capsule review

Islands Mini Golf 1.4

Islands Mini Golf isn’t new—in fact, DanLab Games first released the game in late 2004. Somehow it slipped under my radar. But DanLab has made steady improvements to Islands Mini Golf ever since that initial release; the most recent update gives me an excuse to take a look. Now, Islands Mini Golf is a Universal Binary that runs natively on Intel-based Macs; it also sports new graphics technology that makes it look even better than before.

DanLab Games also created of Jammin’ Racer (   ), one of my favorite shareware games from 2005. Both Jammin’ Racer and Islands Mini Golf borrow their sensibility and style from console titles, but they’re totally original Mac games. And Islands Mini Golf is sure to challenge anyone with a hankering to hit 18 holes on some challenging courses.

Islands Mini Golf lets you control the direction and strength of your putt using either the keyboard or your mouse. The putt direction and speed are visible on the screen with a 3-D cursor that moves away from the ball and with a rotary strength meter that is displayed on the right side of the game’s interface—a common-enough style of interface to anyone with a passing familiarity with golf games.

It takes a bit of practice to get used to how hard you need to hit the ball to get it to the cup, and each hole has its own set of hazards and challenges. Fortunately, you can take practice sessions at each hole to hone your game before you really start playing. Each hole presents itself with a quick flyby, and if you need to re-orient yourself during play, function keys can change your camera views.

Like any good golf game, up to a foursome can play Islands Mini Golf—the game features “hot seat” play, meaning the players take turns use the same computer and keyboard or mouse. Alas, there’s no network play.

Each player can enter their name and can be represented by an adorable 3-D creature. (My sons are particularly fond of the frog and the shark). The avatars don’t actually figure into the gameplay at all—you never see them on the course, which makes me wonder why they’re here at all.

After you’re done playing, Islands Mini Golf will record your best score; you can compare it to other Islands Mini Golf players around the world using an online table. I’d really like to see this game’s online abilities expand, maybe with “real” online play in addition to the hot seat mode.

The game features its own custom soundtrack—which is fabulous—and adequate sound effects. It also features absolutely gorgeous graphics that really help set the tone for the game. A new feature in the 1.4 update adds water shaders for OS X 10.4 users, so the water that surrounds the island (and often figures into traps and hazards) has a shimmering, wavy quality that’s quite beautiful. This replaces a more simple translucent shader that is still an option—useful if your Mac isn’t fast enough or doesn’t have good enough graphics hardware to make the most of the game’s ability. Minimum system requirements call for a 400MHz G4 processor and OS X 10.3, so older systems should be able to play. Just in case, there’s a downloadable demo you can try out to see for yourself.

There are a total of five courses from which to play—that’s 90 holes in all, which will keep you busy for a while. The five different courses each have a very unique look and feel: Coco Paradise is a tropical island motif, while Pharaoh Islands borrows from Ancient Egypt. King Castle is a Camelot-style course, while Zhao Islands have a decidedly Asian flavor. Jammin Islands are a more arcadey-style of course.

Some of the holes are really, really tough—tough to the point of head-bangingly frustrating. In some cases, your ball can roll right off the course an into a water hazard unless you apply just the right touch with your putter or take baby steps with short strokes. The frustration level can increase when you’re faced with what seems like an impossibly low par rating. If you get really fed up you can skip holes, though you’ll be penalized with a maximum stroke penalty.

Fortunately, you can save and play as you go, which makes Islands Mini Golf a great diversion on the commute or in the office between meetings, without forcing you to play all the way through.

The bottom line

Islands Mini Golf is a beautiful 3-D mini golf game that’s even better than ever now that it’s Universal.

It’s in the hole! Islands Mini Golf lets you choose between five courses include the Far East-flavored Zhao Islands.
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