The idea of a “fun golfing game” has always seemed like a bit of an oxymoron to me. Golf, at its very core, is a slow and methodical sport, and golf game frequently maintain that energy, resulting in a slew of mind-numbing PGA simulators that fail to elevate my heart rate or tickle even a single neuron. Even the most light-hearted of golf games like Hot Shots Golf or Mario Golf World Tour get too caught up in the weeds of delivering accurate, sleep-inducing golf gameplay. Golf should not be fun. Golf cannot be fun. Yet, with What The Golf? developer Triband has created a tiny little world in which golf is simple, pure, silly, and hilarious, and one of the best games I’ve played all year.
It’s also pretty hard to make a successful comedy game, though that certainly doesn’t stop plenty of people from trying. Thankfully, What The Golf? succeeds in crafting a two hour collection of golf jokes and golf-adjacent mini-games that consistently tickled my funny putter.
The first level of the game is simple: point in the direction you want your golf ball to go, hold down the button to charge your swing, and let go to send the ball flying toward the hole. Subsequent levels in the game maintain this simplicity, but change literally everything else. In one, you swing the ball, only for your golfer to be sent flying toward the flag instead. In others, there are a hundred balls, or a bowling ball, or a lamp. Certain levels even alter the genre and camera angle of the game, changing genre clothes to dress the game up as a side-scrolling platformer, first-person shooter, or even parodies of games like Angry Birds and Superhot.
There’s a huge amount of variety to the types of levels in What The Golf?, but none of them ever overstay their welcome. In some cases, the joke hits you the second you swing your club, and within ten seconds you’ve landed your ball in the 1-shaped hole carved into the ground and are moving on to the next skit. For some levels, the punchline doesn’t come until the very end. The jokes of each level ranged from eye-rolling puns to sheer abstract absurdity, and I loved almost every single one of them. Even levels with humor that falls flat or mechanics that aren’t entirely enjoyable to play are over before barely a minute has passed, ensuring you’re never stuck on a dud for too long.
If the opposite is the case, though, and you come across a level that you particularly enjoyed and want to spend more time on, there are a pair of bonus challenges for each stage that give you some added incentives to revisit them. Some of them are simple challenges that ask you to finish the level with only one strike, but you’ll often find a stage that’s been altered or has additional obstacles and mechanics that end up creating an entirely new experience. You can finish What The Golf? in around two hours, but going back for these extra challenges is a fun way to add a few more hours to the playtime.
If anything, the one thing keeping that two hour runtime from being a smooth experience is the overarching progression of the game. Between levels you’re rolling a golf ball around in a futuristic facility that’s gated off by a series of computers. Beat enough levels in each zone of the facility, and you can challenge the computer blocking your way to a short Undertale-esque battle level, earning the right to reach the next section. After the third time of doing this, I was beginning to feel a little fatigued and I still had a third of the game to go. An overworld as varied and dynamic as the levels contained within it would have helped make the experience go a lot smoother.
This is a game that you’ll want to grab your friends and simply showing them the gibbering silliness. Thankfully the Show Your Friends mode lets you do just that. Boot it up and you’re treated a Greatest Hits compilation of just over a dozen What The Golf? levels, stripping away from the hub world and getting right to the good stuff. Having an easy way to show off the game like this is an incredible idea that, frankly, I wish was incorporated into more games in general. It’s a small thing, but it goes a long way.