3-D Ultra Minigolf
In contrast to the huge array of professional golf simulations, which now emphasize photo-realistic courses and accurate replications of every facet of driving and putting, the much smaller set of miniature golf computer games have always focused on a real sense of fun. With names like Zany Golf, , and , these predecessors to 3-D Ultra Minigolf often ignored realism and rules of physics in favor of exaggerated, frenzied, and humorous courses.
3-D Ultra Minigolf deviates from this trend in computerized miniature golf games in trying to provide much greater detail and adherence to the laws of physics. The result, however, appears to me a relatively bare-bones "no-frills" approach to miniature golf, containing a look reminiscent of the fifties that lacks the innovative wackiness I have come to love in this genre of game.
The gameplay is both intuitive and straightforward, with lots of options. Unfortunately, it is not what one could call thrilling or exhilarating. There are two nine-hole courses, with the first containing more conventional and easier holes and the second more unconventional and tougher holes. One can play in normal mode, where one proceeds through the holes sequentially; hole-by-hole mode, where one can chose to play any hole one wants; or race mode, where one must beat the clock as well as minimize strokes to win. You can choose between two putting methods-easy putt and true putt-to propel the ball; I prefer the true putt method, where you actually pull back a putter and control the ball speed by how quickly you push it forward. I really enjoyed putting in this game, and found the mouse to be the perfect input device for it. Up to four players can compete at a time, and over the summer Sierra plans to release a patch to permit a multi-player network mode.
The graphics are nicely rendered and colorful, but they do not contain exceptional nuance or visual surprise. There are some frustrations here, as for example on the Fort Overlook hole you can see a beautiful pirate ship in the distance, but no matter where you putt the ball you cannot get a closer view.
The most serious shortcoming with the whole game is the scarcity of animations in most of the holes. For example, in the Neptune's Kingdom underwater hole, the only moving object affecting game play is a single slow octopus tentacle; and in the Rocket hole, there is no blast off (as other miniature golf games include) once the ball is in the hole. The incredible conservatism in the hole design resembles real miniature golf courses, where the key is traditionally minimizing strokes rather than dealing with lots of moving objects, but it sure would seem that a state-of-the-art computerized miniature golf game would be chock full of innovative animations of this type. The net effect is that many of the holes are not very original and not much of a challenge, accurately reflected by the frequency of "par two" holes.
The music, although nicely tuned in many cases to the theme of some of the holes, is generally of the easy listening genre reminiscent of the "Muzak" heard in elevators. This style did not thrill me, to say the least. The sound effects are clear, but there is nothing new here, and they seem muted compared to the boisterousness one might expect (for example, after one gets the ball in the hole, the main sound effect is polite quiet clapping). The digital voices describing the standard par and the strategy on each hole are colorful, but they are often not easy to hear over the music at the default volume settings.
Minimum Requirements: 486-66 CPU, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, a video board capable of supporting 640 by 480 pixels with 256 colors, a sound board, and Windows 95 or 3.1 operating system.
The documentation largely consists of the usual skimpy jewel case manual, in this case containing only installation instructions and black-and-white photographs of the eighteen miniature golf holes. There is also a single score card included, presumably on the assumption that most people will photocopy it for repeated use. There is an excellent rule book in the form of a help file, but it would have been more useful to have this in hard copy form.
When stacked up to Sierra's other games in the 3-D Ultra series (especially the superb 3-D Ultra Pinball: Creep Night), 3-D Ultra Minigolf pales by comparison. While the earlier offerings in the series broke new ground by offering state-of-the-art graphics, incredibly diverse animations, and startlingly novel gameplay, this miniature golf game is simply extremely competent. If you love miniature golf or want to play an action game that has a really laid back and relaxed atmosphere, this one is for you, but otherwise you might well wait for the next in this promising series.