Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Cat Daddy Games
Release Date: October 20, 2008
The first Carnival Games title on the Wii surprised a few people with how well it actually did, and while it wasn't what I would call a critical success, it sold like gangbusters, so naturally, 2K wanted to put out a follow-up title on the Wii in a relatively short amount of time.
Carnival Games: MiniGolf is that follow-up title, and while it's a bit of a departure from the first, which was filled with multiple types of mini-games, I actually found MiniGolf to be a bit better than the hit-or-miss games of the first one. There are still plenty of problems with this title, but it can be fun when played with a group in multiplayer mode.
There's no story involved here, and the setup is pretty similar to the first Carnival Games. You'll simply be greeted by the guy running the show, Barker, and asked to choose single-player or multiplayer right off the bat. Assuming you pick single-player, you'll get to choose a character. If it's your first go at the game, you can create a character by selecting from four different archetypes (boy, girl, woman, man) and choosing a name. Finally, you're able to do some limited customization to your character by changing skin tones, hairstyles and some clothing options. There's quite a bit that can be unlocked in the main game for those options, as well as for accessories such as hats, glasses, and so on, which is where the addictive unlocking quality for the game comes into play. You can even buy custom golf balls at some point, and you can unlock special clubs later on.
Once you get your character creation out of the way, you're off to pick the course you want to play. When you begin, you've only got three of the nine courses unlocked. Each course has a difficulty assigned to it, with all three of the starting courses being easy. The courses all carry a certain theme, like a fairyland or dinosaur theme, and they all consist of three different holes, which is a bit limited, especially if you're expecting a standard mini-golf setup of nine holes to a course. Instead, the game only offers one Adventure hole for each course, which is basically what you would play if you were actually going to go to a mini-golf course.
The other two options are the challenge and trick shot holes. Challenge usually gives you some strange requirements, such as breaking up a ton of eggs on a round patch of green in an effort to find the hole hidden on the course. Each egg you break open could contain a coin or a chicken, and then there's a big center egg in the middle of the circle. The outside of the green is surrounded by bumpers, so one hit of the ball can actually launch itself back and forth across the green for quite a bit. However, if you hit the center egg too many times and crack it open, then the game's over for you. There's a series of challenge holes like this, but with wildly different designs depending on the overall theme of the course. It's an interesting way to go with MiniGolf, but some of them are bit unforgiving and just not that fun to play.
The trick shots are basically designed to be an instant hole in one, provided you can find the right path, which usually involves a secret pipe, hidden passage, or a small, narrow entry. Once you manage to guide the golf ball through, you'll enter into a mini-game of sorts (there are about six or so variations), and if you successfully complete the mini-game, then you'll get the hole in one once your ball exits out the other side. However, if you screw things up, then it's a guaranteed miss, and you'll need to start the hole all over again. Both the challenge and trick shot holes are pretty unforgiving, and while the easy courses are exactly that, the other two difficulties can get a bit frustrating, since these two modes are pretty unforgiving in how they play out.
Unlocking the additional holes seems to occur after you complete a couple of holes on the unlocked ones. It doesn't take more than an hour or so if you're trying to unlock all of the courses, so it's not something I would complain about too much. Unlocking different outfits and accessories for your created character can take a lot longer, since you'll be collecting coins on the courses to buy the items you need, but this also provides the driving force for playing the game, since there's no real end goal or story involved. Depending on how well you perform on the courses, getting par and under will give you a bonus multiplier for the coins you've collected. However, there are coins that will take away from your total count, and the multiplier affects those as well.
In single-player mode, you can opt to play the courses by yourself or against the computer-controlled Barker, who doesn't generally provide much a challenge. Occasionally, he'll pull off an uncanny shot or two, but for the most part, he's just there to give you something to compete against. If you win a hole against Barker by getting par or better, you'll also get a Barker coin at the end of the match, which can be used to buy special items for your character later on. If you get under par on each hole, you'll unlock one of three puzzle pieces for the course, and collecting all three will unlock a special club for you to use.
Actual gameplay is pretty simple to pull off, and it'll be easy for casual players to get into the mechanics quickly enough. You can do everything with the Wiimote, and with it you can move your character left or right, angle with the up and down on the d-pad, and use the 1 and 2 buttons to set your view. The view is somewhat limited and there's no good overhead shot, so it's hard to get a good view of the objects that are going to be in your way, but the holes are so small it's not that big of a deal. Hitting the ball is equally simple: Hold down the A button and swing the Wiimote backward or forward. Just a single swing in one direction will do it, so you don't need to pull off a two-step swing, as if you were actually playing golf. There's a meter that gives you an idea of how powerful your shot will be, and while it's a bit hard to gauge your swings early on, it won't take much time for you to get used to the range.
Once you've grown tired of a single-player experience, you can hop into multiplayer, which really only has two modes. One is just a casual game of mini-golf, using the courses and holes you've already unlocked, while the other lets you gamble away the prizes and items you've unlocked to other players, which admittedly makes the game a little more interesting. You can choose from three, six or nine 6, or 9 holes of golf, which will in turn allow you to pick a mix of themed courses, up to three. The holes you play in multiplayer are the exact same holes you'll play in single-player, so it'll always be a mix of the adventure, challenge and trick shot holes. This is one of my biggest disappointments with the game, in that I would much prefer to play a nine-hole round of regular mini-golf against other players, instead of being forced into the questionable challenge and trick shot holes again. You can opt to play with one Wiimote or up to four, with the same amount of players to match. There's no online here, though, just local support only.
Graphically, MiniGolf looks identical to the first Carnival Games, which isn't saying a whole lot. Simple, flat textures and bright colors are everywhere, but I will say that the course designs are all pretty interesting, and they do a good job of keeping up with the themes from hole to hole. The soundtrack is nearly nonexistent, with just a few tunes sprinkled about that are all forgettable in the long run. It also feels a bit light on content, and even with quite a few unlockables, the courses don't take long to run through and hit par on. The challenge of only playing against Barker in single-player mode isn't all that interesting. Multiplayer fares a bit better, but being forced to do some of the annoying trick shot and challenge shot holes takes away from what would be an otherwise fun experience.
Even if you're wanting to play a cool mini-golf game on the Wii, I have to say you'd be better off waiting for something else to come down the line rather than waste your money on Carnival Games: MiniGolf. While there are some cool course designs going on, they don't do much to mask the poor gameplay, few modes, and overall ease of the title, and it's not going to keep you or you guests entertained for very long. Skip this one, outside of a rental maybe, and hope that we see something better show up next year.