One of my favorite game genres has got to be roguelikes, the genre in which you hack-and-slash your way through a gauntlet of randomly generated levels, going all the way back to the beginning if you should fall at any point. There’s almost no other type of game that can recreate that exact feeling of accomplishment for me. Having to beat the entire game in one run feels completely insurmountable at first, but as you sink into the game, your sense of progress is so pronounced because you know exactly how far you make it each time. With every new attempt, you get a little better and make it a little further towards the end. Your grasp on your growth as a player is more tangible than ever before.
As much as I like roguelikes, I don’t believe I ever would’ve thought to myself, hey, this would work amazingly well if you combined it with golf! Luckily, the good people at Chuhai Labs were more forward thinking than me and created Cursed to Golf, and I’m very happy that they did.
Cursed to Golf tells the tale of a world champion golfer in the process of picking up yet another tournament win. Tragically, an untimely bolt of lightning strikes as he’s lining up his winning swing, tearing open the ground beneath his feet and plunging our hero into the depths of Golf Purgatory. In order to escape this place, the damned must successfully golf their way through the devilishly difficult courses that span the underworld. None have yet managed to succeed at this task, but if anyone’s got what it takes, it’s the world champ.
I’ve played a couple golf games before, mostly the excellent Golf Story and the odd Mario Golf here and there, so I went into Cursed to Golf feeling like I knew what to expect. Unlike those games, however, Cursed to Golf works entirely in a 2D space rather than a 3D one. Rather than focusing on getting your ball across large stretches of terrain, your aim here is to swing over obstacles and different floors in order to reach the hole. It’s almost like a golfing platformer.
Each level is a randomly generated maze filled with hazards and drops. Typically, your ball will be placed at the top of the level and you will be tasked with working your way down to the bottom where the hole is waiting. These levels are filled with items and obstacles. Some of these are standard golfing fare, like sand traps. Others are a bit more unorthodox, like teleporters which move your ball around the map or boxes of TNT which explode if your ball makes contact. Players are given a meager five shots to make it through each level, but along the way you can use your ball to smash statues which will grant you additional swings.
To help navigate this unique gameplay layout, Cursed to Golf has a few unique abilities available. A series of special abilities exist, represented by trading cards with an aesthetic I just love. These cards can be earned by choosing to play challenge levels; players are given access to a treasure chest, which wield yield a random selection of a few cards. These cards wield a wide array of useful effects, such as mulligans, extra shots, practice shots, and even a time stop which allows you to drop your ball at any precise point you want. While the abilities you can use at any given moment depend on the cards on your deck, you always have access to the spin. The spin allows you to shift your momentum left or tight, giving you additional movement or more precise control over your ball. My favorite benefit of the spin is the way it makes sure you never miss that final little putt just to get the ball in the hole, the bane of any mini golfer.
With these tools at your disposal, you work your way through a gauntlet of randomly generated levels which increase in difficulty as you go. You get some choice in your path along the way. You can choose to collect a few ability cards at the cost of having to play a level with a more difficult challenge tacked on, or you can play a normal level without reaping the rewards. Other than these branching paths, there’s not much more to interrupt the golfing jaunt. You have to clear the entire thing in one go, and if you don’t, it’s back to par one with you.
This descent into roguelike territory is what makes up the vast majority of the game, and you get there rather quickly. After a brief tutorial, you’re launched straight onto the golf course with nothing to do but clear it.
There are pros and cons to the approach taken here. The most significant thing is that the gameplay is very solid in its own right. Cursed to Golf is difficult but fair. Levels are fairly lengthy and pack a lot of tight curves and traps to work around, but your control of the golf ball is so precise that failure makes you want to strive to improve, not grow frustrated. An unsuccessful attempt feels like a skill issue on the part of the player, not the game being janky. I found that on average, I made it through most levels with somewhere between one and three shots left. Certainly not a huge margin of victory, but a decently comfortable win.
The randomized levels help keep things fresh, as you never know exactly what you’re about to go up against. In classic roguelike fashion, your improvement as a player comes not from familiarizing yourself with specific obstacles but growing proficient enough at the game on a base level that you can handle any challenge it throws at you. I really love this approach, as I feel as though it lets you appreciate the fundamental game design more thoroughly.
The presentation of the game is phenomenal, which goes a long way. I’m a sucker for pixel art, and this is legitimately among my favorite I’ve ever seen. The artwork is incredibly crisp and colorful, lending an adorable contrast to the mildly dark content of the story. The precise and bold linework is beneficial from a gameplay perspective as well, ensuring that you never lose track of your ball amongst any of the obstructions or obstacles present. I also want to give special attention to the sound design. It’s incredibly tactile and is combined beautifully with the Switch’s rumble. You get such a real sense of things like hitting a ball especially hard to get it out of the rough, it’s fantastic.
The biggest negative here is that in spite of the randomized levels and varied bonus abilities, the gameplay starts to stale after a while. Golfing gameplay offers less variation and engagement that hack and slash gameplay, which constitutes a big part of what keeps traditional roguelikes entertaining for the long amount of time it takes to beat them. Cursed to Golf doesn’t have the luxury of introducing new enemies with attack patterns to learn and weaknesses to exploit. The most it can really do is bring in new hazards, which have a much less steep learning curve to overcome. There just aren’t enough differences between levels to justify the long and grueling journey to the end. While the golfing gameplay is excellent, it lacks the variety to truly thrive in a randomized format like this.
For all of the game’s strengths, my urge to keep playing and get to the end did sort of grind to a halt once I reached a certain point. Cursed to Golf has incredible strengths, and I love the concept of a golfing roguelike. I just don’t know if the concepts merge together perfectly, or maybe there’s simply more optimization that could be done. For all of the attempts made here to keep the game constantly changing, after a certain amount of endless levels, the game starts to feel like little more than a reorganization of hazards.
That being said, I had a ton of fun with Cursed to Golf and I would still recommend it. There are so many amazing aspects of this game, from the gameplay to the art style to the humorous dialogue. Playing it for a while was a blast. The issue isn’t that the game isn’t fun, it’s that completing it is a bit of a slog. I’m of the belief, however, that a game can still be fully worth playing even if I don’t want to beat it 100%. If you’re okay with the idea of trying to make it out of Golf Purgatory and maybe falling a bit short, you’ll have a wonderful time on this course.
Thanks for reading!