November 14, 2006 - From its announcement in early September, we had a feeling that Sega Golf Club would be one of the PS3 launch's throw-away titles. The PS3 version appeared to resemble its Chihiro (that's the Xbox arcade board) counterpart, only running in high definition, something that's even more apparent now that we've actually played it. The game's menus even use borders to fake wide screen!
We should've known to trust Sega's arcade expertise a bit more. While Sega Golf Club is indeed the ugliest thing at the PlayStation 3's Japanese launch, it, like its arcade counterpart, is also an enjoyable game of digital golf.
The arcade version of the title is known for a unique swing controller, where you flip a lever back to select your power, then release when an on-screen marker reaches a hot spot. The PS3 version replicates this with the right analogue stick. You tilt the stick to select your power. A power meter indicates the power that you've selected, so you can make fine adjustments before releasing. A bar cycles right and left on top of the power meter. When it reaches the middle, you release the stick and your character swings away. Swinging is a bit more involved than in a certain other golf game that we'd been expecting at the PS3's launch, but after a bit of fiddling, you should get the "swing" of things.
On top of the swing controls, you have a variety of options that affect your shot. You can adjust your aim by turning your character left and right. You can select between wood, iron, wedge and putter clubs, although the game chooses this for you automatically if you don't want to worry about the specifics. You can also select the type of spin you want to give the ball: drop spin, top spin, fade spin and back spin. The arcade version had a touch screen for these options. The PS3 can't hope to replicate that, but at least everything is easily accessible with a single button press.
In addition to these realistic golf options, Sega's also given the title a set of five special shots, the same five forms that were featured in the arcade version: high power, high spin, super impact, super approach, and putting line. These shots give your character special abilities, from better aiming to added power. Each shot drains a certain amount of energy from an energy meter, so they can only be used a few times over an 18 hole match.
Most of these gameplay options should be familiar to players of the arcade version. The game's five courses are also pulled straight out of the latest arcade version. You'll find four real settings in Phoenix Country Club, Taiheiyo Club Gotemba, St. Andrews Old Course and Bali Hai Golf Club, along with one original creation, Sega Golf Club Sea Side Resort.
The big bonus for the PS3 version comes in the form of the Miyazato siblings. Yusaku Miyazato, Kiyoshi Miyazato and Ai Miyazato, three professional golfers who caused somewhat of a golf boom in Japan, are featured in the PS3 game as playable characters. The in-game versions look the part, although we find ourselves wishing that Sega had saved them for a game that truly uses the PS3's power.
Outside of the three, the game includes eight typically wacky Sega arcade characters, rated on power, control and spin. But if these aren't enough, you can make your own variation of all the characters, selecting clothing and golf gear. As you play the game, you earn items that can be used to dress up your character further. The only nuisance with character creation is that the game doesn't have an option to automatically load up your character; it's somewhat of a hassle to have to reload your character from memory each time you begin play.
Most of the game modes will be familiar from the arcade, but there's still plenty to suck up your time, especially when playing on your own. Single player modes include 18 hole round play versus 3 computer opponents, a putter golf mode featuring obstacles and prizes to earn, and challenge mode, in which short single-stroke challenges are set up in an Outrun-like progression chart. The putter mode is particularly fun thanks to the variety of obstacles and the amount of strategy required in order to collect the items that are placed on the course. Challenge mode includes 45 challenges for each of the five courses, and should require a substantial time investment, especially considering how tough some of the challenges are.
Multiplayer supports up to four players and includes 18 hole play and a short three hole match. You can gamble items in this mode, in case you want to make sure everyone takes things seriously. Those who aren't willing to invest $150 buying three additional Sixaxis controllers will be pleased to learn that multiplayer can be played by switching a single controller off. The only thing missing from multiplayer play is online play, a strange absence, considering the arcade version at least allowed players to face off in nation-wide tournaments using player data.
But expecting full network play would probably be asking too much. Sega clearly didn't invest too much time in the home version of Sega Golf Club. While it's an enjoyable game, and a good way to pass the time given the limited Japanese launch lineup, the PS3 is still waiting for a true golf title, which we expect will arrive from Sony some time next year.