In our short time in this universe, humankind has unravelled some of life’s greatest mysteries. But there is so much that we still don’t know; is Big Foot real? Why hasn’t Paul Rudd aged in 20 years? And how can we make golf, perhaps one of the most boring sports in existence, fun? Scientists have pondered that last question for years, and finally, the team at Triband has come up with the answer.
What the Golf? is a golf game where players must take on a variety of physics-based challenges to progress through its campaign. But in truth, What the Golf? does the bare minimum to make itself identifiable as a golf game. There are golf balls (but not always) and a flag that you have to hit with them (but not always). The similarities end there. One level you might be putting through an obstacle course to a flag, but the next might have you packing up a moving van with furniture and then golfing your house to a new neighbourhood. Much of the joy in this game comes from the constant stream of surprising objects you will take control of and the unique scenarios in which they are used. If you can predict the next challenge, you might be psychic.
The campaign has players going from level to level through the game’s overworld, a lab viewed from a top-down perspective. There is some light puzzle solving, several computers with research notes, strange characters to interact with and a few other hidden secrets. But the levels themselves are, of course, where What the Golf? shines. Each level has three challenges attached to it: the first is a simple run through, often requiring you to get to the flag no matter how many hits it takes, the second usually requires you to score under par or complete the stage in a certain amount of time, and the third is usually an extra difficult version of the stage. I say usually because What the Golf? doesn’t commit to a formula, and that’s a great thing.
Players are only required to complete the initial challenge to progress through the game. But it’s more than likely that you’ll want to see everything that this game has to offer, as each challenge keeps the gameplay fresh. Among my favourite level variations was one that required you to find and knock over all of the cats scattered across the green. This forced you to take paths that you wouldn’t have explored in your first visit, and be careful about how you were manoeuvring your ball so you didn’t fly off the edge. However, this is far from the most unique idea. Others will just give you an abstract prompt and leave you to figure out how to progress from there.
Links to the Past
The game is simply overflowing with ideas and explores them to their fullest. The lab itself is segmented in to themed areas that will give you a vague idea of what the levels there are about. As an example, early on there is a soccer field containing levels that have you attempting to kick soccer balls into a net while avoiding opposing players. Each level in that part of the lab iterates on the soccer concept in different ways, throwing new elements into the mix like giant fans that threaten to blow you off the edge or having you actually take control of a player. Some levels are themed around one object, like the soccer ball, while others explore a broader concept, like the wild west or the Olympics. But some of the best moments What the Golf? has to offer comes from its references to other genres and specific games. To say much more would spoil the surprises, but every one of these tributes cracked me up. It seems as though Triband left nothing on the cutting room floor; no matter how silly an idea was, it made its way somewhere into the game.
Regardless of what object you are putting, the controls remain the same: aim with the control stick and press any button to make a hit. You can set your power by holding down a button and adjust more precisely with the stick. It’s easy to pick up, but the challenge comes from learning how to work with the physics of each object you play with. As it turns out, golfers and houses don’t roll the same way that golf balls do, and it can be awkward to get them to go where you want them to. But it’s hard to be frustrated at a game as absurd as this one. Even when an object wasn’t behaving the way I thought it would or it was uncomfortable to control, I was having fun with the game. It was impossible for me not to be amused due to the sheer ridiculousness on display.
Par for the Course
The simple visuals and ragdoll physics of certain objects match the tone of the game perfectly. But the real stand out to me was the music; it too is suitably ridiculous, featuring upbeat rhythms and choirs repeatedly chanting “What the golf!” When the game is paying tribute to another genre, the music matches it, while retaining the silliness of the main theme.
On top of the main campaign, there are daily challenges that allow you to compete against players through leaderboards. These challenges are a series of random levels from the campaign where the goal is simply to get to the flag in the fewest hits. Considering how many levels there are in the campaign, having the option to replay a few random ones a day is a nice reminder of what the game has to offer. And then there’s the Impossible Challenge, a gauntlet of the game’s toughest levels, some of which can only be found here. Again, like with the daily challenge, the goal is to complete it in a few hits possible, but the word “impossible” isn’t there for nothing. These levels are hard. I could only manage to finish it in about 450 hits, while the top spots were coming in at half of that. Both these modes are a fun distraction from the main campaign and serve to add some longevity to the game. There is also a two-player party mode, but unfortunately that cannot be played online so I was unable to experience it in time for this review.
What the Golf? has been one of my most anticipated games for quite some time now, and I am happy to say that it did not disappoint. Any complaints I have would be minor nitpicks about specific level mechanics, but even then, few issues come to mind. The vast majority of the ideas explored in What the Golf? are clever, hilarious and a ton of fun to play around with. The extra challenges ramp up the difficulty and will successfully keep players engaged throughout their entire playthrough. This is undoubtedly one of the most absurd games that I have ever played, and I loved every minute of it. Triband did it: they made golf fun.