Go to the batting cage instead.
Everybody at one point or another loves miniature golf. It should be included in the developmental cycle (in between the Oedipus complex and the hard-core acne). Who didn't (or doesn't) get totally anxious holding on to the club right before choosing which path to putt? It's a bizarre phenomenon, a sport that isn't a sport for athletic kids who aren't athletes. Weird and fun all wrapped in one.
So when yet another attempt was made to bring this kooky little game home to the personal computer, I was once again intrigued and excited. After playing 3D Ultra MiniGolf, however, I felt more like throwing my trusty putter into the fish pond and wasting away the day with some good old fashioned skeeball.
This game is another case of something that is the downfall of all potentially good games - graphics over gameplay. While Sierra has produced a very pretty picture, they forgot to add challenge, longevity, and fun.
The first thing you'll notice that's wrong with the game is its length. - one course. Or 18 holes. Either way, this just isn't enough. Real life miniature golf places (magic castles - you know, real life stuff) give you at least a choice of three different courses to try. It makes for a more enjoyable experience and gives you a reason to go back. Which is more than I can say for the measly one course offering of 3D Ultra MiniGolf. We're talking almost no replay value; maybe two or three times before you become entirely disinterested
The actual gameplay is pretty much what you'd figure. You try to putt a ball into a hole (kill me now). As in real miniature golf, various obstacles stand between your colored sphere and its goal. Each hole has a theme; some of them include the Haunted House, the Big Shoe, the Jungle Ruins, the Lighthouse, and the freaky Incredible Machine (sort of like a carpenter's version of MouseTrap).
The hole design is quite creative. The putting surface looks great and the ball movement incorporates realistic physics. They also didn't skimp out on the palette, with a ton of colors and cool light sourcing. This is a good looking game. It also happens to be a good sounding one (for the most part). The music is great - a dixieland jazz thing. The sounds are good, though the stupid voices that introduce each hole are stupid, done with stupid actors who are downright stupid altogether.
You are given the choice between two types of control - the standard click and release system common to regular golf sims, and the 'True Putt' technique which involves moving the mouse back and forth. However, neither work particularly well. You either come up way too short or rattle the ball out of the hole. It's difficult to get the feel right. But this comes nowhere near how silly it gets trying to deal with the cameras.
Whoever decided to set 'fixed' cameras instead of 'smart' cameras should be punched in the stomach. This totally screws up the game. Rather than allow several different view choices, you are stuck shooting from certain fixed perspectives on each hole. In some cases this means putting your ball from the corner of the screen toward a hole that is somewhere off the screen to the right without being able to toggle to a wider view. In layman's terms, this sucks. It makes it really hard or too easy to aim, depending on which angle you get.
There are some cute little cut animations triggered by hitting the ball into certain obvious features. These are just fluff, generally thrown in to amuse young children. There is also the annoying fact that the hole is either too easy to find or hidden behind the corner of a corner around a wall A little flag or a target sight would have been nice.
Ultimately, the failure of 3D Ultra MiniGolf lies less in Sierra and more in a gaming industry that has yet to figure out how to pull off this kind of game. With the blinding speed of technological advancements in third dimension game design, it's hopefully only a matter of time. 3D Ultra MiniGolf just isn't quite good enough, and it's much too short to be worth the money. It just doesn't come through with the goods to keep the ball rolling.
Oh, hell, go see for yourself. Download the demo for free.