A fine day for
Profile of a playable character named Danion: A white-scaled, lean-muscled, winged dragon humanoid with pastel blue tribal tattoos, light black armor bound to its legs, waist, and mouth, and a metal axe which he uses as a substitute for a driver. Indeed, Pangya: Fantasy Golf
lives up to its name.
In what can only be called a MMO-styled Golf Simulation RPG OMG What The Hell Is This (MMOGSRPGOMGWTHIT), it is a handheld variation of the Korean microtransaction-modeled title simply named Pangya
, which has another misnomer in the States known as Super Swing Golf
for Wii. But contrary to its complicated history and localization, Pangya: Fantasy Golf
is a simple, addictive, casual, and lengthy excursion that comfortably competes with any of its teed-up competitors.
Bubbly and bright, its similarities to the Hot Shots Golf
franchise are undeniable: smooth, round, Photoshop-refined menu interfaces; fantastical golf courses designed around gentle lagoons, snow-laden castle landscapes, and demonic volcano-filled wastelands (just to name a few); and a façade of happy-go-lucky artwork and animations to hide the inescapable number-crunching that golf games are ultimately about. Cheerful or not, it will still test you on how precise you are with the standard 3-click swing, while compensating for the wind, slope of the greens, elevation, percentage of power given the lie of the ball and the impact area of the club face, and any power boosts, items, and special shots you have in your arsenal (and, of course, how much you can resist having a good night’s sleep).
One point of difference is the ridiculous, bordering-on-insane premise of a story, which involves a cast of characters that seems to have come out of the mind of a sick, deprived 14-year-old JRPG fanboy who cries himself to sleep every day next to a framed caricature of Isao Aoki
. Where else can you find a trio of dragon keepers (one mentioned earlier), good and evil bear humanoids, a fairy princess, a rambunctious girl pirate
, a female Navy officer, a 40-year-old beer-bellied cop, a white-haired world-class tennis player… all playing golf? And let’s not mention that the main character, a prepubescent boy named Scout, must save the trans-dimensional world of Pangya Island from the pending resurrection of the Dark Lord by plugging holew with a
Aztecs by playing
Apparently, Pangya is the magical cure for everything. Want to get a younger woman to marry your middle-aged ass? Pangya! Wish to redirect your anger from not having your boy love recognize and reciprocate your feelings? Pangya! Have you been wandering about an island without any memory of who you are, why you’re shirtless, and why that female spirit is following you? Pangya! Are you a henchman trying to stop Scout but don’t want to use your massive musculature and your mighty mace which could easily smash the boy’s head like a watermelon? Pangya! Need an abortion? Pangya! (Allegedly.)
Thankfully, as eye-rolling as the premise is, it does serve as a platform for plenty of humorous skits
which break the MMO-sized game into more easily digestible chunks. The linear Story mode alone contains 20 character-specific plotlines, each with about 6 events that each take an average of 10 minutes apiece, and that’s if you don’t lose and don’t get tired of one-on-one match play. Otherwise, you will probably be spending the rest of the time in Tournament mode, first gaining course licenses by completing various golf-oriented mini-games and then attempting to take the top prize in the tournaments to gain additional outfits for the characters and thousands of Pang, the in-game currency which you will never have enough of… ever
As you would expect from a MMO-based golf title, not only do the difficulty and the progression take a slow-burn approach, but the plethora of purchasable items is astounding. Practically no matter how far you are in the game, there will always be a set of clubs, some extra consumable items, Aztecs, clothing, accessories, rings, and Papel caddies (awarded once for every twenty costume piece you purchase) that you can obtain. This is mainly because every time you reach a new golf ranking, by gaining experience earned on the course, even more items are unlocked. And since these items can boost your stats for power, control, accuracy, spin, and side spin, you will continue to compete in tournaments and go on Pang shopping sprees until your fingers are numb. If that’s not enough, there is a random draw Papel shop that costs 200 Pang per chance at nabbing unique pieces of clothing.
Meanwhile, the difficulty will gradually become more demanding, from one-star courses with gentle slopes and reachable greens, to three-star nightmarish hazard-laden courses where par is acceptable, if not expected, and where using special shots is mandatory. Spending a unit of the power gauge, which builds the most by hitting clean “Pangya!” shots, you have access to physics-defying techniques, like the Power Curve which swings the ball around any obstacle in your path and Cobra which allows the ball to funnel straight through a tunnel before rising into the air (and hopefully onto the green). You will have to master every trick in the book to beat the most challenging tournaments, some of which require you to birdie nearly every hole on a course.
Not all is well, however, in this "Putt-Putt Candyland". While each course is aesthetically well-designed, some holes aren’t practical and nearly impossible to birdie because the putting green is placed too far away. Some Par 3 greens are 290 yards long, which is ludicrous for any character that doesn’t have a maxed-out power attribute (which you likely won't). Most Par 4 holes should be designed around having to hit a wood and an iron, not around having to hit two woods in a row onto a putting green that can only be reached by having the ball go through several feet of rough. Worse yet, the erratic AI (which acts like a probability function on a standard bell curve, for you calculus geeks out there), will occasionally score hole-in-ones out of nowhere and then score double bogeys on the next hole. Suspension of disbelief - you have been shattered.
Like in other golf titles, some vital pieces of information on each shot are oddly omitted. The elevation of the tee with respect to your current position is given, but not the elevation of, well, anywhere else. Nor is the slope of the lie or the slope of the green always available, either.
On a similar note, it’s also odd that the animation for a draw on a hole in match play is the same animation for getting a bogey in stroke play. Last time I checked, a draw is like getting a par - no change in the score - so why doesn’t it play the “par” animation. Even though you lose if you get a draw overall by the end of the match, it just feels depressing getting the “bad” animation for the most common and expected outcome on a hole. This might seem like a small gripe, but when nearly every event in story mode is match play, which artificially extends the gameplay by having you watch the opponent hit the ball, the constant playing of a “bad” animation wears on your nerves.
But the largest divot in the gameplay is the absence of online play, other than local ad-hoc play up to eight players, especially since it’s based on an MMO-styled game. The motivation to continue after claiming the master trophy on the hardest course and after finishing the story mode is slim. Why bother getting a higher ranking and the rest of the unlockable items when you’ve completed the most difficult and most important challenges already?
If Pangya: Fantasy Golf
was not just a MMO-styled simulation, but an actual MMO, it would easily match Hot Shots Golf
as a hot-on-its-heels rival. Apart from a saving function for replays, it has most of the incentives, aesthetics, and imagination to win over casual golf fans from all sides, just as it has in Korea, where there are large bracket televised tournaments for the game. (I’m not kidding, just look on YouTube.) Pangya: Fantasy Golf
is like a sunny, breezy afternoon, a perfect day for golf, just without the applause of a crowd.