Whatever you think of golf, game developers have found inventive ways to make use of its intuitive mechanics for a variety of games over the years, from the delightfully destructive Dangerous Golf to the retro JRPG-inspired Golf Story, not to mention the absurd amalgamation of everything in What The Golf?. Cursed To Golf then is the latest golfing twist but which cleverly works in two popular sub-genres, the roguelike and the deckbuilder.
You play a would-be champion golfer set to finish their final hole in a major tournament until they’re killed by a lightning strike from a freak storm. But rather than ascending to the Elysian links you instead find yourself plummeting all the way down into Golf Purgatory.
All is not lost however as you meet a friendly Scottish caddie (aptly, he nicknames your cursed golfer ‘Wee One’) who tells you about a legend of how you can return to the land of the living if you can complete 18 holes of golf in the underworld. These don’t just contain more fiendish environmental obstacles than the crazy golf courses of your childhood seaside holiday but a mysterious Greenskeeper is constantly changing up the courses each time you fail, meaning there’s far more than 18 individual holes that exist. But is the novel concept up to Par?
The golfing in question is presented in a side-scrolling perspective like mobile classic Desert Golfing, which gives Cursed To Golf the feel of a 2D platformer, also helped by the charming 16-bit aesthetic. Instead of running and jumping, you’re swinging your club to get your ball around these often expansive and fiendishly designed courses, switching between the driver, iron or wedge clubs to suit the distance or arc you’re trying to get your ball to go.
You can liken it to being a turn-based platformer, which also makes it more approachable a roguelike compared to the likes of Spelunky and Dead Cells that demand fast-thinking twitch-based reactions, though precision remains key. While the game lets you redo the power meter, you still have to time the shot’s arc, especially if you’re trying to get it through a very tight spot, plus there are more than just rough spots and bunkers you have to worry about (each respectively limiting the kind of club you can use to get them out).
More importantly, you’re given just five shots to reach the hole before you’re whisked back to the beginning, and sometimes it takes just one little mistake to ruin your run, especially if your ball lands into one of the many environmental hazards that not only wastes your shot but also takes away another as a penalty. However, unlike a typical round of golf, it’s also clear you stand little to no chance of actually finishing a course with that limit. Instead, you’ll need to find ways to increase your counter, such as smashing the statues placed around each level, with the silver statue granting you two more shots while the gold gives four more.
The other way to top up your shots is through cards, which brings us to the deckbuilding component. You start each run with a basic deck, but you can acquire more either as pick-ups based on the route you’ve picked or by buying card packs from any stores you pass with the money you’ve earned from each course. There’s cards that let you practice or re-do a shot, but also more inventive ones, such as being able to freely control the ball in the air for a limited time as a mini rocket, another where you can change its direction mid-flight, and even some that imbues it with one of the elements like fire, thunder and ice, even though it’s not immediately obvious what function these serve.
One trick you have up your sleeve that doesn’t require a card is spinning the ball after it bounces by mashing a button and holding the stick left or right, which can give go just a little further, or maybe bring it back so that it just manages to roll out of a rough spot or to prevent it from falling off a precariously small platform. When you’re down to your final shot and you just need a little nudge for it to reach the hole, this technique can be a life-saver.
Developer Chuhai Labs also ups the risk-reward stakes by commonly steering you towards paths of most resistance. Bonus pick-ups or shop locations usually mean having to play a cursed hole where you’re afflicted with random conditions for one or two shots, some statues tend to be located in tricky places that might have you wasting just as many shots they give you, while some shortcuts are deliberately inaccessible unless you have one or two specific cards in your possession. The latter really emphasises the importance of preparing a good deck, and fortunately you can always bank cards at the shop to use in a future run.
The biggest obstacle you’ll encounter however are the bosses found at the end of each of the game’s four biomes. While obviously changing the dynamic so that you’re competing against another opponent while still keeping an eye on the shot counter, these challenges are a double-edged sword. Of course, they should feel more powerful than you, but their gimmicks can feel unfair, such as one where parts of the level literally change before your turn. While you can break idol statues that will stun them for a turn, many of these tend to require using more shots to reach, in effect making them redundant. Nonetheless, triumph and you’ll also gain new abilities that will in effect prevent you from having to completely reset your run, and at least you won’t have to play against defeated bosses on subsequent runs.
Due to its turn-based nature, a run in Cursed To Golf can also feel slow, even though you can fast-forward actions. It’s further exacerbated by just how long most courses can run for, averaging to anywhere between 15 to 30 shots, so you may be looking at a run that lasts several hours compared to the tighter 30-minutes runs of a typical roguelike.
While you’re able to quit and return where you left off, that time investment nonetheless means losing your progress and getting sent back to the first hole of Golf Purgatory feels a lot more deflating, putting me off from attempting immediately afterwards. Nonetheless, for those who are patient and persistent, this is a charming entry point to the roguelikes and deckbuilders here, held together by timeless and ever-adaptable golf mechanics.
Cursed To Golf is an original take on golf with charming 16-bit characters and environments that also hide a lot of devious shenanigans beneath the surface. It’s also arguably a more accessible gateway into roguelikes, if also resulting in slower and lengthier runs, while also tricking you into playing a deckbuilder with an inventive suite of abilities to take your ball further. Whether you love or hate golf, everyone should give this a putt.
- Turn-based nature of golfing makes for a more approachable roguelike
- Ball spin manouevre allows for some nail-biting tactics
- Charming retro aesthetic
- Runs go on far longer than a typical roguelike, so losing progress stings much more
- Some boss mechanics feel unfairly weighed against you