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Hands On: Vertiginous Golf

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There are some genre descriptions I see and my heart sinks. “A new twist on tower defence!” Sink. “Adding an F2P model to classic racing!” Siiiiiink. “An update to a Myst-style adventure” Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiink. “A dystopian steampunk golf game.” PERRRRRR-DOOIIIIIIIINNGGG! My heart’s back up where it belongs!

That is the superb explanation given by indie publisher Surprise Attack Games, just announced as publishing the superbly named Vertiginous Golf. Golf powered by “a mysterious Victorian-era virtual reality device.” I’ve had a play of it.

One of the best ideas I’ve ever had is full size crazy golf. (Or “mini golf” as American’s so uncharacteristically undersell it.) The idea being, someone gives me countless millions of pounds (something that STILL hasn’t happened), and I build a full-size 18 hole golf course, but designed like something you’d find by the sea. So a hillside gets carved and painted to be massive, terrifying clown face, with an opening in its mouth the size of a garage door. A full scale stone bridge slopes up and over a proper river running through the course. And the windmill? It’s a windmill. This is why I should be in charge of EVERYTHING. However, my ambitions have never reached anything as lofty as Vertiginous Golf.

If regular mini golf is crazy, then Vertiginous Golf is stark-raving deranged, running around in a straitjacket and screaming about the eels in its mind. Floating platforms in the sky make up the most incredibly elaborate courses, intricate, inter-woven, multi-platform madness, crafted from what looks like Victorian furniture, carpets, and steam pipes. Only moving pictures can do this justice:

Indeed, it’s the golf game played on plush rugs we’ve all been waiting for. Importantly, it’s also rather fun.

Right now the courses are so elaborate, so interesting, that they need to work a bit better at helping the player find the hole. Joyfully, many holes have such labyrinthine routes making up multiple choices about how to reach the destination – they just need to work harder at letting you know where that destination actually is.

In any new hole you’ll want to possess the hovering body of a mechanical hummingbird, and fly about, picking out potential routes… Let’s stop a moment there and look at what I just wrote:

“In any new hole you’ll want to possess the hovering body of a mechanical hummingbird, and fly about, picking out potential routes.”

If that sentence alone isn’t enough to make you interested in Vertiginous Golf, then we’re not friends any more. Because you’re the worst friend. Anyway, aboard the humming bird you can flit and float around, spotting possible pathways, perhaps aiming for the least resistance, or the most opportunities for taking advantage of “free stroke holes”, that win you back your shot, propel the ball to another part of the level, and make the concept of a “hole in one” possible. Well, at least a hole with only one shot on your scorecard.

Far more likely is 29 strokes on your score card, as you find yourself carefully lining up with a particular ramp, hoping to launch from it and catch the rapidly propelling spinning chains that will fling your ball to the correct conveyor belt, and hopefully avoid the spinning wheels and sliding blocks, depositing you somewhere near the fans you’ll need to float toward the hole. Yes.

There’s work to be done here. Not only do holes need more direction, but the golf club controls are rather wanting. There are only two clubs in the game, which I think is the right choice. There’s a putter, and a chipper of some sort. One for jumping gaps, one for rolling, really. But right now the sensitivity on both is unwieldy. If your ball is a couple of feet from the hole, it can be impossible to tape Space gently enough for it to go in, without bouncing off. And without an arc of light to show you the trajectory of the chipper, guessing distances between floating sections is purely that – guessing.

There is a rewind feature, which is a nice idea – hit A and if you’ve enough rewind left in your meter, it’ll take back that shot. Right now it’s fairly choppy – there’s no fun visible rewinding of the shot you took, just a cut back to the earlier position – and that takes the charm away somewhat. And I’m a little confused as to how and why rewind ability is returned to you while playing. It’s a good feature, but again, it needs refining.

But Vertiginous Golf isn’t a golf game. It’s an obstacle course. And at this, it excels. Each new hole looks impossibly complex, bursting with different ways to tackle it, and tough bonuses to try to take advantage of. And crucially, when you’re already 14 over par for a level, I didn’t feel dejected or defeated. It was still fun to reach the hole, and it offers the following course no matter your score. In the end, par becomes a reason to go back to levels, to improve on your previous turn. And that’s precisely how it ought to work.

Developers Kinelco and Lone Elk Creative plan to put the game into Early Access come March, where it will have two 9 hole courses (the beta build that came out last year only had nine holes), and up to four player local multiplayer. Then by Autumn they’re hoping to release the finished version, with online multiplayer, a tournament system, and an elaborate mystery story to accompany it all. There should also be a level editor, likely using Steam Workshop.

Based on the build I have now, March’s Early Access will be well worth dipping into. They desperately need to fix the sensitivity of the putter – that’s an essential fix right now – but beyond that, there’s a lot of fun to be had with this already.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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