On paper at least, Cursed to Golf is a great idea: a golf game that’s only tangentially about golf. You choose a club depending on the angle and distance you want to hit the ball, and you target a hole marked by a flag. But beyond the usual patches of sand and water, Cursed to Golf’s fractured supernatural terrain is more like an extensive obstacle course with hazards that range from fake holes to teleporters to TNT.
This, after all, is Golf Purgatory, the place your character goes after an unfortunate incident involving a raised golf club and an ill-timed bolt of lightning. Down there, the courses change order at random and going over par forces you to restart from the first of 18 holes in total. By default, you get five shots to succeed. But five is rarely enough, so you’ll aim for the statues strewn throughout these golf gauntlets that, when smashed, increase the par. While some sit along the most obvious path, others are tucked into inconvenient corners and detours that might trip you up and eat half the additional par you took a chance on in the first place.
Additionally, you’ll rely on any Ace Cards acquired during a run. The simpler ones do things like give you a practice shot or a do-over or an immediate par increase, but the best ones offer a dramatic change in strategy for one stroke. You might be able to change the ball’s direction mid-air, transform it into a steerable rocket, or turn it to ice so that water freezes and functions just like normal terrain. Many of the courses have shortcuts specifically designed around these cards, and that’s one of the areas where the game’s roguelike elements are most apparent; the cards you’re given are totally random, so sometimes you’re simply out of luck and don’t have the tools to take a specific detour or pull yourself out of a particular scrape.
The cutesy art style of Cursed to Golf obscures just how punishing the game can be in this regard. Every run starts the player more or less at square one, with no currency and only a few basic Ace Cards. Any shops you encounter let you give up cards to stash away for a future run, but the good ones are so valuable that it’s tough to justify setting them aside unless you’re resigned to losing and starting over. You will gain useful abilities from boss battles, like the ability to set one checkpoint per run, but they feel like consolation prizes for putting up with a structure that never justifies its reason for being presented in the guise of a roguelike.
A good roguelike, after all, gives us the itch for one more try because their variables are always changing, always shifting the odds by shuffling layouts and pickups. We know that our luck may very well change in the next run, and that even if it doesn’t, we have an edge because we can apply knowledge gleaned from prior failures. Cursed to Golf, however, leaves precious little room for a quick comeback because it forces you through its earlier levels like a punishment. The later courses offer considerable variety in their layouts and the Ace Cards you can use to bypass certain sections, but, by contrast, the initial levels have mind-numbingly basic layouts that you can’t circumvent since only the most basic Ace Cards appear so early on.
Worse, Cursed to Golf itself is already rather slow, weighed down by all the extra seconds we spend watching bespoke little animations. Every single hit leads to a painful waiting period, where you watch the ball land, accompanied by a little pop-up that shows what terrain you landed in, followed by your golfer hopping into a portal to arrive at the new location. But sometimes you have to wait longer because the ball has to pass through the wind of a slow-moving fan or because every first hit comes with a slightly extended portal-hopping animation where your character falls down once spat out the other end. During boss battles, you’re encouraged to hit statues that zap your opponent so you can immediately take your next turn, but not before having to watch the same “stun” animation every single time.
To be fair, there’s a fast-forward button that you can deploy in such occasions, but it never seems to be, well, fast enough. The opening preview of a course always takes a while, and the camera always lingers when you hit one of the hazards. Even the zoomed-out view that allows you to survey a course feels far too slow, as does the minor touch of driving a golf cart between points on a map rather than just moving immediately from one spot to another. Combined with just how long it takes to come back after you’re kicked back to hole one, the problems with Cursed to Golf snowball to a point where how good its central idea is ceases to matter. At its worst, the game is truly infuriating in its disrespect for the player’s time.
This game was reviewed using a code provided by Thunderful.
Developer: Chuhai Labs Publisher: Thunderful Platform: Switch Release Date: August 18, 2022 ESRB: E ESRB Descriptions: Mild Language Buy: Game