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Review: Nintendo Touch Golf - Birdie Challenge (DS)
Golf sims are a hard genre to get right for everybody, as the relative failure of Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf showed us. Nintendo's own Touch Golf takes the same basic elements but is a much more satifying game. From 3D views to swing control to the pacing of the gameplay, Touch Golf pitches about right in every area.
Let's get one thing straight though: Touch Golf isn't for hard core game fans, expecting power ups, cute cartoons, side mini-games, and so on. What you see is what you get here, hey, it's a golf game, and a pretty good one too.
There is a championship mode, in which you're led round a sequence of very different courses against tougher and tougher opponents, but apart from that it's basically you and your clubs against the course and the elements. (I mention elements because there's some weather modelling in Touch Golf, with impressive gloom and falling raindrops - with appropriate sound effects - when playing through a downpour)
It's also worth mentioning that there is a multi-player mode and - hoorah - you only need one game cartridge between multiple DS and DS Lite units. But onto to the gameplay itself...
The twin screens of the DS are used well, with the top showing a 3D view of either your player and your swing in first person perspective or whatever you've selected, such as a fly-by up to your intended target point. The bottom screen is used for all the in-game menus and selections, including the all important shot selection and swing.
With a particular club selected you can drag the target point around left and right, to suit how you're going to play the hole, plus you can change the club if needed using the right-hand side icon. Backspin and topspin can be applied using the ball icon, bottom-left. Finally, the swing, you drag a virtual clubhead back and then swish it forward again quickly using the stylus, towards an on-screen ball. How fast and how accurately you do this determines how well your player does in the shot shown in the top screen.
In practice the system works very well, although I have my doubts about the longevity of a touch-screen stroked in this way for long periods - make sure you use a screen protector (as in my tips). The physics, including response to wind and slope (and even surfaces that are wet after rain) are perfect. On the green, there are arrow animations to help you work out the lie, but a lot of the work is thankfully done for you with an estimated ball track that appears just before you take your putt, letting you adjust left and right.
You'd think that this 'cheat' would take the fun out of the game, but in fact it merely makes the putting quite easy as opposed to maddeningly difficult, as found in some other games I could mention. With most of the fun of golf to be had out on the fairways, rough, copses and bunkers, it's actually refreshing not to have to spend ages 3-putting on every green for a change.
Nintendo Touch Golf - Birdie Challenge isn't quite perfect, but it's very close and trundles along nicely, with graphics that impress (changing TV angles, good shot replays, sun glints) without being too flashy and with fabulous sound throughout (though do turn the cheesy music off in the Options, it ruins the sense of a 'good walk spoiled').
Most importantly, I found it great fun and very addictive, the two most important qualities in any game. Fore!