Whenever I watch professional golf, a few moments can make me cringe: a ball getting shot into a lake, an unsuccessful attempt to get out of a bunker, completely whiffing on a putt. As someone who had a brief golfing stint as a kid, I can’t help but picture the embarrassment pros must feel in those moments, especially in a game where every single shot counts.
Cursed to Golf cranks those stakes up by adding eternal damnation to the mix. The hybrid golf-roguelike has players fighting their way out of “golf purgatory” by successfully playing a round of 18 holes. If that wasn’t stressful enough, a stroke counter ticks down with every shot. Mess up a hole and you’re teleported back to the start, forever cursed unless you can achieve the perfect game.
It’s a sports game-turned-supernatural nightmare. While it’s thematically clever, it’s a bit of an awkward genre mash-up too. Incredibly long “runs” make this a particularly punishing game, one that’s made me reflect on what makes my favorite roguelikes so appealing.
Right from the jump, Cursed to Golf throws players into its wacky premise as a golf player is sucked into purgatory. A Scottish ghost lays out a standard roguelike escape plan, explaining that they’ll need to golf their way through a variety of biomes to get back to Earth. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Much easier.
The golfing itself is streamlined, which is great considering how much else there is to focus on. It’s a 2D golfing game where players only have three clubs: a driver, an iron, and a wedge. Teeing off is as simple as pressing a button once to set the power and timing another button press to select the angle, which moves up and down automatically. Spin is exaggerated too, allowing players to easily readjust their ball after it lands by hammering the A button and moving the stick. Imagine something like Desert Golfing, but in nightmare mode.
Courses are 2D mazes filled with obstacles to account for. Water will eat a stroke, bunkers will force you to use your wedge, fans blow your ball in a set direction, and spike traps will incur a one stroke penalty. The thrill comes from safely navigating to the hole and carefully making sure to avoid obstacles while conserving as many strokes as possible.
On a hole-to-hole level, I love the core hook here. Each course requires careful risk management and smart routing. Players also get usable Ace cards along the way, which add more impactful decision-making to the mix. Cards can be used to add a few strokes to the counter, stop a ball from bouncing when it hits the ground, freeze a ball in midair so it falls straight down, and more. After a few rounds, I really got into the loop of figuring out when to use each card and weighing whether it was worth burning a valuable card with each shot.
Though that’s where some of the trouble with Cursed to Golf starts to come in. Golf is a slow-paced game that requires a lot of careful planning between shots. While this is much faster-paced than a true golf simulator, that decision-making and risk factors turn each hole into a long gauntlet. Just getting through five holes takes me 30 minutes — and that’s not even the halfway point of a run.
Fail, fail again
Failure is key in a roguelike. Players are going to have 100 unsuccessful attempts, but each one needs to build to that one victory. The genre’s best games feel insurmountable at first, but give players more confidence to try again and, more importantly, make the idea of trying again less daunting each time. Some games weave in power progression to help that curve; others just use each run as a teaching lesson. In either case, there’s always motivation to say “one more” in a game like Hades or Dead Cells.
Cursed to Golf struggles with that concept because, from the onset, it feels like a successful run would take at least three hours to complete. That’s an incredibly long time commitment and one that makes failure all the more crushing when it happens. It’s tough to spend 40 minutes getting to hole six, only to mess up a shot and start again with nothing.
This is a true roguelike (not lite) too. When you lose, you start with almost nothing. There’s no stat boosts to be gained. You do gain the ability to create one checkpoint per round after the game’s first boss encounter (an arduous match against the ghostly Scot), but failing on hole three won’t do much for you. The only other help you get is that Ace cards can be stored in a binder at shops and pulled back out for a later run. You need to rely on your skills to win, so your first and 10th run are largely going to feel the same, even as you get smarter about when to use cards.
At the moment, I’m still stuck in the part of Cursed to Golf where escape feels impossible. I’m not sure I’ll ever get out. I feel like a golfer stuck in a bunker, only moving the ball forward a few inches with each unsuccessful shot. That very well might be the point — this is purgatory after all. Put aside the hope of escaping and you’ve got a fun 2D golf game that playfully amps up the high-stakes nature of the game. Just try not to break your controller over your leg in frustration in the process.
Cursed to Golf launches on August 18 for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
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