For those who can relate, one of my favorite eras of gaming was in the late '90s, when the Nintendo 64 ruled my life. So many great titles that I have such fond memories of during my childhood years. People normally associate the Nintendo 64 with games like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or Banjo & Kazooie; however, my experience with the system was a little more off-kilter. Of the collection of first-party and third-party titles I owned, there was always one game that I had a peculiar fondness for, despite my immense disinterest in what inspired it.
That game was Mario Golf.
Ever since, I've been quite fond of golf games, though I can't say I have a large venue of golf games under my title. When the offer to play Wonder Wickets was presented to me, I had no doubts that I would find some merriment out of it, just from the very foundation of its golf-like mechanics. What would ultimately decide its fate past that would be the level of detail, which promises something bigger and more… space-y.
Wonder Wickets is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
Story (or Lack Thereof)
Normally with reviews, I would start with a header for a game's story. Only issue is that there is none here, at least nothing that is outwardly stated by playing the main game modes. Any information desired on the selectable characters and their reasons for being present can be found in the "Goodies" menu. To some extent, this is expected, as the motivation for golf and golf-like activities are typically predicated on competition and fun, which is a tale as old as competition and fun itself. The need for an intricate story is not necessary, though the thought of creating character bios in the first place is an appreciable touch.
That said, the potential for character interaction is one that I would legitimately desire after playing this game for some time. Something this game doesn't have that many golf games before it usually stick to is a solo circuit where one challenges a rival golfer to earn the rights to play as them. This game contains voice acting, character bios, and detailed character expressions and mannerisms. Wouldn't it be something to see these characters bounce off one another in all sorts of different ways? The potential for character chemistry is phenomenal, and the character bios already show signs of witty writing. It's something to ponder.
The Game (Sans Story)
Allow some light gushing before getting into any gritty detail: this game is just as frustratingly Sublime as any golf game I've ever played. Recording my experience to collect some screenshots more easily, I intended to do a short course without any hassle, only to attempt to score a hole-in-one for roughly fifteen minutes before realizing that I had been recording for far too long. Wonder Wickets is just as effective in putting me into a state of intense concentration as any game—not just golf ones—I've ever played. That is a sure sign of a fun game. That strange, inescapable feeling of thinking you're frustrated and too focused to be having fun, but hours pass by without your knowledge and you begin to grow fond of that absent-mindedness.
Now that that's covered, let's discuss what takes me about of that absent-mindedness. Upon this game's release, there have been a number of updates and hotfixes that have patched the game up to make it more functional than before, which was definitely necessary. In my time playing, the game has crashed on me twice, lagged considerably (especially during holes with limited light), and glitched my shots in a way that screwed me out of continuing a hole, on top of other minor miscellaneous bugs. While I feel part of this is my own fault (my laptop isn't incredibly powerful), there's still some level of irritation involved with trusting the game will work 100% of the time and having that trust come undone.
In Wonder Wickets, one is tasked with knocking a giant ball of gas and energy (probably) into a black hole that is either placed at a certain point on a course or will eventually appear after knocking out colorful, spherical switches. Kind of like golf, except in space. To get to the black hole, one is tasked with overcoming various obstacles that build gradually the further one gets in the solo campaign. These obstacles include dash pads, moving (and stationary) baddies (which can be knocked out), firing cannons, sand and water hazards (as well as "space" hazards which count as "out of bounds"), and bounce pads. It's almost like a scientific fusion of golf and the wacky, convoluted contraptions one would see with the board game, Mouse Trap. While the goal of getting the ball into the hole is simple, it's the extra hazards and conditions within a certain course that makes the game unique. This detail is part of what makes Wonder Wickets notable.
Many golf games will simply cover the basics and add a little aesthetic gloss, if they feel it's necessary. Bunkers, greens, fairways, wind, power shots, putting, etc. One can only do so much with golf, though mini-golf is a slightly different endeavor, I admit. By adding all these different details and obstacles, Wonder Wickets succeeds in presenting a display of levels that challenge the player's wits in a variety of ways. One may come across a level with moving enemies that trigger switches that require the player to time shots accordingly. Another level may force the player to shoot their ball at specific angles to cover as much ground as possible. Most of the fun to be had involves the ways in which the game challenges you, something the game does plenty of in both its solo campaign and a more intimidating challenge mode.
Putting aside its normally-functioning interface, the means of "golfing" in this game can also be a tad frustrating, particularly with the shot tracker that shows how a ball is going to travel across the map. There have been many times where it predicts the ball will not hit a corner or will not be affected by a corner of a water/sand tile, only to have both scenarios play out, ruining my shot. Even in other golf games this isn't perfect, so it's expected, but it's frustrating all the same. I had to eventually learn the exact parameters at which a ball will hit a corner even if the tracker says it won't.
There's also a slight lack in explanation concerning various details of the game, particularly the finer points. Booting the game up for the first time, it will encourage the player to go through the tutorials for the game, with doing it in its entirety even unlocking a new character to play as. However, these tutorials don't tell one everything. It doesn't discuss the stars along the shot tracker indicating the length the ball will travel at a particular power. It doesn't say that hitting an enemy with the ball only works at a certain rate of speed. A lot of these things I had to figure out on my own, which I normally wouldn't complain about, but some of these are a little too integral to pass over, especially that first point.
Graphics & Audio
An often overlooked quality to artistic design is the emphasis on cuteness. Not always, mind you, but oftentimes one is more preferential of an aesthetic design that seems more serious or broody. For many years, the design of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was criticized for being too far away from the main series' original design, appearing too simplistic for the consequences of the grand story's importance. While Wonder Wickets doesn't have a tale to engross the wider audience, its colorful palate, with a lack of any bold, black outlines, is one of the more enchanting video game designs I've seen in my lifetime. Almost exaggeratively cute, it also complements the writing attributed to characters who appear antagonistic or villainous, giving a light-hearted aura to the overall body.
Yet more than with aesthetic purposes, the design of the game is vibrant in showing precisely what things do and what one can infer from them even upon seeing it for the first time. While I had some complaints about the lack of direct explanations, if not for the extra artistic input with the game's controls and features, I would've had an even harder time figuring things out. Where it doesn't state through words, Wonder Wickets tells an informative story with the miscellaneous details placed onto objects, tiles, or power-ups. A normal-looking cannonball will just bounce the ball in a certain direction; a cannonball with a skull and crossbones is probably something one doesn't need to touch.
With sound quality, there is very little to complain about, albeit with the limited space for sound within the game. Specific music tracks are generally limited, with about twenty(?) total tracks in the game that serve as background tunes more than anything else. Somewhat like stock music, but higher-end. Each character has a few voice clips that play dependent on actions and during result screens, none of which feel incongruent from the tone of the game. I'm typically wary of vocal performances in indie titles (it's mostly bad), but here it's just minimal enough to work, with some credit given to the general mirth brought upon by the game's carefree tone.
For the purist fans of golf and golf-related games, this will only serve as momentary distraction. Wonder Wickets is more than a golf game; it is in parts a puzzle game, action game, and platformer with golf as the driving foundation. This collection of different variations are sure to please anyone looking for a more openly diverse experience. Even so, the challenge (and some parts frustration) of the sport are not hard to find here, scoring that balance between blissful immersion and competitive drive. If not for the sporadic technical issues and lack of character exuberance perfect for the game's tone, this may be among my favorite games I've played in the last year.
|+ Aesthetically divine (Quite cute)||– Not a guaranteed functioning package|
|+ Many ways of challenging the player||– Lost potential in character interaction/rival challenges|
|+ Good level of artistic polish||– Not always great at tracking shots|
|+ Good balance of fun and focus|