What the Golf prides itself in being a golf game for people who don’t like golf. Its absolute irreverence means that, for long periods, it only resembles golf in that the controls are similar to other touch-screen golf games, especially Desert Golfing–you aim in a direction, pull your finger back to gauge your distance, and then let go for the swing (although here you’re just trying to hit the pin, not land in the hole). But as often as not, you’re not actually shooting a golf ball here. Sometimes you’re firing off a soccer ball, or hurling a golf club, or an object that’s not even golf-adjacent like a rocket that needs guiding through a mess of trees or a crab that must be protected from rising tides. What you’re doing changes completely, but the controls, and the humorous sense of surprise, remain unchanged for the majority of the game.
Often, the first shot on any course is a punchline. On one early level, you go to shoot the ball, but on release, the on-screen golfer gets flung forward instead, rag-dolling towards the green. In other instances, the punchline comes at the end of the hole: you’ll hit the pin and discover that the whole reason for putting in a level about driving a car was so that they could hit you with the pun ‘driving range’. What the Golf is an inventive, charming and funny game, one that speeds through ideas, jokes and oddities at a steady clip so that none of its ideas ever have a chance to get old. It’s fast, strange and pretty easy–the exact opposite of real golf, and all the better for it.
What the Golf’s high-concept golf japery isn’t trying to deliver a serious or deep experience. Each level is short–getting the ball (or equivalent) to the pin rarely requires more than a few shots, and while the overworld that you navigate through to access each level contains only the mildest of traversal puzzles. The whole point of the game is to make you laugh at how flexible its internal definition of ‘golf’ is. It’s literally a weird flex, but it’s more than okay.
The game’s irreverence for golf doesn’t tick over into malice, nor are there any real elements of parody–golf simply provides a rough framework and theme for the game to build on. Levels are divided up by rough themes and concepts: some levels are set in space, for instance, or based on other sports, or require you to switch your phone orientation, switching to a first-person control scheme. Some even bring in augmented reality elements, asking you to move your phone around to fully comprehend a 3D level. The level of creativity on display here is what makes the game so charming, and right up until the end it’s still finding new ways to wring joy out of some very simple control mechanics.
Unfortunately, if you’re playing on PC, some of these fun gimmicks have been excised or cut back–this is a game clearly designed with mobile devices in mind. It’s also not as intuitive to control, as moving a mouse is not as immediate or satisfying as using a finger, especially in levels that require you to take numerous shots in quick succession. But the game remains very funny, no matter how you play it. To explain too many of the game’s gags would dilute their power, but it does a very good job of baking the comedy into the mechanics. What the Golf repeats the same basic gags often to great success–a favourite is when you think you’re controlling the ball, but when you take your shot some other object gets propelled, which is somehow funny every single time. Even the soundtrack, which is largely made up of discordant tunes and singers singing “what the hell” and “golf” repeatedly, is funny.
The game is at its most fun the more recognisably connected to golf it is, although that doesn’t mean that all the best levels have you shooting a ball at a pin. The game turns into a spot-on homage to Superhot for a few levels, for instance, where you pick up new clubs to fire balls at enemies who only move–and shoot–when you do. It’s a committed homage, right down to the “SUPER. PUTT.” voiceover after you complete each level. There are other direct game parodies in here (and even one challenge that feels like a direct homage to Untitled Goose Game), and most of them are a delight. At a few other points, though, the game stumbles somewhat–some levels have so little to do with golf that the game’s central joke feels briefly abandoned, and it would be nice to have a few more levels that required some outside-the-box thinking. Even with all the zaniness, a lot of the gameplay boils down to simply pointing at the pin and firing, and some more puzzle-based levels would not have gone amiss.
Thankfully, the two extra challenges holes attached to each level do a lot to flesh the game out. You can finish What the Golf in about two hours, but it’s worth going back and trying to 100% it (which can still be done in about six hours). These extra levels are a ‘par’ challenge, and then another level that usually provides a significant shake-up, one that’s often unrecognisable from the hole’s first challenge. Often there will be new gags or ideas to enjoy tucked away in these challenges, so it’s worth going back for them.
What the Golf is a comedy game first and foremost, and it succeeds at its primary goal. Perhaps the game’s most telling feature is the ‘Show To A Friend’ option on the main menu, which runs you through a quick playable “best of” reel of some clever challenges the game offers up. What the Golf is an experience that can be shown off, fully understood, and effectively sold to a player in the span of about two minutes–and like all great jokes, you’ll want to share it.