When you think about it, virtual mini-golf really should be a bigger video game subgenre. They’re basically physics and angle problems and that’s something gamers enjoy and are pretty good at. It wasn’t until I played TACS Games’ Barry Bradford’s Putt Panic Party that I realised why it’s still quite a niche. Mini-golf video games have always seemed to focus on fantastical settings, allowing players to putt in the Antarctic, the future, the desert, etc. The issue here is that the game still has all the same rules and structure of real world mini-golf – you’re taking turns to put the ball in the hole. That’s just not as fun as actual mini-golf.
While it’s not without its flaws, Barry Bradford’s Putt Panic Party divorces itself from the status quo in some quite ingenious ways and puts some fun twists on the mini-golf formula.
Presented in an isometric view, Putt Panic Party is a collection of 4 very distinct 9-hole courses that can be played in both normal and reversed (the tee off and hole are switched). Each set of 9 has its own theme, from the simple course to the crazy course, the former a collection of simple courses to introduce you easily while the latter of which has a tonne of pipes that’ll suck up your balls and spit them out the other end. There’s ramps over bodies of water, there’s tricky tunnels to navigate, there’s sand traps that slow down you ball, corner bouncers to give you that 45 degree ricochet and missing barriers that’ll land you in the drink if you’re a bit power heavy with your stroke. It’s all classic mini-golf stuff. In order to whack your ball to the hole, a reticule and guide line appears around the ball during each stroke which you can rotate to indicate direction with a power gauge you can increase and decrease to measure power in each corner. The winner is the person who manages to complete the 9 holes with the fewest strokes. So far, so standard.
The kicker with Putt Panic Party is that you’ve got 10 stokes in order to sink your ball and every player takes their shot at the same time. There’s no taking turns in this game. Each of the 1 to 4 players are in the action at all times. At the start of each stoke, a timer appears and once that timer hits zero, the shots are taken. But it gets better – with each stroke, you have less and less time to set up your shot. With the first stroke, you have 10 seconds to line up your angles and set your power level. With each subsequent stoke, a second is knocked off the timer until 9th stoke when you have just a single solitary second to get your sights set.
This might sound hectic but PPP (as it has come to be known in my house) does quite a lot to ensure it’s fair and fun. The camera angle zoom’s in and out to ensure that everyone is always in focus. Things can get a little tricky when one player gets left behind on the bigger courses (my 4 year old, bless his cotton socks, just likes to whack the ball around meaning he’s often still at the tee off 6 strokes in) because the zoom out leaves the guide lines a little small (and almost invisible if you’re near a ramp). Thankfully the art style is really clean and the reticules around the balls come with arrows that are big enough to be seen on a TV (but not so much while in handheld mode). The power and direction also defaults to directly at the hole and to half power with each stroke so when you’re getting down to 1 or 2 second’s to set your shot up, you’ve still got a chance to putt it in.
Barry Bradford’s Putt Panic Party is most definitely designed as a party game and TACS Games have made an effort to ensure that’s possible on a budget – Each solitary Joy-Con can be used for a single player so right out of the Switch box, you can have 2-player matches. 4-player matches will require a least 4 Joy-Con’s or Pro pads though. If you’re blessed with an embarrassment of of Joy-Con’s and Pro Controllers, you can set up each player in whichever way you wish.
If you’re on your own, you can play Putt Panic Party in 1-player too. Here, you get the same rules with the same countdown clock and decreasing time but without the competition. There’s no AI bots or ghost mode to play against which is a bit of a shame but attempting to reduce my total number of strokes has been enough to keep the single player entertaining for a few hours.
Barry Bradford’s Putt Panic Party is best played in multiplayer though. Picking from one of the 6 colourful characters then huddling around the TV and desperately trying to get through each courses obstacles before your time limit makes it ever more difficult – it’s a hoot. What’s more, it’s really highly polished. The music and vocals – including humerus sound bytes when you send your ball for a swim – really top it off.
If you’re looking for an instantly accessible party game for your Nintendo Switch, Barry Bradford’s Putt Panic Party is an easy recommendation. It has a novel twist on Mini-Golf that keeps all the players in the action and gets tenser the longer you play. There’s not much content to keep you playing in single player but with friends or family, it’s a real laugh.
Barry Bradfords Putt Panic Party is available now on Nintendo Switch (review version).
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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