Version tested: Wii
It's been nearly two years and we're still waiting for a Wii sports game that does something better than Wii Sports, but surely if anyone can get it right it's Camelot? Nintendo's partner on the Mario Golf games and the developer of the original Everybody's Golf on PlayStation, the Japanese company has been making golf games for as long as Tiger Woods has been playing professionally. We Love Golf - published by Capcom and out in the UK this Friday - adopts a similar approach in modes and presentation but switches controls to the Wii remote and refuses to offer a friendly two- or three-tap alternative as a safety net.
The control system encourages you to swing the remote like a golf club, holding the A button for the duration of your swing. Behind the scenes, it measures the angle of the Wiimote as you rotate it through a backswing motion, which moves a brightly-coloured club-head cursor along a familiar-looking power gauge. You then bring the Wiimote down as though you're striking a golf ball.
More important than your swing though is your timing. A ghostly club-head icon also moves along the power gauge, and the idea is to pause the Wiimote at the top of your swing until it overlaps with the brightly-coloured club-head that tracked your motion, and then start your downswing. You mustn't thrash it down wildly though, because you also have to time your swing so that the Wiimote hangs vertically in your hands around waist-height - the point at which it would strike the ball if it were actually a golf club - at the same time as the ghostly club-head icon reaches the centre of the power gauge's impact zone.
Once you've mastered this, you can start adding draw and fade (sidespin, effectively) by twisting the face of the Wiimote slightly in your grip, and add topspin or backspin while in flight by hitting the 1 or 2 buttons. There's also the option of performing power shots by lifting the Wiimote to an even steeper angle before swinging. That's not all the controls though, because you also need to line up your shots, move the camera around to explore the course and switch clubs. This functionality is spread around the d-pad, B button and plus and minus buttons.
You don't need me to tell you that the above is rather complicated and abstract. But you might want me to tell you that you can actually master the game sitting down if you're lazy enough: just hold the Wiimote by the bottom and lift the tip up and round as though you're swinging a pendulum. Not only does it work, but it allows for more precise manipulation of the club-head icon and better timing on the power gauge. You also run less risk of twisting the controller and accidentally spinning the ball into the rough. The bottom line is that whichever way you play it, it works very effectively after an hour or so of experimentation.
And that's the problem really: the control system works, but the game clearly isn't taking any chances, so you're given every possible assistance on the course. You're shown distances to the tee and pin from any position, wind speed, ground conditions, elevation, whether the ball will strike trees or rocks, impact projection and the direction the ball will roll on landing. You can also adjust shot length so that you can see exactly how much power is required on the gauge.
In games like Tiger Woods and Everybody's Golf, you were expected to judge for yourself what kind of impact rough lies or obstacles would have on the success of your shot, consider how much of a particular club you needed to put behind a swing, and then perform the swing successfully. We Love Golf does the calculations for you and the controls take little effort to master. As for putting, the greens are remarkably flat for the most part and the usual guidelines that show green speed in a particular direction - coupled with your ability to land on a sixpence from 150 yards - mean you'll rarely have to do more than two-putt.
To this end, the single-player Tournament mode and Character Matches, which unlock new courses and new characters respectively, can be played at speed on autopilot. Even the Pro Tournament mode only changes tee and green positions. There's no need to consider the course conditions and their often-elaborate design. This is a shame, because the courses themselves are vibrant and friendly places to linger: trees are giant flowers, pirate ships float past on water hazards, the wind is illustrated by twirling wisps, giant desserts form bridges between cherry-marked islands, and greens and bunkers form hearts and reindeer heads when viewed from above. The characters, meanwhile, are cute and chibi, with unlockable Capcom figures like Chun-Li, Apollo Justice and Jill Valentine.
But while there's certainly charm to that, it's only half-heartedly bonkers and over-the-top compared to better examples elsewhere in the genre - most notably the sublime Everybody's Golf: World Tour on the PS3, which has a TV weatherman who rides between holes on a helicopter, videos of dolphins between rounds and mad super-deformed Scottish caddies. Perhaps it's unfair to compare a Wii game to a PS3 one, but then the Wii is supposed to be everyone's second system, right? Either way, We Love Golf is too shy about being nuts.
It does have its moments though. There are some good offline multiplayer modes like Target Golf and Near Pin Contest, which judge you based on the ball's final resting place. There's only ever a few yards' difference between your accomplishments, but it's enough to make these engaging when you're playing them in your lounge. For single players, Ringshot, which tasks you with holing out within par having navigated a series of rainbow-coloured rings, is an effective time-sink. There's also familiar Stroke and Match-Play games, which are fine for couch play.
We Love Golf's PAL release also introduces online multiplayer via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, and this lets you use your own Miis. With the game not out until Friday, opportunities to sample this were few and far between, but the games we did play were lag-free and there's something to be said for the game's soft-edged heckles and cheers when someone's teeing off. Our only criticism is the lack of modes - course selection is random and you do 9 holes, with differing tee positions based on which of the two difficulties you choose. We'd moan about having to use Wii Friends codes too, but you always get upset when we do that.
Despite this minor reprieve though, We Love Golf still suffers overall. It's competent and capable of entertaining, and perhaps Camelot has proven that you don't need to exercise as much restraint as Wii Sports did to make a good golf game - but it still suffers from a lack of challenge for single players and being disappointingly unbonkers. A bit more restraint in player assists and less when going mental could have given the entire genre a wake-up call, but not this time.
6 / 10
We Love Golf is due out exclusively on Nintendo Wii this Friday, 4th July.