Halloween might still be a couple months away, but Chuhai Labs has seen fit to kick off the spooky season early with its latest release, Cursed to Golf. Starring a person who basically escapes from hell using nothing but their god-tier golf skills, it’s certainly a memorable adventure and we’re happy to say that it’s actually a pretty solid golf game. There are some relatively minor flaws here and there, but the quality of its excellent gameplay means that Cursed to Golf generally shows itself to be up to par.
Cursed to Golf places you in the role of a professional golfer who, at the start of the narrative, is a very alive person about to claim victory in a world-renowned golf tournament. As you close in on the end of the round, a thunderstorm rolls in, but your character will not be deterred from seizing their destiny. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a poor decision, as you’re soon struck by lightning and subsequently killed. Your golfer’s soul is sent to a sort of golfing purgatory, where you’re then greeted by the ghost of a golfer Scotsman who says you need to clear 18 holes on a spooky, ever-shifting course to ascend back to the world. The problem is that nobody has actually done it before, but that isn’t going to stop you from trying as many times as it takes to get back to your body and finish your tournament.
Beyond the beginning, there isn’t really much story to speak of in Cursed to Golf, but this isn’t necessarily a drawback. Aside from occasional input from support characters like the Scotsman or the Explorer, you spend most of your time here gritting your teeth and hoping that the ball doesn’t land in the water or a spike pit. The focus is on the gameplay above all else, and we’re pleased to report that it feels nicely polished.
The gameplay follows a version of the standard formula present in many other golf games where you select the appropriate club for a shot and have to participate in a brief timing minigame to execute your shot. Stopping the bar and the desired angle on just the right spot is often difficult to do, which helps keep stakes high and makes risky shots feel appropriately satisfying. Precision is everything here, especially given that many courses will feature shortcuts that can substantially reduce your stroke count if you can manage to thread the needle.
The stages themselves are the star of the show, as they find all kinds of creative ways to spice up 2D golf. Your typical sand and water hazards are of course present, but it’s the stranger things like pinball-style bumpers, TNT boxes, and restless zombies that keep things much more interesting. Very often you’re given a choice between a couple of potential paths you can follow—sometimes even leading to different holes you can try to reach—and picking the right route is typically a matter of deciding which gauntlet of traps or hazards you think you can best overcome. Even the best-laid plans can be quickly trounced if it’s a stage where curses can take effect, such as sudden strong wind or a heavy ball.
How you plan is especially important given that you have no choice here but to at least reach par. You’re given a limited number of shots at the start of a level, and if you can’t get the ball into the hole by the time you run out, your character gets sucked into a vortex that sends them all the way back to the Scotsman’s shop before the first hole. This limited shot count can be upped by shattering various idols scattered around courses or by playing certain power-up cards (more on that in a bit), but even with these boons, many stages will still end with you biting your nails hoping you can pull off a miracle shot to clinch a win.
Should you fail, you can attempt the ascent again as many times as you like, but the levels will be different most times because the nefarious Greenskeeper keeps shifting things around. It feels a little weird playing golf with survival rules at first, but we thought this scarcity approach was a good fit for Cursed to Golf, as there’s a nice amount of tension that comes with initially planning a route and trying to judge if you can actually do it within your allotted shot count.
Luckily, you’re given some options to help ease things along. If the ball is still moving, you can add spin to it one way or the other to help put it exactly where you want to. Additionally, you can collect various consumable power-ups along the way that help to really skew things your way. Whiff a shot, and you can play a 'mulligan' card to get it back with no penalty. If you’re not sure you can land the ball precisely where you want, you can play a 'time stop' to cause the ball to instantly drop. Narrow tunnels are much easier to navigate when you use a rocketball, which you can manually steer around corners and up walls. Some of the cards are quite situational, but we lost count of how many times a well-placed power-up made the difference between victory and defeat.
We appreciated that the power-ups don’t overshadow the actual golfing gameplay itself too; they’re here to supplement the gameplay and help you fudge some mistakes, but you can’t use them as a crutch. New power-ups are obtained either from natural progression or by stopping at a shop between courses to buy some card packs, and while you’re always sure to have some you can rely on, a run is still very much decided by how well you’re actually able to pull off each shot.
Though the moment-to-moment gameplay is certainly enjoyable, we do feel that the roguelike aspects of the gameplay loop aren't integrated as well as they could be. A normal run will usually take you a couple of hours if you get reasonably far, and though you later unlock the ability to set checkpoints that effectively give you a limited revive for a run, it doesn’t feel great when you inevitably fail a hole and watch all that painstaking effort go up in smoke. Roguelikes are often marked by their gradual sense of progression, whether that be through direct upgrades to your character or more unlockables for usage in future runs. Cursed to Golf simply kicks you back into the bunker and gives you nothing to show for your efforts. In this sense, it feels like progression is often stagnating. Something like having a way of upgrading the power-up cards would go a long way towards making it feel like even a failed run will still net you some meaningful progress.
It's a testament to the quality of the gameplay that even without a more tangible sense of progress, Cursed to Golf remains an addictive experience. No matter how many times we failed, it was tough to avoid just trying out one more hole, which would quickly snowball into another full run. This is the kind of game that just begs you to keep trying, and it’s nearly impossible to refuse—especially when your understanding of the mechanics slowly deepens and you get better at nailing shots you used to struggle with.
As for its presentation, Cursed to Golf does a great job of selling its silly aesthetic while still showcasing some nicely drawn pixel art. Though courses tend to blur together given that they’re all being built using the same handful of assets, we appreciated the variety of colors on offer here and the attention to detail like the ‘moon’ being a gigantic golf ball in the sky. You won’t necessarily be wowed by the pixel art on display here, but it’s clear that the developers put a lot of love into the game's visual style.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack maintains an upbeat, synth-heavy tone that reminded us quite a bit of Jake Kaufman’s work on Shovel Knight with a distinctive Halloween-themed twist. Songs are catchy and vaguely creepy in the best of ways, and they keep the tone from feeling too dull as you sit there painstakingly lining up your next shot. The only downside here is that we found that, in longer sessions, many tracks felt repetitive; it’s not that the individual tracks are bad, but it felt like they looped on themselves a little too fast. It certainly wasn’t enough to ruin the experience, but we wish there was a little more variety here.
Cursed to Golf is an interesting and enjoyable golf game, mixing creative power-ups and roguelike game design with tried-and-true golf gameplay. Though we felt the roguelike elements held this one back a bit and the soundtrack can sometimes get irritating, the polished gameplay, appealing art style, and high replay value make this one an easy recommendation. If you’re at all a fan of golf games, we’d suggest you pick this up immediately, but even if you’re just looking to try something new, we’d encourage you to give it a shot.