Video games have a long and very silly history of subverting the game of golf. From Beavis and Butt-head: Bunghole in One to Fuzzy’s World of Miniature Space Golf, the auld Scottish game has been deconstructed more times than a Lego set at a doctor’s office. And now along comes What the Golf?, which is probably the silliest and most subversive of them all.
This ragdoll-physics-based romp takes the game of golf as a starting point, and then takes it on a bonkers journey of absurdism that’s constantly surprising and frequently funny. And I do mean burst-out laughing funny.
The jokes aren’t merely a matter of crazy golf props. Sure, there are exploding barrels, flailing pigs, space satellites, and icky goo. But the real gags unfold when I hit the ball, or whatever ridiculous item I’m required to get into the hole. That’s when the game gives up its laughs, whether it be a slapstick pratfall, a sly cultural reference, or a piece of over-the-top cruelty. It’s the kind of kinetic humor that we’re seeing more frequently in genuinely hilarious works like Untitled Goose Game and Chuchel.
So far as mechanics go, the game doesn’t demand too much. I pull back on my mouse / touchpad, I aim at the hole, and I let go. So long as I hit the pin, I’m good. It’s not so much a game of skill, as a game of imagination. Some of the puzzles demand that I keep hitting the ball while it’s in motion. As I say, the actual game of golf is merely a starting point.
To describe the jokes would be to ruin them, but the general gist is that unexpected things happen. I think I’m hitting a ball, but it turns into something weird. I think I’m aiming at a green, but it transforms itself into a demonic enemy.
Landscapes morph in the middle of my swing. Fairways break the rules of physics, seemingly at a whim. The humor is often visual, physical, and elemental. It’s bizarre, and yet curiously universal. I’m confident that at least 99 percent of people will find themselves laughing at this game.
The target of these jokes are broad and steep. Golf itself is lampooned for its staid culture, but then again, the entire foundation of the cosmos is mocked in the game. Even we, the players, do not escape the game’s gentle wrath.
As in any comedy routine, some of the jokes are better than others. But developer Triband has been smart about its thematic choices, wheeling us through mini-worlds based on cars, soccer, space, and more. The section dedicated to video games is especially imaginative and captivating.
Each time I feel like I know what’s coming next, I’m treated to a surprising swerve into unexpected territory, where the rules of space, time, and narrative have been sucked into a ribald black hole and spat out as something unrecognizable.
What the Golf? isn’t just a novelty. Some of the gags are repurposed into real challenges that demand perseverance. But the puzzles are nicely balanced, and never outstay their welcome.
Over its five hours or so, the game yields amusement, challenge and charm. It’s highly recommended, even if you despise the game of golf. Maybe especially if you despise the game of golf.
What the Golf? is available now on Windows PC, and iOS. The game was reviewed using a final “retail” download code provided by FoxNext Games. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.