When it comes to having a fun day out with some chums you can’t beat a bit of mini-golf (or crazy golf or putt-putt, or whatever you prefer to call it). At the time of writing, however, it’s safe to say that the idea of standing in a small area next to people from a different household is frowned upon at best; luckily, Team17 is here with Golf With Your Friends, in the hope that it can offer the next best thing.
In terms of doing what it says on the tin it’s fair to say that Golf With Your Friends doesn’t pull any punches. Anyone expecting anything other than a golf-themed game with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer would be setting themselves up for disappointment, and with a title like that, they’d only really have themselves to blame. It’s actually even more literal than you’d think, but we’ll address that in a second.
The game contains 11 courses at launch, each with 18 holes, giving nearly 200 holes in total (a twelfth course based on Team17’s prison breakout sim The Escapists is coming soon). Each course has a theme, from sensible ones like a forest and a desert to slightly more off-the-wall offerings like a space station, a volcano and a world made out of sweets. There’s also one based on Worms, because of course there is. Each has its own charm and its own lovely little details, but if we had one criticism it’s that each course only has a single music track that plays on a loop, which can eventually get to you considering it takes roughly half an hour to get through all 18 holes.
The shot process can take a little getting used to: you aim with the right stick, choose your power in advance by moving the left stick up and down, then press A to hit the ball. In some modes, the left stick also applies spin to the ball, which can initially cause some problems; your power is shown as a horizontal gauge on the bottom of the screen so your instinct will be to move the stick left and right to set your power – but that sets the spin instead. Once you get used to it it’s fine, but considering this is a game with a heavy multiplayer focus, it’s not unrealistic to suggest that confusion can break out among some less-experienced players.
This extends to playing the game as a whole, really. Some of the later holes in each course are pretty convoluted and require a fair amount of trial and error before you eventually realise where you’re supposed to go. Eventually, after playing courses a number of times, you’ll remember where the best routes are for each hole and will end up with a better score as a result. Again, though, given that this is designed primarily as a multiplayer game – up to 12 players can take part – the complicated, maze-like nature of some holes means that players with experience will have a clear advantage; there’s no real ‘great leveller’ here that gives everyone an equal chance of victory, something all of the best party games possess.
That’s not to say Golf With Your Friends has nothing going for it, of course: it absolutely does. The level of customisation is impressive, for example, with a huge array of options that go beyond simply choosing your course and the number of players. Most notably, there are five main game modes: Classic, Dunk, Hockey, Explore and Party. Classic goes without saying, while Explore and Party are variations on it; the former turns off time and shot limits while the latter adds quirks like spin, power-ups and the ability to make your ball jump.
Dunk and Hockey, meanwhile, mix things up with varied results. Dunk replaces each hole with a basketball net and makes you jump the ball into the net before you can clear it. This can be extremely tricky because you can’t set the jump height, leading to many a frustrating moment. Hockey, on the other hand, is far more entertaining; this time the hole’s been replaced with an ice hockey goal with a cutout of a goalie randomly sliding left and right to defend it. Naturally, the aim is to score to clear the hole. Hockey is arguably more fun than playing with normal holes because your target is much bigger, allowing for some impressive long-range shots if you’re lucky enough to have the goalie in the opposite corner.
Each of these five modes has even deeper customisation options, allowing you to tweak all manner of bits and pieces. You can choose whether you can collide with opponents’ balls, change the gravity, decide how bouncy the ground is or even choose what size and shape the ball is. Turning it into an egg, a cube or a bauble can have a huge difference on the way it rolls, and while it can be frustrating at times the fact that everyone has the same shape ball means everyone’s struggling together, which makes it a good laugh.
All these options can be taken online, where everyone plays their shots at the same time. This is something of a godsend; it not only keeps online matches within that rough 30-minute duration, but it also adds to the anarchic feel when you see other players’ balls flying all over the place – especially in the more difficult holes where there are plenty of opportunities to mess up and put your ball out-of-bounds. By and large, playing online is great fun, even if the chat option is limited; there are 16 preset things to say, most of which are pretty mild like “oops” and “come on”.
If you plan on playing it online, though, we really do recommend you try to do it with actual friends (see, we told you the title was more literal). In our time spent with the game – including after its launch – each search for a quick online match took absolutely ages. On the occasions when we did find one, we never actually managed to finish all 18 holes in one without everyone else eventually dropping out, leaving us to beat the rest on our own.
It’s a real shame there’s no cross-platform multiplayer; given that it’s been in early access on PC for a couple of years and just launched on Xbox Game Pass, it would have been a great way of pooling together the total userbase. As it is, you’re going to struggle to get a match with a couple of other players, let alone the 12 the game supports.
There’s obviously local multiplayer too, but it has its own flaws. Some can’t be helped: players have to take turns instead of all getting to play at the same time, but when you’re only dealing with one screen you can’t really do anything about that. Others are a little less forgivable, such as the lack of support for single Joy-Con play, meaning you can’t get a two-player game going with just a Switch.
Even more frustrating is the fact that (as far as we can tell) you can’t rename any of the players in local multiplayer; the first player is your username and everyone else is just called Player 2, Player 3 and so on up to Player 12. When a game’s central mechanic involves taking turns then viewing a big leaderboard after each hole, we really wish people were able to enter their own names; instead, there’s likely to be lots of “oooh, I’m right behind Player 6, who’s that again?” and decent helpings of “it’s player 7’s turn”, “that’s you”, “I thought I was 5”. For a game called Golf With Your Friends, it gives an impersonal touch to proceedings; hopefully, this is something that can be added in later.
At its core, Golf With Your Friends is still a decent golf game. Get an online multiplayer game going with some similarly-skilled pals and you’ll have a great time making your way through its weird and wonderful courses (don’t even get us started on the Worms course and the jetpacks you can get). Its main problem is that every time you change these optimum conditions – playing with strangers, playing offline, playing solo, playing with a mix of experts and beginners – you’re going to get diminishing returns from your experience. As long as you take the title literally, you'll have fun.