Last week, I paid up my $4.99 to download a copy of the new iPod Electronic Arts Mini Golf game. It was my first iPod games purchase. And, despite the limited iPod UI possibilities, the EA designers did a terrific port.
Visually, the game shines. The graphics are clear and vibrant. After each hole, the game “moves” you to the next hole. This between-holes animation is smooth, clever and fun to watch.
The audio quality sounded fine, although I found it superfluous. It’s much easier to play games without wearing headphones.
The game play itself was enjoyable. I found the level of difficulty to be modest, but my kids were entranced. It’s a good match for their interest and abilities.
The weakest part of any iPod game is going to be the physical user interface. On normal computers and gaming machines, a variety of user controls provide all the fine motor interactions you need to execute game commands. On the iPod, you’re limited to the scroll wheel. This means that game designers need to develop games that users can play with restricted interaction.
Here’s how things work in MiniGolf. You scroll to set the golf ball’s starting position and then click. You scroll to adjust the angle of your shot and then click. Finally, in the least-intuitive part of the interface, you wait as the swing strength oscillates between weak and strong and then click to set the power of the shot. It works, but it does feel more than a little clunky.
Was EA Mini Golf worth my $4.99? Yes. We’ve had hours of fun so far without the game growing stale. I wish there were more than three courses, but there’s only so much you can expect for a five buck purchase.
I’m curious to see what other games will debut for the iPod. Right now, there are 9 commercial titles available. I suspect that driving games may prove a good match. Penn & Teller’s evil Desert Bus is just crying out for a port.