Here’s the basic rundown, each map starts you with a certain number of strokes: you can think of them as your hit points. If you don’t make it to the end of the course by your last stroke, that’s the end of your run. Scattered across each level are idols you can hit to recover some hits, as well as some other ways you’ll find as you play. You got your Driver, Iron, and the Wedge clubs that you can switch between on will, well so long as your last shot was in the green. I love how easy it is to understand what the consequences, and risks, of your shots are. As such, you can evaluate where you wanna go. A major aspect of the map design in the game revolves around the risk/reward of landing tricky shots that save you strokes versus going the long way, but potentially running out of strokes and ending your run. And I might have to get into the whole ending your run bit because my god this game is not for the faint of heart. You won’t necessarily lose to random nonsense, but when something like a shot goes awry because of ever so slightly clicking too early and BAM that’s it; it can be absolutely infuriating. I understand it comes with the territory of being a rogue-like, but honestly I don’t see the appeal ESPECIALLY when you note just how much of the levels are just handmade. The variation between runs is extremely limited, and while you can collect different ACE cards to provide you with various one-off abilities, there are clearly better options than others. And you really don’t feel like you have much control over what you get.

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon gave the option, but I really think it would be nice just to have a mode that doesn’t allow you to redo completed stages in the middle of a run, but just lets you retry levels if you fail. Or maybe make that another mode: the leaderboard mode that focuses on getting your best successful holes. I think having to win the course within a certain number of swings, while leveraging all the ways to get extra swings is really tense and engaging. If I still lose the level by those conditions, but don’t game over entirely… It’s the forced “permadeath” almost Ironman runs that rub me the wrong way. It’s fascinating observing how fire emblem players often bypass permadeath entirely by resetting the game until they are able to win without losing a character. Then, later entries of the game allowed “rewinds” that served as a much needed quality of life change for players who want to keep their half hour+ runs going without wasting their time. I think the aspect of chasing those low scores (y’know like you do in Golf) is more than enough incentive to replay the game to optimize routes.

I feel like the ability to just practice levels, even if you go with the randomized map selection and different shops/card pickups, would be a really fun way to learn the ins and outs. I can definitely see more casual players players getting discouraged before they even approach the midgame. And the fact that options that DO grant the player some amnesty only come in the mid-late part of each run is even more infuriating. As courses start winding and becoming even more confusing to navigate, it does become a lot to take in to make sure you’re even going the right way, especially when it comes to using teleporters. On the flip side, finding insane shortcuts with your ace cards, or just taking tricky shots that may take some pristine aim and finesse to do, lead to some of the most satisfying moments in gaming.

But, going back to the winding confusing courses, I think, for me, the fun of exploring and routing the maps was just utterly ruined by the fact that if I take one wrong turn, the run is over. Maps get increasingly more complex and longer, and it just doesn’t feel conductive to a rogue-like game. Especially considering the fact that there really is a minimal sense of player progression or upgrades between runs. Like yes, sure you can spend money and get better odds of snagging rare upgraded ACE cards. Like I said before, some cards are DEFINITELY better than others, I’m looking at you Portal reference!. But outside of the same EXTREMELY broken boss abilities, there’s really no “builds” to be found that you might expect from a game like Binding of Isaac or Hades. Likely the most frustrating thing for fans of roguelites would be how minimal the sense of meta player progression is. There’s an ACE card binder that’s a bit confusing and doesn’t ultimately feel like it contributes to a sense of me feeling permanently stronger. And to be fair, I think Cursed to Golf really doesn’t want players to win solely off of how “busted” their upgrades were? It wants to rely on the core gameplay mechanics and mastering things like shot angles and spin on the ball, which is why it’s baffling to me, personally, that they double down so hard on this rogue-like shell when it feels tacked on. I absolutely adore the decisions of which club to use, lining up shots, but ultimately, making mistakes in this game feels entirely too punishing. Once you get REALLY good at the game, I think the format becomes so shallow as well.

At the end of the day, Cursed to Golf has some of the tightest controls and most well thought out level designs of a sports title I’ve seen. I think mechanics like the limited camera control during shots, and the survival being the primary game mode are clearly intentional. But for many players, I suspect this will do more harm than good. Personally, the developers could easily take solace in the fact that I would replay this game several times just to optimize my holes without needing the addictive aspect of a rogue-like run. If you insist on leaning into that mode, then add player passives that give you unique abilities between playthroughs. Maybe let me get upgrades to my clubs that add unique properties to them. The map progression I found very anemic, with most of the decision making devolving to picking between the harder, rewarding cursed levels, or playing it safe. Yeah really torn on this one because I often found myself cursing like a sailor throughout my plays in frustration to losing my progress. This is definitely a game that you need to “git gud” at, so no fun allowed guys, sorry. I’m giving it the seal because I believe that the devs were strapped for time before release to get out some features, and I expect that a lot of these issues can easily be rectified in future patches. Also the music and art aesthetics are absolutely masterful: usually I scoff a bit at the overarching trend for games to appeal to a retro style. But this one really gets it right, and I love the use of color and the tiny expressive detailing.

Cursed to Golf is developed by Chuhai Labs.

Available for $19.99 all platforms: Steam, X1/Ser, Switch, PS4/5

Provided reviewer copy via devs.

Hellfirebam has awarded Cursed to Golf the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval.