Over the holidays, full of roast dinner and bourbon, we downloaded Alphaputt, a cute minigolf game built around a wordy theme that sees each letter in the alphabet turned into a little golf course.
We've always been partial to words, and our relationship with golf games goes waaaaaay back to the classic Links series and Zany Golf on the old family PC, so it felt like a natural way to spend some quality time while the kids dominated the big screen over the holidays. Alas, the quality of the ideas that feed into this pocket-sized puzzler are a bit better than their execution, and while we've had a pleasant enough time playing through each of its 26 holes, we're left with the impression that there was potential left unfulfilled.
The levels themselves are, generally speaking, quite cute, and a bunch of different themes are explored, from A being represented by an airport with a plane taking off and landing, to Z being a zen-like garden with levitating pebbles to putt past. You can assemble any combination of courses by writing a word of your choice, or you can pick one already chosen by the developers, playing either alone or taking it in turns with up to three more players. Of course, some letters are used more frequently than others, and we got a little bored of certain courses, but this can be easily remedied by purposefully writing your own words using lesser-utilised letters.
So far, so good, but the shine starts to dull a little once you get on the different courses. Some of them are perfectly enjoyable little golfing challenges, and as per the developers have a suggested target in mind in terms of how many shots it should take you, however, it can sometimes feel like it's in the lap of the gods as to whether you'll make par or not. There's inconsistency across the courses and while some of them offer a completely balanced and fair challenge, it felt like some were left down to Lady Luck, and we all know how fickle she can be.
We thought that when some of the more time-sensitive gameplay elements were introduced the quality of the experience subsequently dropped off, and often we'd be left making a frustrating number of repeat attempts because events were just a little outside of our sphere of influence. Each of the levels has some sort of moving part at the heart of it, whether that be a rollercoaster or a car chase, and for the most part they worked well enough, but there was a handful in there that didn't feel as elegantly done as the rest.
Matters weren't helped by the controls. The setup was simple enough in the sense that you drag your finger back away from the ball, with the further you pull back the harder the shot. The system worked well for the most part, but sometimes - just enough for it to be an annoyance - you couldn't pull all the way back without touching the edge of the play space, effectively cancelling your shot and forcing you to draw back again. Being forced to reset shots wasn't a major problem, but it did get a little frustrating at times and sometimes in our haste to take a shot we'd already fluffed we would make unforced errors because we were too busy trying to avoid clipping the edge of the screen when we should have been lining up the putt.
Although we liked a good number of the courses, and the art style was certainly pleasing to behold, we can't help but think that Alphaputt could have been a bit better executed. The courses are generally quite simple, and the complicated ones are usually thus because of speedy moving parts rather than clever level design - we wanted more substance from some of the courses and just a little less luck.
All of these factors came together to create a game that hinted at brilliance, but that didn't quite have the quality nor the elegance to deliver on its promise. Alphaputt looks great and plays good, and for a little pitch and putt on the train during your daily commute it'll certainly do the trick, but while this is a good little game, you shouldn't go in expecting a crazy golf classic - this one makes par, no more, no less.