This morning, Bandai Namco announced Winning Putt, a free-to-play golf game, and promptly started its open beta (opens in new tab). It's best thought of as a golf MMO: there's a club you can wander around in to socialize, gear to buy and 'enchant' with gold and platinum, experience points, guilds—you can even bring snacks with you to keep your stamina up. But it's still golf.
The actual golfing works as expected: aim your shot, watch a meter fill and click to set the power, then try to click when the bar hits the sweet spot on the accuracy indicator. I played it at an event hosted by Bandai Namco earlier this week, and thought it was a pretty fun, standard golf game when on the course. My favorite feature, as far as I could tell from the brief demo, were special skills, such as curved shots, that added a bit of panache to my play.
I wonder, though, if the RPG-style progression can harmonize well with a skill-based sport simulation. Worrying about my driver's durability or the quality of my GPS might be more of a nuisance than anything, and all the stats-enabled attire and equipment feels more like a nudge to my checking account than an improvement to the act of golfing. Maybe the character progression will maintain interest between new course releases (they're working on adding an extraterrestrial golf course right now), but my impression was that it's overstuffed with items.
And then there's the look: fairly bland CryEngine courses combined with characters in the idealized style of fantasy MMOs like Aion. The event I went to mostly showcased female avatars, all with bouncing chests and short skirts and pouty animations when they missed a shot. It's a strange concoction: a serious golf game that I could see my mom, an avid golfer, get into, but also one that would ask her to decide what sort of stats she wants her miniskirt to have.
But surely there are people in the part of the Venn diagram where anime, MMOs, and golf collide, and they can sign up for and play (opens in new tab) Winning Putt right now.