I first encountered What the Golf? at this year’s Bitbash 2019. I instantly loved it. What I got to play was a sampling that brought me through various aspects of What the Golf?, and I would have been totally happy to have the final game like that. But what we ended up with was so much more.
What the Golf? is sort of an anti-golf game. It takes the basic idea of what a golf game is, and spins it on its head. It’s best described as a series of challenges using physics-based gameplay. Each challenge (usually) has you manipulating a power meter to (usually) launch an object, or hit another object (usually) into a goal flag. I can’t easily describe exactly what What the Golf? is, because it subverts your expectations at every turn.
And not only does it subvert expectations, but it makes for some surprisingly hilarious encounters. Who thought golf could be funny? What the Golf? is full of puns and even game mechanics that I guarantee will elicit a chuckle. It’s not very often I can say a particular mechanic in a game made me laugh.
What the Golf? is not exactly golf. Most levels have you attempting to hit a flag in some way, but there aren’t 18 holes, putting greens, etc. Each course is instead brought together by a hub world—which is also full of amusing challenges and secrets to discover. The hub world also serves as a marker for your progress through the game, and in completing the various challenges that reward trophies.
What the Golf? incorporates various sports like soccer, bowling and even skiing into its various challenges. There are also plenty of references to other video games, including gameplay to reflect it, like Super Hot, Rocket League, Super Meat Boy and even a series of levels that are a mix between Super Mario Bros. and Flappy Bird.
Each level consists of three courses. The first part usually introduces the type of course it will be, the second run through the course challenges you to (usually) finish the previous challenge within par, and the third is a challenge level that often ends up being a variation on the first course more so than a genuine challenge. Some of the par courses are genuinely tough, and I’ve probably sunk most of my time into those.
Almost every aspect of What the Golf? is charming or amusing in some way. Its presentation is great—it has a whimsical art style, and a wonderful soundtrack that I can only describe as “pleasant.” In fact, I’d love to listen to it outside of the game. The art style is vibrant, and extremely charming, and lends itself easily to the staggering amount of different gameplay scenarios you’ll run into.
I did run into a few weird issues with What the Golf?. I used an Xbox One controller through most of my playthrough, but I actually found some levels that were impossible to control using it—notably the Portal levels where you have to shoot portals to proceed. I had to resort to using my mouse and keyboard to continue—and that wasn’t the only time I was forced to.
Also, the challenges were extremely inconsistent. Some challenges and par courses seemed almost too easy, while others were just brutally difficult. I probably spent several hours on the Super Meat Boy inspired levels alone—and not because they were fun, but because I just wanted to see if it was possible to get past them.
It doesn’t help that some of the courses are so different from each other, you’re forced to learn a new set of rules. Early on, most courses allow you to repeatedly propel balls (or other objects) forward, but later on, even when playing similar courses, the way force can be applied to the ball becomes more and more restrictive. This enchances the challenge, but it’s an inconsistency that may be an example of when subverting expectations can be frustrating.
If you, like me, don’t want What the Golf? to end, there are daily challenges and leaderboards to work your way up. Even so, some of the challenges will keep you busy for a long time.
What the Golf? is hilarious, and defies simple explanation. It’s the most fun I’ve had playing a golf game. Full of amusement for casual players, What the Golf? also manages to provide a competent challenge for those seeking such. I absolutely love What the Golf?, from its gameplay and art, to its wonderful soundtrack. Despite some of the control issues I had, and some of the brutally difficult challenges, I had a blast with What the Golf? and I recommend it to everyone who loves fun.
What the Golf is available now on Apple TV, and will be available tomorrow on Nintendo Switch and Windows via the Epic Game Store.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR