First Impressions: Albatross 18

Have you been pining away for a great golf MMO? We have, too! Look, even if you haven't, let's just go along with this, okay? Albatross 18 is an engaging, colorful, whimsical game that doesn't disappoint. When one considers golf, there really isn't too much to it -- hit the ball into the hole, rinse, repeat. The beauty of its simplicity is that a developer can go crazy with that concept and add all sorts of madness to it, and it can only improve the game.

And that's exactly what's going on with Albatross 18: beautiful environments, useful power-ups, crazy caddies, mascots, costumes -- this game is hilarious. Will you like it? Let's find out. As always, we remind you that this is not meant to be a full review of everything in the game; these are the first impressions we got after spending an hour or so playing. Excelsior!


(Note: clicking on an image will take you to its corresponding, larger image in the Gallery.)

To begin, here's the Select Server screen, where you can choose between a paper bag or a bulbous whale-thing. Don't dither too long over your decision, though, there's golfin' to be had! To the right, you'll see your choice of doghouses to crawl into. These are based on experience, in descending order, with two open areas rounding out the selections. The filled-in section of the bars indicate area population.

Before we jump in, though, a couple of advertisements. Cinco de Mayo items in the shop? Let's hope they include shot glasses.

The subtext of this helpful message seems to be: "Safe passwords are sexy!" And really, who can deny that?

Okay, on to the actual game. These bubbles are self-explanatory. At the bottom are more options; notably, the Store, Your Room, and a way to buy Astros, one of the two currencies in Albatross 18, the other being Pangs. More on this later.

Here we are, in the tutorial, learning our way around. The game itself automates a good portion of the proceedings, but also offers you ways to take as much control as you'd like. In the distance, the green vertical line represents the hole you're driving toward. To the right, you'll see our overly-excited caddy, who's literally shifting from foot-to-foot with barely-suppressed glee.

In this instance, our club has been pre-chosen to provide the requisite power needed to drive to the hole. You can override this choice with the Page Up and Page Down keys, which move you through your available clubs, but in most cases, it's best to leave it alone.

Here's a useful view, which puts the entire operation into perspective. The arrow keys allow you to move the camera around freely, while depressing the Shift key in tandem with the up and down arrow keys lets you zoom.

And the even more useful overhead view, accessible when the zero key is pressed. Of more importance here is the bar along the bottom. Clicking the mouse or hitting the Space bar will start the bar filling up from left to right; this is the Power Meter. Clicking again sets the power. Finally, a third click will deliver the actual stroke.

Here is the result of that stroke. The ball lands, bounces, and once it's stopped rolling, offers both the distance traveled, and the distance still to go. And yes, the grass is green.

This might require some explanation. Take a closer look at the meter, two pictures above this one. To the leftmost portion of the meter is a tiny purple area with a white stripe. After the second mouse click, the meter indicator will start bouncing from end to end. If you can stop it right on the white stripe, you'll see the word Pangya appear. The Pangya, as seen above, is your reward for spot-on accuracy. Once you've put the ball into the hole, you will gain a few extra Pangs.

Pangs can be used to buy items in the Store, like clothing, more golf clubs, special items, etc. However, it must be stressed that the majority of purchasable items are too expensive to be bought with mere Pangs. Instead, you must use Astros, the currency that can only be gotten by using real world money. Yes, Albatross 18 is free-to-play, but it's the microtransactions that really rule the game.

Once you're close enough to the hole, you'll see a grid overlapping the immediate area. The black holes indicate where the ball would roll if placed in the center of a particular grid square. Using the arrow keys, you'll need to rotate the grid until you've aligned the lay of the land with your approach to the hole.

Notice also that your club has changed to a putter. In the center of the Meter is a green zone that represents the optimum Power to employ to get the ball right into the hole. If you were playing at the bottom of a hill, you would want to use more power to compensate for gravity.

Here, our caddy has broken into a dance routine to cheer us on. It's working.

Here's a close-up of the Pang coins that pop out of the hole when you've sunk the ball.

Victory! We've brought it in under par, and we do a little dance of our own to celebrate.

Accompanied with a vaguely threatening, 'In your face!' kind of maneuver.

Here's the screen where you can buy Astros. As you can see, they really, really want your money. And, again, sex sells.

Here's the screen that shows who's available to play against. Albatross 18 won't let you play alone outside of the tutorials. No 'golferbating' allowed. The names have been blurred to protect the innocent.

To start a game, you can either join an existing room, or create one yourself. Here are the options for that, which include number of players, number of holes, and which course to play.

Here we are, in a new match, against a higher-ranked player. Everyone starts off as 'Rookie F' and works their way upward, gaining new ranks by leveling up.

Okay, see that cute bag to the right? That's our new caddy, who we got as a present from the game. Caddies offer stat boosts, and can get fairly expensive.

However, they are worth it not only for the boosts, but also just for companionship. You should see the way this one flies after your struck ball!

When it's the other player's turn, you simply have to wait. In the lower right corner is the wind indicator, which is an easy element to forget. However ...

... it's what's caused our shot to end up in these trees. Pay attention to the wind!

Watching the other player maneuver the grid around for the perfect shot. Our ball is indicated by the '1P' icon to the left.

Augh! Too many shots over par brings on this sorrowful animation. First, the shame ...

... then the resigned hopelessness. See? Games ARE art!

Here's the scoreboard so far. And an enticing background.

We'll say here that the graphics in Albatross 18 are delightful.

We were almost too slow to catch him, but that was Santa Claus zooming by overhead!

You never know what you'll find in the arctic, including, apparently, a scuttled battleship and a penguin with a helmet and backpack.

The overhead view's nice; it reminds you that sometimes the most direct route (over the battleship) might not be the best route. This hole should be approached in stages. The battleship is so tall our shot might not make it over.

If you get this close to the hole, your character just picks up the club ...

... and just taps it in. It's still possible to miss, or to hit it too hard, so pay attention.

And here's our opponent, lording it over us while we weep hot tears into the snow. Fun for everyone!

Maybe some shopping will make us feel better. Here's a selection of tops to peruse while our male model looks on, Sears Catalog-like.

You can try on anything you see, a useful feature. Some of these items actually boost your stats as well as keep you stylish.

And what golf game is complete without the requisite octopus hat? At least, we think it's a hat ...

For reasons that have to do with the overarching story, golf balls are called 'Phoenixes' instead.

Here are some useful items, like these 'Nerve Stabilizers'. Guess they couldn't legally call them 'Prozac'.

We don't care what the description says: that's a glass banana.

This was a gift that popped out of one of the holes we played, in a yellow box. Aww, look at the little bow!

You have to see the animation associated with this to truly appreciate it. Suffice to say, we want one.

How could you not love those cheeks?

Is this a ghost thingy, or just so sedentary it never leaves the house? Doubles as a mushroom source.

Clothes make the creature -- this aviator ensemble is what makes the ladies swoon!

Finally, and once again, sex sells. After playing the joy that is Albatross 18, you'll never want to play real golf again. At least, not until you can train your paper bag to be your caddy.