Why Video Golf Is Like The Strokes


It’s a slow week for games and the ones that have been released are kind of like The Strokes, decent, but ultimately uninspiring. Actually, it makes sense that few games are released in January. Most crazed, eyeball-bulging geeks get their video games in December. Since some games can take 40 hours or more to play (twice that when you’re like me, taking time to look around), no one’s is really up for a bunch of new games just yet. Heck, I still can’t bend my sore middle finger from playing a season of NHL 2K6.

Still, game makers feel the need to release something, anything, in January. After its inventive Electroplankton, Nintendo brought TRUE SWING GOLF for the DS to the shelves. I guess there’s logic to this since the big Bob Hope PGA event happens this week. But to call the game True Swing is really an overstatement—unless you play your real-life links with a plastic gray stylus, and not a titanium club.

While there are some problems with True Swing Golf beyond the name, I have to say it’s often fun to play. There’s a pleasant piano background music that’s a step up from porn music and it helped me relax when I whiffed the ball on the classically designed easiest course, the Bluebird Country Club, one of 15 courses available. And the graphics are better than you’d expect for the DS since the courses look realistic and even lush. (Oddly, it rained on one hole, then stopped, then rained on another, the only unusual thing to happen in this game.) Whacking at the ball with the stylus is something you get used to quickly, and it’s challenging to hit the ball straight (I mean, it’s hard to make a quick, perfectly straight line with the stylus on the touchscreen.) Also nice is a fast, to-the-point tutorial to get you started.

Yet overall, it’s kind of like Emily’s Reasons Why Not, ho-hum and so-so. At least, that show has a star, Heather Graham. There are no pros in True Swing Golf, no big names like Tiger or Vijay. There’s no create-a-golfer, either. You choose from eight male and female characters with the option to make their personalities ‘cool’ or ‘wild’ (of which I’m neither). In other words, the golfers are a bit like those in the well-known Hot Shots Golf from Sony, cute in an anime-inspired way. There’s wi-fi play, but I have to wonder how many people want to play video game golf head to head.

NICKTOONS UNITE! gets many of the Nickelodeon characters together for a sci-fi battle of good versus evil (ho-hum and so-so) with the nastiest criminals in the Nicktoons universe. It’s a variation on the popular console version of the game starring SpongeBob, Jimmy Neutron, and Danny Phantom as forces for good. Professor Calamitus and Vlad Plasmius sneer and pout as the baddies. SpongeBob can use his pants as a parachute and blow bubbles so he can fly through the air.

But one of the things that bothers me here is that you don’t hear the strange, humorous albeit sometimes grating voices of the characters. Instead, you have to read their comments as text. I’m certainly not against reading even if it’s The Devil Wears Prada, but the sounds of the characters’ voices are so familiar and funny, they would have added some joy to the game. Still, I have to like some of the minor baddies here, like the Half-Finished Robots (which you can get by if you watch the patterns they make and move accordingly). Then there are the semi-cute Anti-Fairies who float toward you kind of sweetly (like some of the people you meet at Fat Baby). But if they get you, they place you at the beginning of a level. So watch out.

There should be something really unique about these games beyond using a stylus to hit a ball or a cartoon character saving the world from evil. I mean, evil is so old, so 2001-Bush-speaking-about-the-evildoers, don’t you think? How about next time, they’re good and evil at the same time . . . with a real golf club?

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  • Electroplankton

    Publisher: Nintendo DS

    Developer: Nintendo

    In “Part One: Life,” Emily Dickinson wrote, “The Brain—is wider than the Sky—/For—put them side by side—/The one the other will contain/With ease—and You—beside—.” That must be how media artist Toshio Iwai thought when he created the ingenious and expansive ELECTRO- PLANKTON for Nintendo.

    Nintendo is probably the most imaginative of the big three game and game hardware developers. Forget the technology within Mario Kart DS. Forget the beauty within The Legend Of Zelda series. I’m talking about smaller things, delightful gizmos that may or may not sell as well as Nintendo’s big names. For instance, years ago the Japanese company pulled out its hat a small plastic camera peripheral for the original black and white Gameboy. They even added a whizzing, battery-operated printer so you could take hard copies of your grainy, stamp-sized photos with you. Last year, they barked and out came Nintendogs for the DS, probably the smartest version of the virtual pet ever made.

    Electroplankton was introduced to drunk and cynical journalists in a demonstration last May as part of E3. A DJ/musician from New York City took the stage and used the little DS gameplayer to make everything from trance music to disco music. Everyone in the audience ooh-ed and ahh-ed, if they weren’t retching from too much booze. But no one was exactly sure what Electroplankton would be.

    Here’s the scoop. Electroplankton stars cartoon versions of plankton, the tiny, microscopic, wandering plant and animal life that inhabit bodies of water. All of these are simply drawn, and all of them are so cute and cuddly you’ll wish they were real so you could hug them.

    By tapping the stylus on the DS’ touchscreen, you use the Electroplankton characters to make music. You can make little routes for the tiny plants to traverse. These routes have notes and rhythms attached to them. Sometimes, you’ll make them sound like a piano arpeggio or a booming bass in a nightclub. It’s zen meets manic, green tea meets Red Bull.

    One of the modes has a red Electroplankton jumping out of the water onto a leafy plant. You can position the leaves in any way you like so that the plankton bounces off the leaves to create a tune. Another mode features about 20 electroplankton which are powered by your own voice clip, which you record into the DS. Sometimes, you’ll sound like a singing chipmunk à la Perry Ferrell and sometimes you’ll sound like an evil robot à la Alan Parsons. Still another mode asks you to record your voice or a clip on four swimming electroplankton. Behind a rhythmic drumbeat, you can quadruple-layer the sounds of your voice, even adding sound bytes from George Bush or from Lost so that the result sounds like a satirical hip hop record.

    You have no idea how much fun all this layering and tapping is until you play Electroplankton, especially if you’re a budding musician or singer. And if you’re not, you’ll feel like one when you play. The only problem I see here is that you can’t seem to save your music—unless you attach the DS to your sound system or put it near an MP3 device on record mode.

    Electroplankton has been criticized by some of the gaming web sites because it’s not really a traditional game. In other words, there’s no beginning and no end, no forced tasks to finish. No one wins or loses after many levels of play. Well, forget these close-minded idiots. That’s really an unfair criticism for a unique and unusual game that will be remembered for years to come, not only for its playability, but as experimental art.