Golf has always been a good fit for video games.
Remove the extortionate membership fees and often terrible fashion and you’re left with the simple thrill of hitting a ball towards a hole. As Mario and pals will tell you, it’s also easy to put your own spin on the sport, but we’ve never seen a golf game quite like Cursed to Golf – as much Dark Souls as Tiger Woods PGA Tour, with some platforming and deck building elements thrown in for good measure.
You play as a would-be golfing champion who gets struck by lightning and sent to Golf Purgatory, where they must successfully complete 18 holes across a series of themed 2D worlds in order to return to the land of the living. You definitely can’t knock Cursed to Golf’s genre-mashing elevator pitch, but is it as much fun as it sounds?
A round of golf in Purgatory is a bit different to your average day out at St Andrews. Each hole is more like a dungeon, with diverging routes and hazards aplenty. Your path might be blocked by TNT, or an awkwardly positioned fan ready to send your perfectly weighted chip straight into the drink. Sometimes your ball will be snatched by a grave, while there are cursed holes that might suddenly only let you hit the ball in one direction, add unwanted bounce, or shrink the screen so you can’t see where the ball is going to end up.
To make matters worse, you only have a limited amount of shots for each hole, with failure sending you right back to the start. It’s golf as a roguelike, then, and while any version of this famous old game is about planning and patience, it’s a lot more intense when the punishment for losing is death (again). Wisely, the game’s developer, Chuhai Labs, chose not to go down the route of entirely procedurally generated levels like you’ll find in many traditional roguelikes, presumably due to the risk of the game presenting you with the occasional hole that is physically impossible to complete.
Instead, each hole in a round is randomly allocated from a huge bank of purpose-built levels, so no run is ever the same, even if you start to notice certain levels popping up again. But that doesn’t mean that Cursed to Golf isn’t extremely difficult. It took us long enough to beat the first biome’s boss level, in which you’re racing a friendly but formidable ghostly Scotsman to the flag. We thought the game might go easy on us here, but we quickly realised that our opponent’s long and often perfectly-aimed drives across the course were going to be difficult to keep up with. You can slow bosses down for a turn by breaking idol statues, but if anything we found them temporarily sitting out just caused us to get cocky.
And non-boss levels are rarely totally horizontal, often requiring you to delicately knock the ball between ascending platforms or through small cracks if you want a shortcut. It’s often quite daunting to zoom out and fly around these maze-like creations with the camera as you try to work out how the hell you’re going to get to the pin in just fix or six shots. Truth is, you won’t. Not without some assistance anyway.
Ace up your sleeve
But there is hope, in the shape of power-ups called Ace Cards, which you can restock at the puntastically named Eterni-Tee shops you’ll pass on your adventure. These stores also allow you to stash Ace Cards to be used again in later runs, which immediately seemed like something we should be doing.
Ace Cards can do anything from adding shots to your Par counter or letting you take them again, to turning the ball into lead or even a miniature rocket that you pilot. One of our most-used cards lets you freeze the ball in mid-air, so if you time it correctly you can have the ball drop into the hole as it passes over – always incredibly satisfying when pulled off as intended.
You can also whack the ball into statues dotted around levels, granting you additional shots. If you see one of these that happens to be on a ledge above you, rather than using up a valuable shot to reach it, you can activate the practise shot Ace Card, which effectively gives you a free hit, smashing the statute and getting the extra shots without losing anything in the process.
Cursed to Golf isn’t simply offering you these power-ups and items to help you out when you get stuck. Rather, they’re absolutely essential if you want to get anywhere near finishing the game, something we’re only slightly ashamed to admit we have not yet managed to do.
The side-scrolling golfing is fairly simple: one button press determines swing power, and another the arc of the shot, and you only have a handful of clubs. The driver is the obvious pick for distance, the iron is for those in-the-middle shots, and the wedge is your pick for bunkers and your delicate chips. Strangely there’s no putter. The game lets you cancel a shot right up until you play it, something we were very grateful for on more than one occasion.
Spin can also be added as the ball lands to make it travel both forwards and backwards. Not only is this a skill you’ll have to master to survive the late game, but it also lets you pull off the kind of trick shots that’ll have you fist pumping for joy, much to the confusion of the person sitting next to you on the sofa if your experience is anything like ours (we mostly played the game on the Steam Deck).
Don’t be fooled by the charming pixel art visuals, delightful animations and extremely catchy chiptune music: Cursed to Golf can be mercilessly cruel, and you’ll often feel like the odds are stacked impossibly against you. You can only see so far when you’re preparing a shot (although the game never tells you that a nudge of the right stick does give you a wider view), and there were times when it felt like a great shot we’d played was down to potluck more than anything else.
In the spirit of roguelikes, there will be times when you want to launch your game-playing device of choice straight out of the nearest window, and as runs can go on for much longer than other games in the genre, it’s pretty devastating when you’re beyond 10 holes and get thrown back to the start because of a slightly misplaced drive. That said, we like the game’s colourful aesthetic and arcade gameplay so much that we’re not letting it beat us just yet.
Cursed to Golf verdict
Cursed to Golf offers a fascinating spin on the roguelike formula, and just as much challenge. It’s definitely not perfect, but you can’t help but admire how Chuhai Labs has turned golf into a tricky and very entertaining dungeon crawler with a real sense of style.
Like in real golf, you’ll need to set aside a good chunk of your day if you want to fit all 18 holes into one round, and like in real golf, one shank is enough to make you angrier than Happy Gilmore. But persevere and make use of all tools at your disposal, and your little golfer might just rise again.
Harder than it looks, but Cursed to Golf’s simple mechanics and clever mashing of genres make it a winner
Simple to play, hard to master
Great pixel art and music
Ace Cards provide lots of strategic variety
A full run could take you hours
Even the early bosses are a bit too good
We miss putting