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Swing Away Golf (PS2) Review

Background Info

I love playing arcade-style sports games. My favorite basketball game is NBA Jam, while my favorite football game is NFL Blitz. That said, I do occasionally enjoy a good golf sim, but I prefer playing wacky golf games like Hot Shots Golf and Cyber Tiger. One of the few sports titles that launched with the PS2 was Swing Away Golf, a quirky golf game developed by T&E Soft. Like Hot Shots Golf, this game originated in Japan, where it went by the name Golf Paradise. Mixing cartoony graphics with realistic golfing elements, Swing Away Golf will appeal to casual gamers and golf fans alike.

Presentation/Graphics : 89
The game begins with a short, colorful intro that uses the in-game graphics engine. Admittedly, the intro is quite lame, but it does showcase the impressive graphics and the seven detailed golfers. Unlike Hot Shots Golf, Swing Away Golf's ten fictional golfers (three of which are hidden) have normal-sized heads and bodies. However, character design is not this game's greatest strength: the female characters look like rejects from an interactive Barbie game, while a few of the male characters look like boy-band material. Thankfully, a couple oddballs are present -- including a humorous "grumpy old man" (hidden character) -- to balance the roster of Barbie and 'N Sync wannabes. The developer modeled each character with a good amount of detail, right down to their facial characteristics. There are also six unique caddies, but you only see their faces during the game.

Complementing the detailed characters is great animation and convincing facial expressions. The characters swing, chip, and put using fluid movements. Further, their faces display a range of emotions that reflect the quality of their shots. Winning and losing animations -- some of which are quite odd -- are well done, and each character has his or her own set of them. Ball physics are good and look realistic, with spark and trail effects providing some arcade-like flair.

Swing Away Golf has equally great course design. All six courses in the game are fantasy based, and each has a unique theme. From a rich forest filled with greenery to a windy seaside complete with calm waves, Swing Away Golf's locales are well varied. Realistic trees, beautiful lakes, and serene waterfalls are just a few of the things you will spend time gawking at in this game. On more than one occasion, I used the game's adjustable camera to admire the great-looking environments when I should have been planning my approach to the green.

Although the courses themselves look great, additional elements like moving clouds, animated birds, and polygonal spectators greatly liven things. In fact, the spectators are the best of any console sports game I have played, as there is plenty of variety among them and they look good up close. Amazingly, they even don clothing that reflects the locale (e.g., tropical garb on the Resort course). Within the crowd of spectators is a sign person -- complete with a readable "Quiet Please" sign -- and a three-man camera crew that films the action.

The icing on the cake, however, is the game's weather effects. During some matches, the sky slowly darkens, with a heavy rain shower following shortly after. (Incidentally, the spectators hold umbrellas when it rains.) The rain only lasts the length of one hole, allowing the sun to creep steadily back in for the next. During normal conditions, white fluffy clouds and a pleasant lens flare will greet your eyes after each drive. And thanks to the variety of camera angles and replays, the game always looks fresh.

Swing Away Golf, unfortunately, does have some graphical flaws and shortcomings. While there is no visual pop-up, there is occasionally a drop in the frame-rate after the ball lands and rolls on the ground. Also, you cannot move the camera over lakes (or other bodies of water), mountains, or deep crevices. Therefore, you must spend time moving the camera around them. This is more inconvenient than it may sound, since using the camera to scope out the green is very important.

Another minor complaint I have is with the game's overall graphical quality. As good as Swing Away Golf looks, I feel it could have used more of the PS2's power in certain areas. For instance, considering the awesome grass and shrubbery in Tekken Tag Tournament (Eddy Gordo's stage), I was expecting the grass and sand traps to look better than they do. Finally, I was a bit disappointed that the caddies were not fully modeled. With dozens of polygonal spectators littering each course, I am sure a polygonal-modeled caddie would not have taxed the game engine too much. Nevertheless, Swing Away Golf is the best-looking golf game available for a console system.

Presentation/Audio : 70
Swing Away Golf's cheery, repetitive music is sure to drive most gamers insane. While you may eventually adjust to it, the annoying music does not complement the graphics very well. The game has less than a dozen tunes, which alternate during the 18 holes. Only during putts, must-sink shots, and character-interaction segments (Story mode) will you hear variations in the music.

Regarding the game's sound effects, most of the golfing sounds (e.g., short drives, putts, chips, etc.) are realistic. However, long, powerful drives have an arcadey sound accompanied by some low-end bass. The game has a variety of pleasing ambient effects, including clapping spectators, screeching hawks, and splashing waves. There are also weather-specific sound effects, such as pouring rain and heavy winds, which are very soothing.

Every golfer and caddie in the game has a set of voice-overs. The caddies dish out helpful -- and not-so-helpful -- advice, and the golfers react to their performance with positive or negative remarks. There is even a bit of trash-talking between characters during matches. Like the music, though, the voice samples become repetitious quickly, and some characters are rather annoying. (One character, Billy, uses the word "dude" in every sentence.) Also, during the story sequences in Story mode, blocks of text replace the characters' voices. Still, the voice samples are of high quality, letting the golfers' and caddies' personalities shine through.

Overall, Swing Away Golf does not contain any breakthroughs in audio, but the sound effects are competent enough to mesh well with the on-screen action. (In my opinion, though, Cyber Tiger still has the best ambient/environmental sound effects of any console golf game.) The music, on the other hand, is painful, and most gamers will probably want to disable it.

