggest complaint is that Zen Studios seem to have designed all the various elements in the most generic way possible — there’s no real style to the customizable avatars or the three environments (which can be summed up as “Giant House,” “Halloween” and “Christmas,” respectively) in which the different courses exist. This makes for a pretty bland experience at best, and a cringe-inducing one at worst. I found myself instinctively slamming the cross button each time my avatar celebrated; I mean, these animations aren’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but the combination of uncanny visuals and awkward Zelda-style babbling certainly didn’t make me feel rewarded for getting a hole-in-one.
A Pleasant Surprise
Ultimately, though, my complaints are relatively small given the appeal of the whole package. As a casual pick-up-and-play experience, Zen Studios’ latest obviously isn’t going to set your world on fire, but it does what it does very well. The core mechanics are solid and contain just enough variation to keep things exciting, and the progression system provides just enough incentive to keep you busy across all the different modes. A little polish and pizazz on the visual front would have gone a long way here, but again, it’s good for what it is. If you’re looking for a fun take on the pastime, Infinite Minigolf is a pleasant, surprisingly addictive little game.
Infinite Minigolf review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.