Here on earth, the origins of golf are still up for debate, but on Pangya Island--a world of dreams and fantasies that exist in an alternate dimension--the sport's history is well documented. Known as Pangya by the island's inhabitants, golf was invented as a way to pay tribute to a hero who, not too long ago, defeated the dark lord by hitting a ball into a hole. Clearly Pangya: Fantasy Golf is no ordinary sports game, but regardless of how you feel about its colorful characters and fantastical fairways, there's no shortage of good golfing here.
Early courses look a lot like those in conventional golf games...
Pangya Island's nine golf courses support single-player tournaments and ad-hoc matches for up to eight players, but those are best left for when you've already spent some time with the lengthy Story mode. In this mode, you'll get familiarized with the traditional three-click control system, you can (after about 15 hours or so) unlock all 18 of the players on the roster for use in other modes, and you will inevitably accumulate plenty of Pang to spend on new outfits and better equipment for your favorite golfers. There's also a story in there, of course, and while the dialogue between characters is rarely compelling, it at least makes a stab at explaining how magical Pangya natives, anthropomorphic dragons, a large white bear, a young pirate girl, and a pro tennis player named Max have come to be playing golf together. The story is good for a chuckle every now and then, but you won't miss much if you opt to skip all of that stuff and just stick to playing golf because the objective is always to beat your opponent, regardless of whether or not he or she is a love interest, an adoring fan, a criminal, a mortal enemy, or a member of a rival island tribe.
If you've ever played any golf game before, you should have no problem getting into Pangya. You select clubs with the shoulder buttons; aim your shots using the D pad; and with the benefit of an overhead map, you take differing elevations and weather conditions into account; then, you click the shot button three times to start your swing, set the power, and strike the ball as cleanly as possible. As you progress through the Story mode, you're introduced to more advanced techniques, such as a topspin and backspin, power curve (applying exaggerated draw or fade to play around corners), and shots with such names as tomahawk, cobra, and spike. The controls for performing some of these spectacular shots are more demanding, though remembering when to press which buttons is more difficult than actually doing so.
On a regular golf course, shots like these would be considered overpowered, but they're practically a requisite for playing some of the holes on Pangya Island. Early courses have a conventional feel and pose few problems outside of the bunkers and water hazards that you'd expect. It doesn't take long for realism to give way to fantasy, though, and fairways atop narrow columns of rock, greens situated on small islands, and obstacles that include everything from windmills to volcanoes become commonplace. There's certainly no shortage of variety as far as the course designs are concerned, and while the visuals are the most obvious difference between courses that are covered in snow rather than volcanic ash, the environments have some impact on how the holes play as well. On a frozen fairway, for example, your ball will travel a little farther after its initial bounce than it will on a sun-drenched one, and when water hazards freeze over, they become targets as viable as the fairways and greens--there isn't even any penalty for playing your subsequent shot from the ice.
...but later you'll feel like you're teeing off in the bowels of hell.
Even shots played from the rough suffer a distance penalty of only 5 percent, so provided you steer clear of water hazards, bunkers, and areas that are designated out-of-bounds, Pangya: Fantasy Golf feels very forgiving. With the default settings, the effects of the wind are negligible, the hole cups are much larger than in real life, and mistakes made on the power gauge while attempting to strike the ball result in shots that are only slightly off target rather than in dramatic hooks or slices. If you take a trip to the options screen and turn off the "Beginner Mode" option, though, the level of challenge rises significantly. There's no option to tinker with the unpredictable AI of Story mode opponents, who will play like geniuses one moment and gorillas the next, but they at least become more formidable and consistent as you progress. Incidentally, in one-on-one games, you get to watch your opponent taking his or her shot with a welcome option to fast-forward through it, whereas in tournaments, all players take their shots simultaneously and small portraits show the positions of their respective balls.