Interface/Options : 80
Swing Away Golf has a colorful menu system that is well organized and easy to navigate. The game offers several basic game options. You can adjust the volume of the music and sound effects, set the message speed of the text, toggle vibration on/off, and fiddle with a couple of visual aspects (hole map and audience level). In-game options, via the pause menu, let you replay your last shot, view the scorecard, give up on a hole, and re-hit a ball that has landed in an unplayable area. Load times vary throughout the game, but they are short during menu navigation and loading/saving. (The longest and most annoying load times are during gameplay, as there is a distracting delay before each stroke and new hole.)

Regarding the game's interface, Swing Away Golf uses a basic three-click system (via the X button) that should be familiar to most gamers. The first click starts the meter, the second sets the power level, and the third sets the accuracy. Like most golf games, there is a sweet spot that you must aim for to prevent under- or over-swing. The L1 & R2 buttons let you change clubs; the L2 & R2 buttons let you adjust your golfer's stance for fade and draw shots. You use the D-pad to adjust the aim and set the impact point of the ball (i.e., top/down spin). Swing Away Golf utilizes the pressure sensitivity of the D-pad, so the harder you press down, the faster the shot indicator will move. Other control functions include a button to change swing types (normal or approach), and a button to check the location of the ball and position of the lie.

Concerning camera options, the analog sticks offer precise camera movement and control. The left analog stick moves the camera up and down; the right stick moves the camera forward, backward, and left and right. You can also use the L3 and R3 buttons of the analog sticks to rotate the view. At anytime you can press the Circle button to reset the camera and return to the normal third-person view.

Gameplay : 88
Don't be fooled by the game's colorful graphics and fictional characters and courses, because Swing Away Golf offers a fairly realistic golfing experience. Club selection, rain/wind, and lie all affect the ball, so you must consider these things before every swing. The characters also have different playing styles, as well as varying stat levels -- of which there are four: Distance, Accuracy, Control, and Recovery. Just like real golf, water-hazard and out-of-bounds shots will cripple your game, and sand traps and deep roughs further complicate matters. Fortunately, you can draw/fade your shots and add topspin and backspin to help avoid hazardous areas. Putting is no easy task, either, as you must master hooks and slices to battle the green.

The game's difficulty level is mostly dependent on how well you read the green, and how well you execute your shots. Timing, accuracy, and power are equally important. As for the computerized opponents, their performance is based on how well you play -- although each character does have his or her own set of skills. For example, if you nail each of your shots, your opponent(s) will likely make more mistakes. Likewise, if you are off your game, you can expect the computer to start hitting its shots with razor-like precision. Thankfully, Swing Away Golf has a training section that teaches you the basics of the game and lets you practice your drives and putts. After a few practice sessions, you should fare well on the green.

Swing Away Golf revolves around its Story mode, in which you begin as an amateur and must advance to a tournament pro golfer. Here you can create your own character by changing any of the included characters' names and stats. This single-player mode adds a storyline to the game -- using character-interaction segments between games -- but the story scenes are redundant and monotonous. The idea of the Story mode is to build your character's stats, earn new equipment and items, and unlock new games, characters, and courses. Throughout the Story mode, you will compete in many types of games, from skins matches to long-drive competitions, with the main goal being to win tournaments to advance your career. This mode keeps tabs on the many developments of your career (i.e., popularity ranking, earnings, etc.). You can also view all the trophies and special items you have earned, and visit a golf shop to purchase new equipment. Once you unlock the extra courses and games here, you can play them in the Normal mode.

The Normal mode consists of a variety of single-game matches, some of which you can play with up to three other people via the Multi Tap. At first, only stroke play and match play are available, but you can unlock unique games like survival, two-ball foursome, and sudden-death in Story mode. You can even use the character you created in Story mode and bet the items and prize money you earned. And unlike the Story mode, you can set a handicap for your golfer.

Beyond the two main modes of play, Swing Away Golf also has a cool course editor. Using a course design tool called Genesys-G, you can create your very own 18-hole course, or have the computer automatically generate one for you. With 13 individual parameters to adjust for each hole, you can make your course as realistic or as wacky as you like. Want to create a hazard-filled course with large lakes and sand traps? Go ahead -- let your imagination run wild! Of course, you can name your masterpiece, and you can save up to 100 courses to an 8MB memory card. Initially, only the forest environment is available for modification, so you must unlock the other environments through Story mode if you want a change of scenery.

Replay Value : 92
With its lengthy Story mode, multi-player Normal mode, and option-packed course editor, Swing Away Golf guarantees many weeks of fun. Although the game uses a traditional three-click swing meter, most gamers will still need hours of practice before they can swing like a pro. In fact, don't expect to sink a coveted hole-in-one until you master your timing and learn to read the course accurately. And with plenty to unlock, the payoff of mastering the game is well worth the effort.

Overall : 84
Whether you are a golf-game aficionado looking for something different, or an all-around gamer looking for an enjoyable golf game, Swing Away Golf should do nicely. While it lacks freshness, a combination of colorful graphics and realistic ball physics gives it broad appeal. Not everyone may find it worthy of a purchase -- especially those who are looking for real courses and golfers -- but it is the only golf game currently available for the PS2. Fortunately, it happens to be a good one, so it should keep most gamers entertained until EA Sports unleashes Tiger Woods onto the system.

By: Cliff O'Neill 12/14/00

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