One of 2022’s toughest games takes place in an eternal realm trapped between life and death, but not the one you’d think. Nope, it’s set on the links—purgatory by way of 18 holes. Yes, the side-scrolling golfing game Cursed to Golf, despite its charming visuals and patently absurd premise, is monstrously fucking brutal.
Out this month for consoles and PC, Cursed to Golf is billed by developer Chuhai Labs as the “world’s only golflike.” (Get it? Golf + roguelike?) The game opens cold with you, one of the world’s top golfers, on the final green, a single putt away from cementing your position as the actual very best. Then you’re struck by lightning. You wake up in—I swear this is what it’s actually called—Golfing Purgatory, a course overseen by a devil allegory named the Groundskeeper. To escape, you need to successfully sink 18 holes. Every time you fail—which you will do, a lot—you start back from the first tee box. The Groundskeeper shuffles the greens.
As you know, typical golf, whether mini or hugey, scores players based on par: There’s a predetermined number of strokes per hole. Your goal is to sink the ball in the hole in fewer strokes than that. (Ideally, you’ll come in at a par 72 total for a standard 18 holes). But Cursed to Golf works a little differently. You start every hole with five strokes. If you don’t score within those five, you’re dead. Again. For the thousandth time. Such is life within roguelikes.
You can choose between three clubs—the long-range driver, the tight-corner wedge, or the all-purpose iron—for each stroke. Swinging is simple. First, there’s a meter that fills and empties; wherever you stop it indicates how hard you swing. Next, there’s a fluctuating arc, rendered as a dotting line; stopping that determines the curve of your ball. (See this process in action in the video above.) You soon learn how to put spin on your ball, which can send it either forward or backward a few inches upon landing.
This sounds simple, and it fundamentally is, but just like IRL golf, there are wrinkles that make it far more complicated. Key here are so-called “ace cards,” which you can use to get a helpful, single-use perk. One freezes time, dropping your ball straight down from the point you activate it. Another allows you to redo a shot (a riff on what your richest friend’s parents may call a “breakfast ball”). A third splits your ball into triplets: You get to choose which of the resulting balls to keep on the green, giving you three options as to where you start your next shot. The most helpful, though, adds extra strokes to that five-count limit.
So Cursed to Golf isn’t just a game of precision and angles. It’s also a tactics game rooted in mind-bending strategy: which clubs to use, how hard to hit the ball, when to deploy ace cards.
Every step of Cursed to Golf is a choice, and there’s little forgiveness if you make the wrong one. Accidentally hit your ball into a water trap? Back to where you were, minus a stroke. Didn’t see the little ledge on that platform? You’re stuck in a rut, with no good angles. (See this process in action in the video above.) Mistimed your swing? Too bad! There’s no reset button.
Modern roguelikes offer you some sort of meta progress where you’re always moving forward, at least a little bit, between your failures, though traditionally the idea is that your own knowledge of the game better equips you to deal with dangers in future runs. This shift in recent games is the approachable secret sauce that urges you to try one more one, even though the sun is about to rise and, oh shit, you’ve got to log into Slack in a few hours. Dead Cells and Returnal slowly unlock new, more powerful weapons in your arsenal. Cult of the Lamb opens up abilities that’ll save you in a pinch. Hades progressively turns you from a demigod into a DEMIGOD. But in Cursed to Golf, despite the ace cards you achieve during runs, your success is defined by no more and no less than your understanding of geometry. Depending on your level of hardcore roguelike dedication, that may or may not sound exciting.
Well, at least this is true based on how far I’ve progressed. I’ve been playing on Switch. Up until earlier this week, Cursed to Golf’s Switch version was cursed by a game-breaking bug that prevented any progress past the first boss (situated at the fifth hole). Any time I’d make it a few swings into the hole, my game would crash. Restarting would simply send me back to the beginning of the fight. That’s since been fixed in a patch, but there’s apparently a similar issue afflicting a later boss. Maybe you unlock permanent meta powers from these bosses. I wouldn’t know: I’m still stuck on the first one. I won’t lie and say these technical issues haven’t affected my opinion of the game.
That’s not to say Cursed to Golf has entirely failed to charm me. Chip tune music is a total earworm. The writing is witty AF. (Your main outpost, a golfing store in purgatory, is called Eterni-Tee.) And nailing a hole correctly really does provide a rush. But feeling stuck still sucks. Every single run so far, I’ve made it to the same spot, and then failed. I’m not getting any better right now. For me, at least, Cursed to Golf lacks the impetus that drives so many best-in-class roguelikes, and instead feels like the sisyphean grind of wedging a ball out of a sand trap.