It's a strange phenomenon, but golf has always translated rather well to the noble medium of video games. Possibly because it is, in itself, a noble sport; swing a stick at things, go for a nice walk on some cool grass. Nothing to lose but your balls. It's a pursuit in which you aren't really encouraged to expect the unexpected – physics are your only real enemy. Besides your actual enemies, of course.
What the Golf?, though, is not really golf. It's barely golf. Or, alternatively, it is the most golf ever to be golfed. After hours spent in its bizarre thrall, we're still not really sure what to make of it. Where do you even start? It's one of those comedy games, the sort that often aren't particularly funny and don't include much gameplay to make up for it. But What the Golf? is above par (sorry), thanks to a real surplus of enjoyable content.
There's very little to the game in terms of mechanics. You hold A and move the left stick to set the power and angle of your pitch, then release to strike the ball. Get the ball to the flag, win the hole. At least, that's how it is at first – for literally one level. Immediately following this, What the Golf? starts to get silly. It would be churlish to give away too many of its gags, but rest assured you'll be knocking more than just golf balls around.
Every one of the many, many "holes" has some sort of new gimmick or new take on an existing gimmick. This is the major strength of What the Golf? – variety, and plenty of it. There's not a huge amount in the way of challenge on a basic playthrough – even the trickier holes can generally be conquered quickly – but it's compelling on a very primal level. You'll want to see what new twist they can possibly think of next. To the developer's credit, they keep you guessing all the way through.
The structure of the game takes the form of an overhead map which you navigate using the same standard control scheme as the rest of the game; a sort of "Golf lab" in which many, many different holes can be accessed. As you progress you'll open up more and more different sectors of the lab, each one populated with a number of holes to play. Gradually, you'll also unlock warp points that make getting around a lot easier. It's a nice, immersive system and adds to the coherence of the whole enterprise; while there are plenty of different, wild takes on golf here, everything is ultimately filtered through that same set of mechanics. It's pleasingly consistent.
It would be an impressive clutch of levels even without the extras that What the Golf? is packing; every single hole has a variation, usually offering some sort of restriction such as a par score to beat (generally you're allowed as many attempts as you want), though some are effectively completely separate holes to clear. Beating this challenge stage will grant a third and final take on the hole you're playing – usually another completely different idea – and beating this grants you a crown and a fully-cleared hole. What this boils down to is a suite of many, many ideas that all work together neatly and build on the concepts that they introduce. It's effective, addicting stuff.
Graphically, it's a fittingly minimalist experience, with its fairly flat low-poly-ish look calling to mind similar comical indie titles such as Donut County and Untitled Goose Game. In fact, it's so similar-looking that it's arguably a little bit derivative in its style, though it certainly works – especially at its smooth 60 frames per second. It's a little bit of a shame that the visuals don't really change along with the gameplay, but it's function over form, here; the aforementioned consistency that keeps things from being overwhelming is on display in What the Golf?'s visuals as well as its controls. There's not a lot of music here, but when it does kick in it's in a sort of acapella style, which is just a little bit too twee for our tastes.
Besides the extensive campaign, there's a wonderful new Party Mode which brings the same level of creativity to split-screen multiplayer for two players – it's brilliant fun, but a shame that more golfers couldn't be accommodated. What kind of party only has two attendees? Don't answer that, we need to keep it family-friendly around here.
What the Golf? is a sterling effort for Switch that has clearly had enormous amounts of love poured into it. Its aesthetic is a little bit indie-by-numbers but there's so much to see and do here that'll have you (and a friend) laughing out loud. It may not be the most difficult game in the world, but it's damn good fun, even if you don't like golf. Especially if you don't like golf, in fact.