The typical golf video game has six or seven courses and well over 100 holes. In Cursed to Golf? There’s just one course with 18 holes. And struggling to get out of a sand trap won’t result in a bogey as much as your eternal damnation.
This is not a typical golf video game. It is the most punishing and creative twist on the golf formula I’ve ever played. And I still haven’t finished those 18 holes.
While Cursed to Golf has core similarities with the traditional game of golf (hit a ball with a stick until you get it in a hole), it quickly deviates from that model in wild ways.
Here, you have a limited amount of strokes to complete each hole. Run out of strokes and you’re dead. Literally. You get sucked into a portal and you have to start back from hole one. The typical hole in Cursed to Golf might take 20 or more strokes to complete, but you’ll start out with far fewer than that. You’ll have to earn more strokes by smashing statues scattered around each course, which might add two or even four more life-giving strokes to your reserves.
You also have an array of consumable cards to give you an edge. The simplest one is a mulligan, letting you retake a shot without dwindling your stroke total. But they get stranger from there. One card splits your ball in three at the press of a button, letting you pick from one of the three balls to take your next shot. Another stops time at any moment you choose, causing your ball to freeze in place and then fall straight down, potentially saving you from a hazard. There are dozens of these cards, and knowing when to use them to make the most out of a situation is crucial. You could, for example, use a mulligan after going out of your way to smash a stroke statue, giving you the benefit of the statue without forcing you to spend a stroke.
It may seem like you’re given a tremendous edge, but careful use of these cards throughout your 18-hole journey is required. It’s easy to fall behind on your stroke count and just start burning your cache of cards until you’ve got no chance to survive the hole. Every shot really does matter in your quest out of hell.
Because of these changes, Cursed to Golf feels way more intense and strategic than most golf games, which usually put me in a meditative trance. Comparisons to Dark Souls have been made, but this feels closer to hardcore roguelikes such as Spelunky HD and Slay the Spire, where a moment of careless play can lead to disaster.
There’s also the element of randomness to contend with. It’s a bit unfair to say that Cursed to Golf only has 18 holes, because it’s actually procedurally generated. Hazard and statue placements change each time you start from scratch, so you can’t just memorize the most effective way through every hole.
To mix things up further, there are course themes that change every few holes, with temples, jungles, and other fantastical regions to perish in. Each theme comes with its own set of traps and features (like ricochet walls that allow you to magically change the trajectory of your ball). Your first time through a new theme will unquestionably end in death as you misinterpret a hazard and burn a handful of strokes trying to get through it. As with the best roguelikes, that failure will eventually result in mastery of the zone, ushering you toward even harder challenges.
While most of Cursed to Golf’s twists on the formula work well, there are some frustrations tied to some of the game design decisions. While you can scroll ahead in a hole to see what’s in your path, when you’re aiming your shot, your view is painfully limited. Oftentimes you’ll hit your ball somewhat blindly, especially when it comes to long-range, full-power shots with your driver. While this does mimic actual golf and its blind doglegs, video game golf usually offers way more visibility into where you’re actually aiming. In Cursed to Golf, there’s some guesswork involved, and guessing wrong can end a run in no time. This randomness can be disheartening when so much is on the line, but it’s also something you can try to prepare for by playing more conservatively.
Even with Cursed to Golf’s punishing difficulty, I’ve found myself getting closer and closer to the vaunted 18th hole on each run, with no desire to stop until I’ve reclaimed my mortality. It’s a testament to the craft of developer Chuhai Labs, which was willing to take such risks with such a proven formula that I haven’t stopped even after several punishing deaths. And I won’t stop until I finally remove this dreaded albatross from my neck.
Cursed to Golf has been released on Aug. 18 on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Chuhai Labs. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.