If EA didn’t make gazillions of dollars each year and occasionally win unflattering awards, it would be easy to feel sorry for its dilemma when it comes to mobile versions of its best-selling sports franchises. Make them too hardcore and you alienate the mobile masses, but going too casual risks alienating true sports fans.
King of the Course gets it right with simple yet strangely addictive gameplay loops and enough real courses and PGA pros that even scratch golfers might be compelled to give it a shot. Here’s a fact that might come as a surprise: some of the same people that are working on the now Tiger-less PGA Tour 15 for consoles helped create King of the Course. As one of those very folks told me at E3, sometimes even people who enjoy serious golf sims want something a little lighter to mess around with on a smartphone or tablet just to kill a few spare minutes.
The solution EA Mobile came up with was not to make this a game where you play the full game of golf but one where you simply tackle challenges ranging from hitting the center of a bullseye in a certain part of the course to getting shots to stop in specific scoring zones. Every fourth challenge or so is actual stroke play to finish one complete hole — the better to take advantage of licenses to use famous circuits like TPC Sawgrass and St. Andrew’s — but for the most part, these are bite-sized chunks of golf. There’s still a real competitive element thanks to a leaderboard system for each challenge so you can see exactly how you stack up against your friends.
High scores also aid in your development, as earning the maximum three stars per level will eventually get you enough to earn boosts in accuracy, spin, luck or putting. Tokens won in challenges can be spent to unlock golfers with different stats, though these are merely archetypes and not real pros, and there aren’t any customization options.
The gameplay definitely leans toward the arcade side, as you simply tap and hold to begin your backswing and then swipe up to aim and swing. While the ball is in the air, spin can be applied by swiping in the desired direction, and it’s possible to put quite a bit of english on it even while it’s bouncing around. Putting works in a similar fashion except that a tap and drag on the top half of the screen is used to aim, and the game gives you good reads on the break of each green. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that the laws of real world physics apply here or anything (though wind can affect your shots).
King of the Course keeps things light, particularly with power-ups that can make the ball stick instantly instead of bouncing or give you other advantages that would probably make Newton frown. About the only things that are true to life are the gorgeously rendered courses and pros like Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson who show up to give advice and provide extra tough challenges at regular intervals.
While there are in-app purchases for extra tokens or boosts, there’s nothing in the free-to-play model that feels predatory. Even the energy system that shows up in the form of golf balls only requires you to use one when you fail a challenge. If you’re good enough to earn at least one star, you can go right on golfing. Semi-regular crashes seem to be the chief complaint from players so far, and they did pop up during my review time as well.
Still, if stability is the biggest problem here, it’s one that can be fixed through updates. All told, that developer at E3 was right: it was time for a different approach, and King of the Course is on target in that regard. It’s not too hardcore and not too casual, so just like that girl in the bears’ house said, it’s just right.