The thing that probably comes to mind when laying eyes on Cursed To Golf is another retro-inspired 2D Golf game called Golf Story—except that this time, we’re not golfing the conventional top-down way but the 2D side view way. What is less obvious from the screenshots is that Cursed To Golf is a “roguelike” with procedurally generated maps and a particularly tormenting permadeath implementation. If that short description still tickles your fancy, read on.
I’m a sucker for retro-inspired 2D graphics (hence this site), and the colorfulness of Cursed To Golf instantly made me mark the release date on my calendar. The trailer looked cool, the side view novelty of golfing looked… weird but appealing, and there were booster packs to open that translate into trick shots, oooh!
Unfortunately, for me, this is one of those games that looks better than it plays.
Two things frustrated me while playing the game. The first was the fact that it’s… side view golf! Yeah, I know, what a big surprise. It turned out to be cool on paper but not that much fun in practice. Traditional camera angles of 2D platformers aren’t known for their wide overview shots. Instead, the camera feels cramped and can barely pan a few inches left or right. At the press of a button though, you can explore the whole stage to your liking, but while taking shots, you sort of have to… guess.
I know this is part of the core gameplay, but for a golfing game, that’s ridiculous. I remember Wario Land 3’s golfing mini game very well, as it frustrated me in exactly the same way, so I should have seen that one coming. There, you hit an enemy in the hopes of landing it in the off-screen hole, making it beyond that patch of water or rough you’ve spotted while zooming through the stage. Golf Story is just like that, only much worse, since its levels are obviously much bigger compared to a cramped Game Boy Color screen resolution.
This reduces taking shots to educated guesses and a lot of prayers, resulting in indeed a lot of curses and perhaps the appliance of a “revert” booster card or two to retake that shot. Take a look at the following screenshot that displays the traversal path of the ball, depending on your clubs (driver, iron, or wedge) and the angle plus obligatory power meter you select:
The game wants you to scout ahead, notice a ledge, a narrow space, sand, or water, and adjust your shots based on that. In the first world, that’s fairly easy. In the second and third, that’s (too) difficult, as spikes on ceilings and floors combined with all sorts of annoying obstacles make an entry. Cursed to golf indeed.
Which brings me to the second frustrating fact. While Crused To Golf can be labeled as roguelike, it is clearly not a roguelite: there is absolutely zero sense of progression. In each stage, you’re given a pre-set amount of balls—which you can thankfully influence by booster cards, more on that below. Failed to find the hole after those shots? Tough luck, back to the beginning for you. And by that, I mean the beginning—of the game. Proud to have reached world 3? Haha, loser, here’s a procedurally generated stage of world 1 again, enjoy.
After three hours of trying to like the game, I was pretty fed up with world 1 and just gave up.
Sure, there’s money to collect and booster packs full of cool cards to buy at the shop. Most of my enjoyment of the game came from the usage of these cards: change your ball into a mini rocketball you can steer, use time stop to drop the ball mid-air, conjure up portals, explore stuff, … There’s a lot to like there, but the problem is that I have to use those in world 1 again and again. If you’re not that great at guessing what’s behind that corner, expect to hear “WATER!” and see a slap on the face a lot. Curses…
Even if you keep a portion of the money you’ve collected, there’s no real sense of progression. There’s no permanent stuff to buy: cards are one-time tricks. There’s no way to breeze through easy stages to quickly get back to where you were. In that sense, Cursed To Golf feels like a very cruel curse. Some procedurally generated stages don’t make much sense either, so that’s not the big selling point to increase the longevity of the game.
I wish Chuhai Labs didn’t make Cursed To Golf as punishing as they did. Now, it really feels like a curse, and I’d rather go back to play a relaxed session of Golf Story or any other Mario-based golf game for that matter. I adore the booster packs and love the unique shots you can pull off, but it’s far from enough to keep me wanting to replay those same worlds over and over again, each time generated a bit differently. The bland and very repetitive music doesn’t do a good job to ease the pain either.
Don’t let that art style fool you. It is a curse having to play this game. I should have waited for the reviews.