EA has locked down the console golf game for years with its Tiger Woods powerhouse. With the official PGA license, a ton of features, near photorealistic environments and the big man himself, Tiger Woods PGA Tour comes out like clockwork every year, tempting gamers to plop down another $60 for what seems like last year’s title, only with a few extra bells and whistles. However, what about those console golf fans who just want to play the game? What options are available for those who simply don’t need dynamic weather, precision putting and official courses? Xbox 360 gamers have a choice, and it’s as close as the Indie Games section of the Xbox Marketplace: Avatar Golf.
Xbox 360 gamers are well aware of Avatars. Since they were unveiled in the Dashboard update last year, they’ve been customizing their online personas with hairstyles, clothes, and more recently props like lightsabers and remote control Warthogs. Those who have played 1 vs 100 have gotten used to seeing their avatars incorporated into game shows. Avatar Golf puts them on the golf course.
The game itself is reminiscent of Mario Golf. Swinging the club is a matter of employing the “three-click swing” method, where one press initiates a power bar, the next press determines the strength of the swing and the third determines its accuracy. Landing in the fairway allows the player to make their next shot with a reasonable degree of accuracy, assuming they can handle the three-click swing method. Landing in the rough or the sand hurts the strength of the next shot to a random degree, so players are never quite sure where they’re going to wind up on the next shot.
Putting in Avatar Golf again employs the three-click swing method, only there are two default putt settings, one for up to 25 feet and another for up to 50 feet. The power bar is just as speedy while putting as it is for when players drive off the tee, so players may be surprised at first when they overpower short putts. Once they get the hang of it, they might find the putting downright forgiving and start sinking 25-foot putts with ease. Pressing the Y button will display the contours of the green in shades of light and dark to allow players to read how their putts will break. However, don’t expect the super-realistic physics that has puts just dancing off the lip of holes like they do in Tiger Woods. If you get the ball reasonably close to the hole, it’ll go in. If it doesn’t, there’s no replay that shows you just how close you were, so just take another stroke and get it over with.
Avatar Golf won’t win awards for graphics. The holes are as graphically detailed as the avatars themselves: not much. Trees are static, no matter how strong the wind is. The holes are like three-dimensional planes suspended in air and surrounded by decorative art ranging from sunny days to cities to even outer space. Balls shot out of bounds actually fall farther than the “ground,” as if they had been shot off the edge of the world. And for some reason, the indicator that shows where your ball should land is represented by something that looks like a barber pole.
Avatar Golf approaches multiplayer in a novel way. If more than one player is playing on the same Xbox 360, they’ll play sequentially much like typical golf games. However, if they play online, every player plays at the same time. That means no waiting to make your shot while others make theirs. Everyone plays at their own pace.
Despite its rough edges, Avatar Golf has something great going for it: a price of $5, or 400 MS Points. For that price, Xbox golf fans will get gameplay that’s well worth the price, along with several golf courses and a golf course editor. Gamers will be able to let their inner golf course maker run wild and create holes as easy or as difficult as they’d like. When they’re done, they’ll be able to share their courses with their buddies online. If you don’t mind the stripped down graphics and gameplay, there’s still the essence of a great console golf game here. That, along with multiplayer online support, a robust editor and a screaming deal of a price point, make Avatar Golf a highly suggested title for all golf fans.