Golf games seem to be having a bit of a renaissance right now. From their beginnings on the fairway fringes of Flash-game forums, we now have been blessed with a handful of fun indie golf sims. We’ve seen the bizarre buffoonery of What The Golf?, the high-speed, eye-popping courses of Golf With Your Friends, and Secret Mode recently completely threw the clubs out the window and replaced them with highspeed motorcars in Turbo Golf Racing.
It's safe to say that golfing games are always full of shenanigans and Cursed To Golf is no different. Playing as a golfer who has been cast into Golf Purgatory, you need to golf your way back to the land of the living, completing all eighteen holes in one roguelike run. It’s a fun premise and the game bursts with silliness and personality, but unfortunately Cursed To Golf fails to iron out certain roguelike frustrations. After mistiming a shot in the game’s final area and being sent back to the beginning (ending an excruciating four-hour run time), I truly did feel cursed.
So, how did our little golfing buddy get into this situation anyway? Turns out that during the final hole of a championship golf tournament, your golf club got hit by lightning, frying you to a crisp. Tumbling into Golf Purgatory, you learn that to escape you must complete an eighteen-hole golf course. Sounds like a breeze for our golfer, but there are shenanigans afoot (told you). Each hole sees you golf through dangerous hazards, obstacles, and phantom bosses and if you don’t get your ball to the goal within the par count, you’re cast back to the very beginning.
It's not just as simple as whacking the ball as hard as you can, Cursed To Golf challenges you to approach each level like a puzzle, mechanically testing your skills and nerve to zig-zag through its dungeon-like golf courses. You're given three different kinds of club to choose from (some golf 101 for those unacquainted like I was): there’s the driver for powerful long-range whacks that could knock a bloke out cold, the iron for mid-range shots when you need to get the ball through tight spaces, and the wedge for more accurate close-range shots.
The basic act of golfing is beautifully simple. You scroll through your clubs using the Shift key, then one click to decide the power behind your shot and one click to aim and hit the ball. If you’ve set up your shot just right, the ball should land where you planned. It’s incredibly intuitive and these simple controls are where the game’s Flash foundations shine through.
Together with your clubs are a fistful of ‘Ace Cards’ that apply power-ups on your ball. These are incredibly fun and encourage you to pull off some ridiculous shots, which is half the fun of the game. The simplest ones let you take a practice shot or add strokes to your par count, but they ramp up in silliness as you progress. You can change the direction of your ball mid-flight, create two portals to teleport your ball, turn your ball into an icy lump that freezes pools of water, and there’s even a card that explodes TNT within a radius, revealing handy shortcuts. These cards (of which there are 20) are one of the best features of the game and spice up what would have otherwise been a pretty repetitive game of golf.
Second to the ace cards are the game's visuals. Every element in Cursed To Golf is bursting with personality. A few of my favourite details are the way your little golf cart bounces from one level to the next, the moon in the sky that's a giant-ass golf ball, and the golf-obsessed undead bosses. My favourite boss, named The Scotsman, has a giant orange beard, a booming laugh, and a burning golf ball as a heart. It’s all super charming, and the underworld has never looked this colourful.
As vibrant as Cursed To Golf is, though, I felt majorly let down by the courses. I was ready for the chaos of the dungeon-like courses and the hazards I would have to skilfully manoeuvre through, but a lot of the obstacles are... kinda boring. There are staple golf obstacles like pools of water and sand bunkers, but the game never really moves away from a small group of obstacles: fans, sci-fi teleporters, TNT, and spikes. There's one hazard in the early levels where a creepy skeletal hand bursts out from the ground and chucks your ball off its grave, but nothing else feels as dynamic and thematic as that. We’re in Golf Purgatory after all, where are all the damned spirits and undead?
I was ready for the chaos of the dungeon-like courses, and the hazards I would have to skilfully maneuver through but a lot of the obstacles are...kinda boring.
There's just not enough to keep me wanting to retry courses, which is pretty important for a roguelike where you need to keep repeating levels. It also doesn’t help that courses can be painfully slow. I totally get that golfing is a game of precision and setting up the perfect shot takes time, but everything outside of your turn really drags. As much as I love my undead Scottish golfer bud, his tutorial went on for far too long. Fans are slow to push your ball, teleporters take a couple of seconds to spit your ball out somewhere else, and even golf play-offs against bosses can feel like a lug. There’s an option to skip through an opponent’s turn but you need to focus on what they do so you can react. Apart from your initial swing (which feels incredibly satisfying and tactile, props to the devs Chuhai Labs on this) there's a serious lack of anything dynamic. But I guess that’s golf at the end of the day, it’s not exactly the kind of sport that will have your heart thumping and adrenaline going.
Another issue I found was not wanting to experiment and take risks, which is another roguelike staple. I would always take the safest pathway through courses because of the unpredictability (and little annoyances) that are present throughout the game. One example is a card called the ‘Lead Weight’ which stops your ball from bouncing, but when using it your ball bounces! It’s only a little hop but it makes all the difference in a game that asks you to be precise. There are several hiccups like this that can make the difference between success and failure. Not wanting to ruin my run (each one having the potential to last hours), I was weary of trying out any cool moves at the risk of failure.
I’ve played difficult roguelikes where runs take hours and I’ve failed time and time again, but it feels more frustrating here. I think my main quarrel is that Cursed To Golf just doesn’t make failure fun or rewarding. When you’re sent back to the start, nothing changes, and courses aren’t interesting enough to get me excited to retry them. Dungeons switch up their layouts but lackluster course variety and a hesitancy to experiment make golfing through them a grind. There are different pathways to choose from, including deadly maze-like challenges to try for rewards, but the game practically throws ace cards and money at you, so I didn’t want to risk failure on a more difficult course that I could easily avoid.
Cursed To Golf has plenty of visual charm, and elements taken from its Flash game origins feel like a fun throwback. Unfortunately, though, it’s a bit of a swing and a miss for its roguelike elements.