The other reason golf is such a popular game genre is that it’s by nature almost a ‘one button’ game, in that the core action – that of taking a shot – is just a matter of timing a tap or flick on the touchscreen of, in this case, an Android smartphone. So golf is a perfect ‘casual’ game that doesn’t require massive multi-finger coordination and concentration. Lift your gaze for a moment or get distracted and you won’t have just been killed by a zombie, or whatever! Not that the ‘one button’ nature should take away from the skill required to succeed. Typically there will be wind, ball lie and terrain to contend with, plus limitations due to the clubs available, and so on. Not every game listed below uses all of this, of course – but the best ones do, and to good effect. I should add that I have some form in this game genre, having written golf games/simulations for the Psion palmtops back in the 1990s and the Nokia and Sony Ericsson smartphones in the early 2000s – so I know a good title when I see it. Only five games below, eh? As it turns out the whittling down (from 30 or so) was pretty easy. Take out anything with amateur ‘my first game’ graphics (so that’s most of them!), take out titles which seem to be longer available (e.g. ‘Tiger Woods PGA Tour’, sadly) and there’s only half a dozen or so left.

5. Golf Star

For the first time ever in an AndroidBeat ‘Top 5’, don’t take a placing as a recommendation. Golf Star has a huge amount to recommend it – and a huge amount to make any sane computer golfer run away screaming! Based on a professional physics engine, i.e. the golf itself is satisfying, realistic and challenging, the surrounding game ‘furniture’ is appallingly, terribly over-complex and unbalanced. Golf Star is at heart just a way of making an obscene amount of money for the developers – who should be ashamed of themselves. From token to coin to heart to power-up to booster to experience points to consumable to every other virtual infestation under the sun, Golf Star is a veritable nightmare to navigate. And I have to give a hearty warning shout out to ‘special offers’ listed as “$0.00” which, when tapped through, turn out to be the maximum £79.99 in real money. Quite appallingly misleading. Real time tournaments are provided and, I’m sure, are lots of fun for those who have invested the necessary time and money in the Golf Star ecosystem. Me? I’d long since lost the will to live… Such a shame – the programmers who worked on the golf bits itself should be congratulated. This could have been a terrific, challenging experience, but in the end, Golf Star has ended up as “A good golf game spoiled”.

4. Super Stickman Golf

Rest easy though, since from here on in it’s cracking games with the ‘freemium’ elements dialled down a lot. Interestingly, the days of full commercial titles seem to have vanished, with every decent golf game now free to install and then working on ways of getting you to part with your cash from then on. Super Stickman Golf is perhaps as much puzzle as golf game, but I’ve let that pass because it’s such fun to play. Each hole is outrageously designed and laid out in two dimensions, side-on, and you have to not only work out a way to get your golf ball to the hole in par but actually execute the plan as well. Accompanied by jaunty music and cute graphics, Super Stickman Golf is harder than it looks. Left and right on-screen arrows to tilt your shot up and down and then tap and tap again to set the strength of each shot. For free you work your way through the various hole packs, but with a few small in app purchases you’re on your way faster with access, a removal of any ads and special balls that behave in unrealistic (but helpful to progress) ways. It’s well balanced, easy to put down and pick up again. Just don’t expect to see a traditional caddy, club house or…. blade of grass!

3. Mini Golf Stars 2

Mini golf, or ‘crazy golf’ as it is in the UK, is a great way to while away a rainy afternoon at the seaside – after all, the ‘grass’ is some kind of astroturf, usually. Bash your ball around between obstacles, slopes and hoops and generally have fun with the family – I’m sure you’ve had a go at some point. And on a computer/smartphone, with everything virtual, the obstacles and puzzles can be an order of magnitude harder without some groundsman having to build and maintain the things…. Mini Golf Stars 2 is freemium as well, of course, but you can play right through without paying if need be (if you’re good and patient enough) – things just get easier if you do use an in-app purchase, buying mulligans and chip shots, mainly, plus the interstitial ads you have to watch if you fail to make par can be skipped. All fair enough, since this is a quality piece of code. Dragging and holding the touchscreen sets your aim and then a two tap system sets the power. The skill here is getting a feel for how bouncy the various materials and obstacles are, how high you need to chip(!), and so on. But it’s worth it, this is a great game.

2. Let’s Golf 3

At heart, the physics and rendering engines in this title are top notch, but they’re almost buried in the cute cartoon graphics, the shmultzy music and crazy animals (yes, animals – really). This graphics style is something you have to live with even if you don’t particularly enjoy it (or see my number one pick below!) Let’s Golf 3 takes the same idea as Golf Star in that there are coins, currencies, energy points, experience points, and much more, plus innumerable ways to dress up (needlessly?) your players, but somehow it all stays the right side of ‘sane’ and the result is far more enjoyable. Playing in ‘Stroke’, ‘Duel’ or ‘Challenge’ modes either on your own or against another player online (through Gameloft’s servers), the graphics and golf mechanics are first class. There’s a certain pressure to perform, given that failing to make par requires you to go back to the start of each course section or pay in virtual currency to try again. In multiplayer mode, against others online, there’s even more pressure of a different kind, of course, plus you wouldn’t want your Facebook friends to see you getting whupped too many times. Somewhat oddly, you never really see the other player in action – just a tiny thumbnail every now and then in a pop-up view. Mini-games and customisation options round off a title with high production values – even if some of the design does seem to have been done while under the influence of illegal substances….

1. WGT Golf Mobile

But, at the risk of cheating slightly, it’s hard to not put WGT Golf Mobile in the number one slot – it’s utterly realistic, tremendously challenging, has full online multi-player… and is effectively completely free. Let’s tackle the price first – the WGT Golf marque across all platforms makes money from real world sponsors of the various online events, plus selling you credits, with which you can (but don’t have to) buy branded virtual goods, some of which are purely for show and some of which can apparently make your game better. But the real unique selling point is that the courses are real. And I mean Real with a capital ‘R’. The developers have been out and photographed each hole on each course from thousands of different positions and angles, then when you find yourself in (or near) that spot, all they have to do is put up the appropriate photo. The (vertical and surface) terrain in the game is mapped to ‘within an inch’ of that in the real world, ensuring that you and your ball stay realistically displayed, on-screen. And of course lighting and shade on your golfer and the action are all handled as well. The only downsides are that for some lies the photo position may mean that your golfer avatar is shown slightly off to one side of centre, but hey, that just gives WGT Golf Mobile more of a ‘TV’ feel. And where do all the tens of thousands of photos, per course, totalling several Gigabytes, live? On a server somewhere thankfully, but the streaming down to your phone in real time of just the images you need is very fast indeed, at least on Wi-fi or 4G. You may not want to play WGT Golf over a slow or limited 3G connection! With the option to play through courses for the love of the game, to accept monthly challenges, to play ‘head to head’ random games against online opponents (and yes, you see everything they do), there’s enormous gameplay here and, as I say, essentially for free. If I had to nit pick then I’d pick out the way it’s not trivial to reposition your aim in the UI, or the way the screen auto-dims and powers down if your online opponent takes a bit longer than usual, but take all this with a pinch of salt. Your bandwidth permitting, WGT Golf Mobile is still a superb golf game, simulation and – yes – an experience. A worthy number one!

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