What the Golf
I have never encountered a game that so consistently and delightfully subverts expectations.
Apple Arcade has provided me with another opportunity to learn about sports, this time in the guise of a whimsical game called What the Golf.
The last time I went golfing, I mostly held the club and hit the ball with it, aiming to get the ball into the hole. Of course, my limited knowledge of the subject held me back from realizing the true potential of the sport, and luckily this game is all too happy to expand my horizons.
In What the Golf, you may find that you’re throwing the club instead of the ball…or flinging your golfer at the hole, or even moving the hole itself! Sometimes you’re a carpet, and you visit space a fair bit. There are motivational toasters.
It’s a lot like real life if you live the life of a magical lunatic with a deeply dysfunctional relationship to physics.
Throughout the game, you explore a labyrinthine facility that houses many different stages, each presented in appropriately-themed areas.
I can honestly say that I had no idea what to expect going into each zone. I have never before encountered a game that so consistently and delightfully subverts expectation.
After introducing a simple concept, like bowling, the game thoroughly dissects the possibilities; you’ll bowl with bombs, multiple bowling balls, carpets, oil barrels—anything and everything can happen.
Eventually you’ll encounter a fairly cantankerous computer system, whose various barriers you’ll have to navigate through by completing stages.
Each area of the facility is blocked off by a sort of “boss encounter” where you square off against the computer in a minigame.
Setting aside the humour value, the stages are so imaginative from a game design perspective that it’s impressive. I never felt like a concept was being recycled in a boring fashion; even when a mechanic from previous stages comes back, it does so in a fresh and fun way.
As you progress, you’ll start to notice that the theme of the stages changes from lampooning various sports to lovingly re-creating classic games.
I don’t want to spoil too many surprises, but there’s an extraordinary Super Mario area, a Portal area where you hop around as the companion cube, and a hilarious Superhot area.
Hidden through the facility are an astounding number of clever references, with countless secrets and subtle moments. I went into this assuming it would be a funny, quick game, but instead I was drawn into a surprisingly fulsome and content-rich experience that continues to surprise and delight.
Part of the joy of completing stages is that each one has a punny title. These groan-worthy quips are an entire layer of fun unto themselves, and the game is unashamed of its dad joke joviality.
All this is underscored by a fantastic musical score. The soundtrack is lovingly sung by a barbershop ensemble whose limited vocabulary—“what the golf!”—only amplifies the hilarity of their crooning pastiches.
Golf Golf Golf
What the Golf is an imaginative love letter to gaming, viewed through the lens of golf.
It’s long, profoundly surprising, and impossibly charming. It’s obvious that its creators had a fun time making it, and it’s another stand-out hit in the Apple Arcade catalogue.
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