There’s something strangely utilitarian about the experience of playing a mobile game. Unable to compete with the experiences offered by a PC or games console, each has to fill a specific gap in your life. Maybe it’s bus journeys or toilet trips or hidden under the table on a really bad date, but I reckon the actual game’s quality is a secondary concern to how snugly it fits into the chosen scenario.
And it’s here that Super Stickman Golf 2 runs into trouble.
On one hand, SSG2 is a gleeful adaptation of the good-walk-spoiling sport that suggests how a Nintendo mobile game might feel, if the Big N were ever to change its mind on that issue. The game flattens golf into a simple 2D game of aiming and charging up your shot, then adds power-ups and fantastical courses. The result bear as much resemblance to Super Mario Bros 3 as it does Tiger Woods 11.
Mixed in among the usual sand traps and water hazards are sticky goo surfaces, swinging platforms and hard-to-hit shortcuts. Navigating these holes is made easier by the addition of a bag of seven power-ups. These include a rewind power that lets you take the last shot again and a whole load of balls: water-freezing ice balls, pink goo balls that cling to walls and ceilings, magnetised balls that I still don’t really understand how they work.
These additions enliven golf, the mildly diverting activity I’ve dabbled in a couple of times in real life, and turn it into something more colourful, satisfying and overtly game-y. It’s a fairground-mirror adaptation of golf that gives me a little more appreciation for the sport itself, just as Wii Sports and Wonderputt have in the past. So, in one way, SSG2 is a contender for the title of best mobile game I’ve ever played.
But it has one fatal flaw: You have to hold the phone sideways.
That might not sound like a big deal, but SSG2 fits a very particular niche. It’s not a toilet game, it’s not a coffee break game. It’s a black hole that consumes your time and attention – in other words, a perfect public transport commuter game. And if you have ever origami’d yourself onto the Northern Line at rush hour, you’ll know that the amount of space your elbows will need to control a game with both thumbs is just not going to happen.
I realise it’s my very specific set of circumstances that are causing this problem. And I know the game has to be that way – golf isn’t a particularly horizontal game, as I understand it. It’s not even a crippling enough flaw to stop me playing SSG2 even in the face of dropping my phone, as has now happened on not one but two crowded tubes.
But, for better or worse, this is the strange relationship we have with mobile games. They have to fit like Tetris pieces into our lives, or they’re just no good. I’m looking for a neat L block, and SSG2 is one of those long thin bastard red ones.