I’m sure there’s more than a few people out there that quietly wonder to themselves “What is golf, anyway? What’s the point of it?” whenever the Masters gets its massive billboard adverts and heavy TV coverage. You could, in fairness, say the same about pretty much any sport out there, but golf seems to have an unusual place in modern culture. It’s popular, but is anyone really sure why?
Mini golf, on the other hand, has obvious appeal. It embraces the inherent silliness of not-mini golf – I mean, have you seen what they wear most of the time? – with smaller putting courses, crazy obstacles, and devilish competition against family and friends. Golf Gang takes all of that and then goes even further.
Golf Gang is basically video game mini golf, with all the impossible courses and quirky gameplay tweaks that you can do in digital spaces, but then with it being a race at the same time. The aim isn’t just to get to get the ball in the hole with as few strokes as possible, it’s also to get there as quickly as possible. Then, at the end of the hole, you have two different par scores that you’re stacked up against to determine your grade, or points addition when playing multiplayer.
It’s a pretty fun twist, and works well thanks to the incredibly intuitive controls. At launch on PC there’s just support for mouse, where you simply look, click and pull back to set the power of your stroke. You can keep hitting the ball even while it’s in motion – OK, so you’re an invisible ball-propelling force, instead of a mini golfer – but there’s a cooldown that’s longer or shorter depending on how much power you put in with your last hit. This often leads to agonising follow up opportunities being missed by fractions of a second, or the wholesale loss of progress through the course as it all just goes a bit wrong.
The courses, as you would expect, get progressively more and more challenging. The general visual style is utterly minimalist, and there’s a handful of environmental themes, from standard green grass, to ice, autumn, halloween, and so on. Each can introduce a little twist, such as the slip-n-slide ice that adds even more peril, or autumnal piles of leaves that will slow your ball down. There’s plenty of jumps to handle, ramps to try and hit at full pelt, and quirky mid-air modifiers. Balloons will bounce you, giving you an extra shot, while hoops will turn you into a little golf ball glider for a few moments. It can get really quite technical as you try to chain them together and the layouts themselves get trickier.
All of this is fine, and plenty enjoyable on its own, but where Golf Gang really starts to shine is with its array of wild modifiers. It could be that every stroke incrementally increases the size of your ball (making some scenery impossible to traverse), collisions could cause explosions, you could make balls bouncy, lower gravity, play in first person, with a car-like click to accelerate instead of hits, and plenty more. Pick one, pick four, pick a randomiser that changes things up between holes… pick four randomisers!
As fun and crazy as it can be, Golf Gang maybe doesn’t feel like a full three course meal of a game, but what’s there is a rather enjoyable selection of small plates, a bit of tasty tapas to enjoy with your friends for an hour or two. It’s something that could certainly be said of other mini golf games as well, but I think it’s partly from how starkly different playing on your own is compared to playing in a group feels that makes it stand out more here.