Taking a swing for the better

Hole in One logo

THERE are two ways to write a golf game. The first is to spend every last ounce of programmer effort to produce a simulation that is as close to the real thing as the machine allows. This can produce some spectacular results. But for those who think that golf is about as much fun as Antarctic nude jogging, there's not a lot to recommend it.

The second is to take the basic idea - hitting a small ball towards a slightly larger hole - and just have fun with it. This is what Hole-In-One Miniature Golf does.

It should take anyone with half a brain and one finger about 10 seconds to get to grips with the mechanics of Hole-In-One. The playing screen is a view of the green from above. There's a small white rectangle where your ball is placed with an initial click on the mouse, and a small black hole into which that ball has to be propelled.

Once the ball has been placed, moving the mouse away draws a line. The length of the line shows the strength with which you'll hit the ball, it's direction indicates where the ball will go. Press the mouse button and the ball flies off hopefully to the end of the hole.

From such a simple basis, Digitek contrives to give a game with as much skill, subtlety and frustration as anything with a plot 10 yards long. For starters, the holes can have bumps and dips, like a normal golf course, represented by different shards of green. Some care has been taken to get the normal laws of physics right. With skill and judgement the ball can bounce and curve as it would in real life. Practice or a lucky shot can get the hole-in-one, where a digitised crowd sighs in an impressively impressed way.

Half-way through the tutorial course you get the impression that Digitek is admirably perverse. Slowly, features are added - sand, water, moving barriers - that make the shots more tricky and the hole-in-one less likely.

The skill with which each new obstacle is introduced in the tutorial is finely judged. Towards the end, each new hole generates a feeling of "But that's impossible" followed by the pleasurable sensation of spotting a shot that might just work.

There are lots of courses, each with a theme illustrated by pictures and the appropriate fiendishly testing gadgets littering the holes. The game comes with two course discs - the simple ones are merely designed to be tricky, the complex ones start to fiddle with the laws of gravity, logic and eventually your sanity. But each new torture is solvable.

This, combined with the very simple user interface, makes Hole-In-One a paragon of addiction.

Mini Golf logo

Gremlin, C64 £9.99 cassette, £14.99 disk; Amiga £19.99

Isn't it funny how, whenever you play crazy golf, most of the people playing aren't children? And they never seem to feel ridiculous about walking along little tracks hitting golf balls through plastic windmills.

Now here is a computer game that should appeal to just those kind of people. Mini Golf is a simulation of the miniature sport to be found at holiday resorts everywhere. Up to four players can take part over a set of eighteen holes. Just to be awkward, drainpipes, windmills, bridges and ramps, all viewed from overhead, are dotted all over them.

You start off by placing your ball on the white starting pad. Next, aim your shot by moving an extendable line to indicate power and direction of the putt. But beware! Hitting the ball too hard at the hole causes it to skip over, so the power line is useful. Take too many strokes on any hole, and you're slung off and given a penalty.

On the Amiga version, you have the choice of playing either Beginner or Expert level, the former being the standard eighteen holes viewed from overhead (as on the 64) and the Expert level taking place on a more 'surreal' set of holes, ranging from dragon and castle scapes to a giant businessman's desk(?).

At the end of the game the scores are added and displayed on a scorecard. That's when you declare the winner and starting beating up your mates.

Gordon Houghton I played the 64 version of this first and thought it was a rather good game with some nice touches (such as the pixellated screen changing effect) so the improved graphics of the Amiga version were initially pleasing. However, when it cam to playing the higher stages I found it almost impossible to tell where the hell the ball was going. Why not come up with some more devious holes instead of just being confusing - because the play system of the 64 version and the first level of the Amiga version is great. My advice is to try this out first - you may be disappointed.
Kati Hamza I like playing mini golf - in fact, on holiday, I go out of my way to force everybody I know to play it! On first sight, both versions of Gremlin's Mini Golf seem to be well designed and implemented simulations, with an easy aiming method, clear layout and varied hole design. Thing is, on completing the easy level on the Amiga, moving onto the second set of holes proves to be a strange experience (woo-ee-oo). Most of the action takes place in a peculiar pseudo-3D environment, which just doesn't work like proper 3D and is more confusing than anything I've ever seen. Shame really, 'cos if the 2D's anything to go by, it could have been great.
Maff Evans Some of my greatest holiday memories are of playing mini golf whilst severely under the influence, so playing this game fully alert was quite an experience. Imagine my surprise when the 3D effect of the expert level seems as though the player's drunk anyway! The graphics may be very nice, but what difference does that make when you can't tell which way's up or down? This is a pity since the Beginner level is extremely playable, especially with friends.
Zzap's Back: Fore! Front: Fore wot? Back: Elephant's! Zzap's Rockford: Care for a round, Sir Dennis? Thing: Not now, Terry!