Back in the days of my childhood, pinball machines were the only electronic entertainment available besides television. Not surprisingly, I couldn't play enough of them. I lived for that metal-on-hardwood "knocker" sound that indicated an extra ball.
And when I wasn't playing pinball, miniature golf was a close second on my list of favorite activities. Knowing that, it shouldn't be surprising to learn about the enjoyment I had with this next game: a 3D miniature golf game that does a very respectable job at recreating one of my favorite childhood pasttimes.
Pow Pow's Mini-Golf is an impressive Shockwave 3D implementation of classic miniature golf gameplay that runs in any browser. The game even features RPG-like elements with saved character stats that can be 'leveled-up' with experience points.
Two different character avatars are available: Pow Pow and his girlfriend, Mai Mei, as well as an array of game play options that let you tailor the experience to your liking. For example, the main menu offers Single Player, 2 Player, or Online modes of play.
Single player allows you to play by yourself in Solo mode, or against the CPU. 2 Player allows you to play against another person at the same computer; and Online play let's you chat with and play against anyone else currently online anywhere in the world.
For each mode, there are two different gameplay options: Stroke or Match play. Stroke is the most common way to play golf in which the player with the fewest strokes after all holes are played is the winner. Match play awards each hole to the player with the fewest strokes, with the winner of the game being the player who earns the most holes. You may also choose to play the front nine (9), the back nine (9), or all eighteen (18) holes in the game.
Playing the game is relatively easy once all of that is out of the way, though there are a number of controls to become familiar with. When a game begins, and following the completion of each hole, you must actually move your avatar to the next hole. Simply click anywhere on the ground to have your avatar move there. Once you get close enough to the beginning of the next hole, a sign indicating where to click will become visible.
Once your avatar is positioned and ready to line up for your next shot, there are four (4) interface controls available to you: View, Angle, Visualize Shot, and Putt.
View: Clicking on the arrows of "View" allow you to rotate the camera around your avatar to get a preferred perspective of the hole. Alternatively, you may press the [left] and [right] arrow keys to rotate the camera.
Angle: Clicking on the arrows of "Angle" allow you to control the angle, or direction, of your putt. The game will automatically align your angle towards the hole, but it is not always the best angle of choice for each shot; so, you will need to use this control often to get the best shot possible.
Visualize Shot: Clicking on the large white sphere will produce a trail of dots that represent the projected path the ball will travel. Use this to help line up those tricky shots.
Putt: Once you are ready to putt, clicking on the putter will bring up the power guage. Click once more to select the desired strength with which to hit the ball; and then once more to determine the shot accuracy. For accuracy, try to get stop the arrow when it is directly in the center for the best shot possible.
If not playing Solo mode, you will alternate turns with your opponent. Each time it is your turn, you must first click on your ball before your avatar will get into putting position.
Analysis: The game is rich with features that allow for a great variety of play options. Thankfully, the most common options are set by default making it relatively quick and easy to start a new game, apart from the rather long download time required. The graphics and interfaces are polished and appealing and represent one of the best Shockwave 3D game implementations I have seen. The concept of accumulating experience points to upgrade your character is a welcome addition that increases the depth of the game.
On the downside, there's only one course available to play. Yes, it is a free game, and so it's easy to look past this weakness. Also, I found that playing against the CPU was a bit frustrating due to the amount of time required for it to take its turn: The initial long pause once positioned; the little 'wiggle' to establish the correct angle; and even the dialog between the two characters became annoying rather quickly. An option to speed up the CPU and disable dialog would be a welcome option in the games settings.
Another option that is lacking is a music-off switch separate from the sound effects. This should be a standard feature of just about every game with sound.
Also, it was not clear to me how to save my character for play at another time. A "Load" button appears on the character select screen, but clicking it didn't do anything that I could tell. The absence of a companion "Save" button only adds to the mystery.
More feedback should be available to the players during the game regarding the number of strokes taken and the par for the course. Although a minor gripe, I often found myself wondering how many shots I had already taken.
Some holes have moving parts that require precise timing to get past them. Unfortunately, timing a shot with the interface provided in this game is next to impossible, thereby leaving it all to chance. On the other hand, there's always a way around.
Even with these minor issues, Pow Pow's Mini-Golf is a delightful 3D miniature golf experience in the convenience of your browser. Slightly cumbersome and yet feature-rich with enough options to appease any mini-golfer. Add to that an online mode to play against anyone anywhere in the world, and what you have is an excellent casual Web game offering from Out of the Box Software of Oceanside, California. Click.