Turbo Golf Racing Early Access Preview – Car meets ball with a hole for a goal

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It’s hard not to make the obvious comparison for Turbo Golf Racing that it’s “just” Rocket League but golf instead of football. On the one hand, that’s sure to be a help for the game’s immediate appeal, as you see little cars driving at giant balls and know pretty much exactly what you’re getting, but it’s a bit reductive. It’s probably going to be difficult for Turbo Golf Racing to step out of Rocket League’s vast shadow – not helped by me making the comparison here – but as it heads into Xbox Game Preview, Steam Early Access and pops up on Game Pass for Xbox and PC this week, we shouldn’t diminish the hard work of Hugecalf Studios and how fundamentally different playing car golf is to car football.

Turbo Golf Racing really is racing, for one thing. You’ve got a start line, a finish hole, and a ball to drive into as fast and as precisely as you possibly can to knock through the course to get there. You’ll be doing so through wildly undulating courses that snake through the ether, gently channelling you toward your goal, while also challenging you to get off rapid hits to send the ball flying in the right direction.

The controls are about as standard as you could hope for with acceleration, braking and boosting all you really need to be successful. More advanced play will have you master the art of jumping and switching to a glide mode, and there’s a handful of standard pick ups – boost refill, rockets and shield – that you or your ball can grab, before deploying as you need them.

There’s also some fundamental elements that make the game fairly accessible. For one thing, the camera defaults to following the ball (though I’m sure some will prefer to switch this to following your car), and as you head toward it, you’re given a preview of its arc through the air, depending on your angle and velocity. It can be quite tricky to line up your shot still, given that you’re not waiting for the ball to be stationary and how fast you’re going, and so that predicted path can swivel quite rapidly as you approach. It also helps that the hole is huge, has a beam of light that will grab and pull your ball in, and is often situated in a bit of a bowl in the landscape.

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Another key fact is that, outside of flinging the occasional rocket at your rivals, you cannot interfere with the other players – there’s even a recovery shield so you can’t be repeatedly battered by missile spam. Their cars and their balls are all ghosted out, so it’s a little like a simultaneous time trial. There’s still all the pressure of needing to beat them to the finish of each hole, but none of the potential for messing up each others’ route or handling another player’s ball… as it were. It’s a slight shame that you don’t have the option for the full carnage of full contact golf, but it feels like the right choice for now and could be added as a separate mode down the line.

As it heads into Game Preview and Early Access, we’ve got a good showing in terms of content and unlocks. There’s 30 holes in the game across three fairly similar looking biomes, and each online match will pick three of these to play in quick succession. The biomes are wonderfully otherworldly, sweeping through nothingness and dropping wild architecture to just float around, but all have a common theme of vibrantly green fairways alongside another dominant colour to provide an accents, and there’s different background scenery. Contrast that with the daftness seen in something like Mario Golf, or the litany of multiplayer minigolf games from the past few years, and there’s plenty that Hugecalf can explore through updates.

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There’s up to eight players in a lobby with each hole rewarding you points for your finishing position (up to 8 points for first, limited to the size of your lobby). This can mean that adept players are almost out of sight after two holes, but the brevity of each match should help to keep people from quitting before it’s over.

There’s also plenty of unlocks with both cosmetics and gameplay abilities and mods. On the cosmetic side of things, you’ve got different car bodies, front bumpers, spoilers, wheels, as well as different ball designs to choose from – this is the most showy element by far – a lot of which is unlocked through a free Season pass and others available through the Shop using currencies earnt through general play and specifically for winning.

Meanwhile, the gameplay abilities, Cores, are tied to in-game accomplishments. There’s twelve at launch, some leaning on the solo mode, others for online feats, and you can have one active and one passive enabled at a time. They could shrink or grow the size of your ball, reduce the penalty for driving through bunkers, create shockwaves to boop your ball as you’re driving past – perfect when you’re close to a hole and can just drive-by boop as you line up with the hole – a magnet ability and more. These will surely be the trickiest thing to balance, but again, it allows Hugecalf room to grow and experiment with their game.

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Right now, the weakest part by far is the solo mode, which is literally just time trials that run through each hole and with three star ratings depending on your time. That’s it. There’s no head-to-head with bots, no solo championship or 9-hole time trials, just single holes and that’s the end of it. It’s hard to complain too much when the focus is so clearly on the multiplayer, but I’d hope for at least a handful of extra variants for solo play to be added over time.

As with all Early Access games, this will grow and evolve in the coming months and years. Dropping it straight into Game Pass on both Xbox and PC will certainly help it to find an initial audience (many sure to come back from the beta tests) and then try to build around that. Personally, I’d hope for more variety in the biomes you’re playing through and some more wrinkles to be added alongside the main game mode, but Turbo Golf Racing already has the fundamentals down to a tee.

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