Golf games are undergoing something of a renaissance right now, just not in the way that you might expect. While the tight grip EA and Access Games once held over the digital incarnation of the sport has diminished somewhat, indie developers from around the world are flocking to fill the space. Not with simulations, mind – quite the opposite. Cursed to Golf is a perfect example of this shift. This upcoming golf-like rogue-lite adventure from developer Chuhai Labs and publisher Thunderful is tasking you with utilizing all of the clubs at your disposal to escape a <let me check my notes here> Golf Purgatory.
It’s absurd, in all the right ways. As game director Liam Edwards explains: “Golf Purgatory is the place all budding golfers go when they die. But, if your golf skills are good enough, you have a chance to pass the ‘Trials of Purgatory’ and stave off death and return to the land of the living.” Those trials are at the heart of Cursed to Golf, a pixelated twist on the idea of making your way through 18-holes – you know, just “like any traditional round of golf.”
Swing to survive
Future Games Show: Spring Showcase 2022
Cursed to Golf was part of the Future Games Show. For more from the showcase, check out our recap of everything announced at the Future Games Show Spring Showcase 2022.
Unlike a traditional round out on the links, Cursed to Golf takes a more hellish approach to course layouts. “Split across four biomes, the 18-hole course is made up of dungeon-like golf holes full of deadly hazards that get trickier and trickier as you progress from each hole to the next,” Edwards continues.
When the game director talks of “deadly hazards” he isn’t referring to that feeling that washes over you when you spend too long stuck in a sand trap – like you could die of embarrassment while the next group of golfers looks on impatiently behind you, not that I’m speaking from experience here or anything. But rather a range of absurd obstacles like high-powered fans, spike bunkers, TNT boxes, and teleporters. You’ll need to clear all of these and more as you attempt to complete each hole within the PAR count, or you’ll be doomed to repeat the course forever.
“Failure to reach the flag of a hole with the PAR Count of five shots means the curse continues and you return to hole one. To escape you will have to really polish up your golf skills to a pro level and also get to grips with power-ups called Ace Cards,” says Edwards. “These otherworldly cards can help enhance your golf shots and also allow you to manipulate the ball in immense ways to overcome the hazards laid out throughout Golf Purgatory.”
As revealed during the Future Games Show: Spring Showcase 2022, Cursed to Golf is set to launch this summer for Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch – although you can try it for yourself right now with a limited-time demo on Steam (opens in new tab). If you play it, you’ll be able to get a feel for the loop, and for the excellent work Chuhai Labs is doing to create a novel spin on the platformer and sports genres.
Good, tough fun
Play the game for yourself and you’ll soon learn that Cursed to Golf is a game that truly loves and appreciates the game of golf itself, all while playfully toying with your expectations. The Ace Cards, for example, are certainly helpful – one may let you clear a pathway of TNT boxes so that you can attempt to swerve other hazards, while another will let you take a practice shot before committing a stroke against your Par Count. It’s good stuff, and a hell of a lot of fun.
I think part of that fun comes down to how quickly I’m able to get a sense of how the physics system functions, giving me a sense of control in an environment where I realistically should have very little. From Edwards’ perspective, it was the physics that presented the greatest challenge. “The inspiration for Cursed to Golf originally came from listening to a podcast about roguelikes and roguelites. I wanted to think about how no one has really done a ‘physics’-based roguelike, which spiraled into the first prototypes of Cursed to Golf.”
The reason for the lack of physics-based roguelikes, Edwards suggests, is that they are difficult to make. “Roguelikes are traditionally quite challenging, because there’s a heavy reliance on RNG and random elements to work with and against the player… a run can end at the drop of a hat in some of these games if the numbers don’t work your way. Well, one thing that is equally unpredictable is physics. We can hit shots or throw balls, but our accuracy isn’t always the same. For as good as Tiger Woods is, I think even he’d struggle to land 3 shots in a row in the same exact position!”
In an attempt to mitigate some of these challenges, Chuhai Labs has paid close attention to two elements. The way the clubs feel, to give you “as much control over your golf shots as possible”, and to leverage more authorship over the playing field itself. Unlike most traditional roguelike maps, the 18-holes of Golf Purgatory aren’t randomly generated. As Edwards explains: “If we think of real golf courses, they are all these intricately-designed pieces that carve an environment out of the randomness of nature. They are designed perfectly for players to play on; we didn’t want to stray from that. But the counterpoint to that was the loss of ‘Randomness’. So we created a system we call ‘random-ordering’, where we have over 70+ hand-designed holes that are all assigned a difficulty ranking.”
As great as Cursed to Golf is in your hands – hitting balls feels fantastic, even without all of the otherworldly chaos trying to throw you off of your game – it’s how the game handles difficulty in the final experience which will ultimately decide its fate. Here’s Edwards again on how that difficulty scale and ranking functions: “For example Hole One is ‘Very Easy’ and Hole 10 is ‘Hard’. The game then roulettes through all of the designed levels with that ranking and then assigns you a hole in that spot for this run. That creates an almost bespoke experience every time as that ‘Hole 10’ could be a different level on the next round you play. Hopefully this works? Who knows,” he says, laughing. “I believe we’re the first to try and it’s going to be fun to find out if it does!”
Cursed to Golf is set to launch in Summer 2022 for PC, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It’s early demo on Steam and our recent look at the game from the Future Games Show is certainly promising, and it’s one we’ll be paying close attention to in the weeks ahead. While I had Edwards, I had to ask him for his opinion on why golf games have become a real playground for creative adventure and puzzles games in recent years. As he puts it: “Personally, I think golf and video games go hand-in-hand together!
“It’s not strange to me to think that one of the very earliest Mario spin-offs and sports games on the NES was Golf and then NES Open Tournament Golf. I think golf is as close to a traditional single-player game a sport could ever be. Hitting a golf ball is somewhat similar to swinging a sword or using a melee attack, and it also is traditionally just you the golfer against the environment or the elements, similar to any single-player game,” he says: “With the ability to manipulate golf in so many different ways, whether it’s the rules, the clubs, the ball or the course it really does lend itself to so many different interpretations… it’s actually not a surprise to me that we’ve not only seen so many golf games throughout the history of video games, but also so many great ones!”
We don’t have long to find out whether Cursed to Golf will make it onto that list of the all-time greats.
For more in-depth features following the Future Games Show, why not check out our exclusive look at the adorable LEGO Bricktales.