Real golf is terrible. It’s dull to watch, expensive to play, and one of the game’s biggest stars is named “Rory“. Video game golf, on the other hand, is great. No need to walk for hours in the sun while a foursome of tipsy businessmen passive-aggressively watch you trying to locate your ball in the deep rough instead of just asking to play through! Instead, it’s just the purest essence of the game in digital form that you can play from the comfort of your living room. I hadn’t heard much about A Little Golf Journey during its development, but lowkey golf games had pleasantly surprised me in the past (I’m looking at you, Golf Story), so I was hoping that Okidokico and Playtonic Friends’ first foray into the golf genre would similarly capture golf’s ideal form. Unfortunately, in reviewing A Little Golf Journey I found a simplistic and often frustrating experience, one that doesn’t lead anywhere.
A Little Golf Journey is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.
A Little Golf Journey Review: Are We There Yet?
A Little Golf Journey is a simple golf game set against a story of two lovers, brought together by golf, but separated by increasingly large distances. You’ll travel through eight worlds in total, including grasslands, deserts, magical woods, and for some reason a place where it’s always Christmas. Periodically, you’ll get to read snippets of correspondence as you travel from hole to hole, although there’s not much to them. Letters are from “X” to “Y”, and vice versa, and typically have little content other than “I miss you”, or “It sucks that we’re apart”. It feels like a missed opportunity, as there could have been a real story here. Instead, the game and the story don’t feel connected at all: there’s nothing about X’s relationship with Y, for example, that makes it obvious why you would need to golf on the moon.
A general sense of “could have been better” permeates a lot of A Little Golf Journey. For example, while completing levels in a certain number of strokes will earn you stars, some levels will also allow you to collect little blue things, shimmering pointy orbs that are often very well hidden. These little blue things are called “Blue Things”, and you get a tally of “Blue Things Collected” at the end of each level. It’s hard to believe that the designers couldn’t have come up with something a bit more compelling, and I felt no drive to collect many Blue Things when I didn’t need to, especially once they became a significant pain to find in the level.
It might sound like I’m nitpicking, but in such a simple game the little things do stand out.
A Good Walk Spoiled
Gameplay-wise, there’s not much going on here. In A Little Golf Journey you control the distance and trajectory of your ball either via a regular shot – an orange circle that sways back and forth at variable distances – or a “power shot” – a red circle at a fixed further distance that sways a tad more. It’s more annoying than challenging, and other golf games have used similar mechanics more effectively. You do have the option to “hold your breath” which steadies the circle for a bit, although it has a short cooldown timer. This can become a hassle when lining up precision shots during some of the challenges that you can find hidden throughout various holes, which require you to hit a series of glowing balls with tight time constraints.
These frustrations are plentiful. Challenges start easy but get difficult quickly, with some near the end taking me dozens of tries to get through. When you’re on the green you switch to putting mode automatically, which is fine if you’re aiming for the hole, but a nuisance if you’re trying to get to the Blue Thing that’s on the other side of the map. Your ball can easily get caught on objects and the terrain, as well, and there’s no chance to retake a shot if you mess things up. I would often spend a lot of time trying to get to a hard-to-reach spot, only to miss my shot by inches, which required me to restart the whole level.
Part of the problem is that the game is only incidentally a golf game, and much more a game of hide-and-seek. Almost every hole contains a “secret”: either one of the aforementioned Blue Things, a glowing-orb-hitting challenge, or an alternate exit that will take you on a slight detour around the world map. Finding these secrets requires rotating your view and zooming in and out, and they become more and more difficult to find as the game progresses. This is especially the case when the secret you’re looking for comes in the form of a mostly transparent rotating cube, and when you’re in a world that is dark all the time. Turns out scouring a golf hole for cubes in the dark just isn’t that much fun.
Thankfully, most of the stars and Blue Things are optional: there are occasional gates that require a certain number of them to pass, but I was able to complete the game having collected only half the total number of stars. The requirement for Blue Things is even lower, which for the majority of the game makes it seem like they are optional. That is, until, you reach the end, which requires a much larger number of Blue Things to see the “true ending.” The result is that the length of the game gets some padding: while you could blast through every hole in a few hours, the additional Blue Things requirement will add a couple more, and potentially many more if you wanted to collect them all. Given that looking for secrets becomes more and more frustrating the further you progress, though, chances are you’ll want to leave more than a few undiscovered.
Taking the Scenic Route
A Little Golf Journey is strongest when it comes to presentation. It is intentionally blocky and simple with some nice lighting effects, which gives it a charming, semi-retro look. Background music is ambient and inoffensive, and the sound effects are basic but effective: you get the satisfying “clink” sound of a well-hit golf ball, and a nice “thud” when you stick a ball on the green. Different worlds add variety in terms of music, look, and the behavior of the terrain, all looking solid. Not every world, however, is a winner. For instance, in addition to traveling to the moon, Christmas World – actually called “Sliding Sleighs on Sleepy Snows” – feels completely out of place, sandwiched between the “Forest of Mists and Legends” world and the “Lone Tower Looming Above the Cliffs” world.
Again, it does feel like more could have been done to make the game look and feel a bit better. If you were to look at the screenshots you’d be forgiven for thinking that A Little Golf Journey was a mobile game (especially given how simple the controls are), and not a full release on the Switch.
A Little Golf Journey Review: The 18th Hole
While A Little Golf Journey has its charming moments, there are deeper, more interesting golf games available on the Switch (looking at you again, Golf Story). There are also a lot more actual golf games out there, be they regular-sized or mini. Overall, a lack of basic functions that you would expect from a golf game, along with many unnecessary frustrations and an overall lack of coherence makes this a journey that you might be better off staying home for.
- Charming presentation
- Different worlds add some interesting visual variety
- Golf video games are always at least a little bit fun
- Overly simplistic gameplay
- Story is uninteresting and disconnected from the game
- Finding secrets and challenges can often be frustrating
- Christmas world makes absolutely no sense