'Super Stickman Golf 2' Improves Its Game [Review]
Noodlecake Studios' original "Super Stickman Golf" was a surprisingly entertaining physics puzzler under the guise of a golf game, and it deservingly grew in popularity. The base gameplay, culminating in swatting a golf ball through a collection of intricate and playfully designed golf courses, all on a two-dimensional plain, let mobile gamers have short spurts of fun and an upbeat attitude. "Super Stickman Golf 2" is, expectedly, all of these things, out now on Android and iOS. The oringal gameplay is retained and built upon in mostly positive ways, the meta-game is greatly improved to the benefit of both players and Noodlecake Studios itself and it's all still wrapped up in that adorable, cartoonish, simplistic stickman aesthetic.
At its core this is exactly the same game as the original, but with a brand new collection of courses that embrace a zanier take on the original's design. You still gauge the power and angle of your shot with simple touch controls, and power-ups also make a return - sticky ball, super ball, nitro ball, freeze ball, etc. - which each augment your next shot in some unique way. Two new ones are introduced this time around. The laser ball allows you to fire off your shot in a straight line until it hits something and the magnet ball attracts your ball to the hole in controlled bursts. Happily, the system is streamlined by no longer forcing you to choose your set of power ups before you begin a round. Instead you can use any of them at any given time, though you're still limited to seven per game (unless you're wearing a special hat, which I'll get to later). Though these power-ups are an integral part of your strategy, and the new ones are a blast, we all know "Super Stickman Golf" lives or dies on the design of its courses. Noodlecake did well.
Instead of simply pushing the player through new environments like the first time around, Noodlecake introduces new sorts of obstacles as the courses ramp up in difficulty. First it's sticky walls, where you'll find your golfer standing sideways or even upside down to make the next shot, and then you're moving on to magnets that push your ball and moving platforms that require some intricate timing. These additions are mostly positive, lasers and all, because they force you to consider the power-ups at your disposal in new and interesting ways, but there is one hiccup in the new philosophy.
A couple of courses feature portals, transporting your ball from a surface and shooting it out somewhere else in the stage. Portals are color-coded to indicate where you ball is headed. While mostly amicable, the second portal-heavy course featured areas with multiple sets of portals that were the same color, and while I can appreciate some kinds of trial-and-error gameplay, it just doesn't work in "Super Stickman Golf 2." Add to that the unnecessarily heightened difficulty in determining the angles at which your ball is going to come through a portal - sometimes you might simply hit it straight into water for either of these issues - and you've got two courses that completely drag the overall pace of the game down.
Other than the portals, which, while definitely a cool idea, should have been left out, the courses are well designed and challenging in a positive way. Navigating various traps and using them to your advantage, gauging gaps and working angles as best you can, all while considering your power-ups for their best possible uses; that gameplay remains as fun and addicting as it did in the original.
Noodlecake Studios advertised two new multiplayer modes for their sequel. Turns out, only one of those made it to Android, which is the platform I used to play this game. For that reason I can't comment on the live Race Mode multiplayer, which is currently exclusive to the iOS version, but I did enjoy the asynchronous turn-based mode available to online play. Much like "Words with Friends" and many others to follow suit, this multiplayer mode allows players to swap shots at their own pace, even allowing you to view your opponent's previously-made attempt on a given hole.
Players exchange who goes first on each hole, so it isn't unfair, and it's actually pretty entertaining finding out how different people tackle different obstacles. It's an engaging, almost educational experience that's worth having, it's just a letdown you can't actually invite your friends to play along. Despite the fact that you sign up with a dedicated username there is no invite system, which means you're playing random opponents all the time. Noodlecake says in the game's description the feature is coming soon, but for now it's a total bummer, but only because I look forward to playing with people I actually know.
The Meta Game and Business Talk
Whereas the course and power-up design has more been augmented than fundamentally changed, the additions outside of the core-gameplay are fairly drastic. First, and you can probably thank Valve for this, are the hats. There are a lot of them, and you get them by spending your Golf Bux (available through in-game grinding and as in-app purchases) at the Hat Lottery - the more you spend per roll, the higher chance you have of pulling a new hat, and those chances decrease as there are less and less new hats to find. You can see where Noodlecake is going with this. Fear not, in no way does the system hurt the game.
Hats grant abilities or simple visual augmentations, but the advantage gained is never overwhelming enough to feel unfair when another player is wearing a crown or a sweet afro. Additionally, players earn new avatars (ninja, zombie, etc.) and unlock new tours (4-packs of courses) by gaining XP and leveling up. Unlocking the final two tours does take a little bit of grinding, but guess what? Noodlecake lets you spend Golf Bux to level up as well. It does feel a bit manipulative, but dedicated players shouldn't take too long to get everything they need without spending a dime - you can also find Golf Bux spread physically throughout the courses or by accomplishing set achievements, but there is definitely a finite amount initially available. I haven't reached it yet and I have plenty of hats and every course unlocked.
And you can bet your biggest dime Noodlecake is going to keep adding hats, avatars and courses to promote their Golf Bux system. This is just the way it is.
It's all in good fun, and Noodlecake's attempt to turn their popular franchise into a microtransaction gem seems to be mostly in good faith. Some players might take issue with a couple optional purchases - players can only play up to five games of the asynchronous multiplayer at a time, but they can purchase the ability to play up to 25. Additionally, players can purchase the ability to see the power of their previous shot, which doesn't really sit well with me because it seems like a feature everyone should just have, but it doesn't break the experience. You can also buy an XP boost, but what fun is that?
Still, it's free on Android, so spending maybe an extra couple of bucks to jumpstart your hat collection doesn't feel like a total rip-off, and right now I'm good with five multiplayer games at a time. The $1 asking price on iOS isn't so bad either. Remember, you still have access to every course and even the multiplayer mode without spending a penny, and this is still an extremely entertaining time, so don't simply roll your eyes at Noodelcake's attempt to stay profitable. They've made a quality game, they deserve it.
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