A Dream Within a Dream
One of the great things about miniature golf is its ability to capture the imagination by introducing all kinds of fantastical set pieces. Unlike the professional sport, miniature golf is all about fun visuals, trick shots, and crazy scenarios. Castle portcullises open and shut, windmill blades rotate realistically, and big loops spin the ball upside down like Sonic the Hedgehog. There are tons of inventive miniature golf courses in the world, but they’re restricted by budget, logistics, and physical properties. No such limits exist in the world of video games. With a little imagination, a video game based around miniature golf could be great!
Vertiginous Golf interprets the sport of miniature golf in a way that is certainly unique. The game takes place amid a dystopian steampunk world where golf is played virtually by using a device known as the Verti-Sphere. As players putt their way through the story mode, records are collected that reveal details about the game’s world and its dark secrets. It’s an unusual spin, and novel though it is, it doesn’t really work because the story is very exposition heavy and filled with cryptic voice logs. Sadly, the game’s story is far from its worst problem.
Each of the game’s 54 holes take place on an isolated track that is suspended in the sky. Obstacles are scattered across each course, and include objects such as fans, ramps, and spinning platforms. As you would expect, your goal is to navigate each obstacle and guide your ball to the hole.
The putting controls are simple, allowing players to aim horizontally before each shot, and then adjust stroke power by charging up a meter. When the button is released, the player swings the club in a straight line. Shot trajectory is modified by the peaks and valleys of the terrain, and the ball can be banked off of various surfaces to accomplish tricky shots. There’s a lot of guess work that goes into determining how far a shot will travel, as there’s no way to set a target, nor does the game predict how far the ball will go. In some modes, you also have a chipper club that allows you to drive the ball through the air. Functionally, this is even worse, since there’s no trajectory indicator, and it’s easy to clank the ball off of high surfaces by accident.
Many of these problems can be shrugged away as growing pains, and as you get used to your club’s nuances, you get better, and the game in turn functions better. When you learn how to make a tricky shot, it’s a joy to watch the ball bounce back and forth between surfaces, and then gently roll toward the hole. When the game works, it’s like watching an ingenious Rube Goldberg machine.
Unfortunately, the game only works when you’re successful, and success requires memorization and guesswork, particularly on advanced holes. Missing a few shots critically exposes Vertiginous Golf’s haphazard level design. It’s far too easy to get your ball stuck behind camera-blocking walls or get it tucked into distant corners and alleys that you have to tap your way out of. Later holes are so long and complex that you can actually get lost, and you’ll need to study the course to figure out where you’re supposed to go. Wonky physics and inconsistent hazards also come into play, making for a cheap and aggravating experience. There’s a rewind feature that lets you replay strokes occasionally, but if the game was well designed in the first place, a cheat device like that wouldn’t be necessary.
Perhaps the worst part of the game’s design falls on its dull, generic appearance. Even though there are a lot of hazards to work through, such as conveyor belts and rotating objects, none of them are interesting or visually inventive. Get ready to trade your castles and windmills in for triangles and hexagons. Every hole looks like it’s made out of tiles or pieced together from an editor. Nothing’s handmade or customized, and ultimately it all looks the same.
Issues with the presentation bleed into the sound and menu design, as well. The soundtrack is composed of admittedly beautiful piano music, but it’s subdued, repetitive, and kind of depressing, persisting between every menu and mode. It doesn’t fit the gameplay in the least, sounding instead like something you’d hear at an art gallery. The main menu is obtuse and unintuitive, with several different modes of play tucked within cryptically named sub-menus. When you select a mode of play, you have to leave the menu, hit a play button, and then walk your avatar over to a chair and sit down. It’s such an odd, slow process, as if the developers were trying to be clever, but ultimately outsmarted themselves.
On the plus side, Vertiginous Golf has a robust list of options, including a number of modes which alter the rules and allow for local and online multiplayer. On the driving range, you shoot for high scores, attempting to collect golden eggs and get your ball as close to the hole as possible. In race mode, you traverse lengthy tracks, dodging obstacles and zipping over hills and ramps. There’s a creation center, customizable characters, and new clubs to purchase. These features would add commendable variety to a better game but do little to enhance a package that’s already so flawed at its core.
Vertiginous Golf fails to bring its unique concepts together while presenting a thoroughly underwhelming game of miniature golf. It’s a frustrating mish-mash of ideas, too complex to provide arcade-like fun, but too simple and poorly designed to have value as a sim. Skip Vertiginous Golf and play a round at your local putt-putt course instead. It will cost you about half as much and provide you with a lot more fun.