Well known for its digital pinball tables, Zen Studios is revisiting another of its key releases with the release of Infinite Minigolf for the Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, VR platforms, and PC. Following on from 2010's PS3-exclusive Planet Minigolf, this updated take on the concept brings the course creation tools that helped make Planet stand out to a wider audience in a fun mix of the creativity tools of Sony's LittleBigPlanet and the trick shots found in Nintendo's Kirby's Dream Course.
Players are invited to jump right into Infinite's offerings with the courses spanning themes such as a giant house where the ball zips through cardboard tubes and a spooky mansion where hazards like sharp brambles can snag a ball in motion. Each theme feels like a starter guide to the types of courses players can create with the course creation tools (as if to inspire creativity). Some courses are broken up with unique gimmicks such as a flying toy that can scoop up the ball and carry it to another part of the course or Lord Pumpkin himself who will give your ball a bonus whack if it travels too close to him. Power-ups on the course allow for additional bending of rules; a magnet draws the ball toward the hole, a rocket allows for a burst of speed, a joystick lets players take total control of the ball's movement for a few moments, and so on. It's honestly pretty basic stuff and the learning curve is simple, and I really feel that the included courses are primarily there to give players a starting point and basic frame of reference for how the game works. The best way to learn is to do; outside of a quick visual primer when a new power-up is encountered for the first time, the game does not explain how to play it which can be a fun throwback to older times or a frustrating design choice compared to how modern games explicitly teach.
Whether playing alone, locally with couch co-op, or in up to eight player online tournaments, success in Infinite revolves around earning a high score. While the traditional structure of golf scorekeeping is here (sink the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible), the game assigns point values to various objectives from using certain power-ups to collecting gems scattered around the course to taking flight for extended periods. Zen has cooked up an infographic that explains how the scoring works better than I ever could with just words, so I'll let that image explain further.
The real meat in Infinite Minigolf is destined to be the user-created courses (they're even available across platforms so a Switch player can play levels created on PC and so on), although during the pre-release window in which I played, the game suffered from the LittleBigPlanet plague of purposefully easy or pitiful courses uploaded only to give the creator creation-related trophies. I would hope that Zen will curate these courses once the game opens up to all today, and while players can rate courses, these pathetic creations clog up the list and kept me scrolling on and on in search of something worthwhile. The game includes tools to sort out the short and simple from the large and proper, but there's lots of the former and hardly any of the latter right now. When I did find a good course though, I relished it. People will create some amazing challenges given enough time and familiarity with the creator tools. Just as LBP has its stand-out creators, someone is going to make a name for himself or herself creating awesome minigolf experiences... eventually.
It's early days for Infinite Minigolf and there's plenty of potential for growth, but it's a little too early to completely recommend it unless you want to create courses more than play them or are satisfied replaying the Zen-created levels. I'll be keeping an eye on the course collection for truly great creations (Planet fans created more than 80,000 courses in its heyday, although nobody is saying how many of those were well-crafted). "Potential" is the key word here. Zen has set up the community and provided the tools. Now it's up to the players to turn that potential into something wonderful.