What the Golf? — What the Golf, Indeed
An early memory of gaming was my dad’s CD-ROM of Tiger Woods’ 99 PGA Tour. I had no interest in playing golf, but I enjoyed playing it on the computer. Precision, timing, a bit of planning with the elements, all without having to lug around golf clubs for eighteen holes. And like a great many people, I have a fondness and nostalgia for miniature golf courses peppered throughout my lifetime. A bit of skill, a bit of luck, fun with friends, but still, at its heart, golf, just with bright pink golf balls. What the Golf? by Triband caters to neither of these things, revels in every second of it, is a love letter to absurdism, and specifically advertises itself as “for people who hate golf.” So, depending on which part of that paragraph got you the most excited, What the Golf? may or may not be for you!
What the Golf? starts players off with a wordless, but very effective tutorial section: a crash course (in more ways than one) on the major mechanics: ball, goal, physics, and expectations. The ball is simply that: the ball (or ball-adjacent object) that you control! You try to get the ball to the goal, oftentimes a flag, somewhere in the level. To do so, you consider a stage’s physics, which vary depending on the ball-object, the location, and other wacky factors. Lastly, you contend with your expectations getting jarred around, whether in the form of obstacles between the ball and the goal, the method in which you reach the goal, or other such ripples. By the time players complete the tutorial, they know all the basics they need to press on, and with little to no explicit teaching.
Say what you will about the sport, but in my wildly unqualified opinion, the sound design of golf (and golf-adjacent experiences like What the Golf?) is pivotal. That sweet “plunk” noise as iron hits ball…without giving away too much, there is always a satisfying “plunk” at the point of impact. The cries of a bemoaned crowd when you fail a stage. A polite golf clap upon your success. The flaming explosions of gasoline. Toasters popping toast out. Lasers blasting whatever moves. The frenetic honking of car horns. You know. Golf noises. The soundtrack is generally chill, with a relaxing chorus of humming and mouth noises providing the ideal backdrop to the otherwise chaotic and unpredictable gameplay elements. Occasionally, depending on the vibe of the level collection, it may ramp up, but it always does so in-line with the gameplay. It is nothing groundbreaking or particular earworm-esque, but it accompanies the chill vibes of absurdist golf and exploding greens very nicely.
The simple and chill sound design compliment the aesthetic and art direction of What the Golf? to a T. Plenty of geometric shapes and soft-looking objects dot the golfscape, and it all comes together, sound and visuals, to make a cohesive and enjoyable experience, particularly when a stage is challenging you. Once your fully immersed in the game, expect the rug to jerk out from under you in this regard, too. Still geometric, but more unnerving!
What the Golf? is challenging, but forgiving, as one progresses through the levels. It operates much in the same way something like Super Meat Boy is: if you fail, you’re dropped right back in at the start of the stage to try again. No time to be frustrated, no need to press a button to confirm “Yes, I want to try this GODDAMN STAGE AGAIN,” it just plops you right back at the start. Although, if the standard level leaves you wanting more, What the Golf? has replay value for you! Every stage has three incremental levels: the standard level that allows progression through completion, a Par level that challenges the player on the stage’s expectations (maximum number of strokes, etc.), and a Crown level that challenges even further. Completing all of them will yield a crown! Acquiring many crowns in the same area will, at the very least, grant you stuff to decorate your super-cool hidden room of Things! These include, but are not limited to, a plant, a turkey, and a soccer ball. All the same, it’s a fun incentive for people to come back to stages they previously cleared, challenge themselves as they move through the stages, or revisit with a little flair when future puzzles get a bit too perplexing.
More than anything, What the Golf? knows exactly what it is: absurd. There are golf-based boss battles that operate like a game of Breakout. Your character is a sentient, albeit mute, golf ball. You’re on a quest to…make golf exciting? Is there even a plot? There’s research logs and notes! And toasters! And a turkey tucked behind a busted toilet! The game will agree with you after you complete a weird stage, a large-fonted “What?” appearing on the screen as both acknowledgment of your victory and of the madness you just witnessed. YOU DRIVE A MONSTER TRUCK. From the first minute all throughout, it owns its identity and brings you along for the ride, skipping and putting the whole way through, up to and through its thrilling conclusion.
What the Golf? is a refreshing blast of joy and madcap shenanigans, the likes of which don’t come around with such polish, entertainment, and variety very often. It is not mired by interwoven plot or high-fidelity graphics, top-notch voice acting or lifelike physics. In a world that is grappling with so much, or in an individual life where it’s just hard, there truly is something to be said for whatever the hell What the Golf? gives you to do. It’s not just a puzzle game, it’s not just a comedy game, and it’s certainly not a golf game. It’s quirky. It’s unexpected. It’s fun. And it hates golf more than anything I’ve ever known. Might as well take a few strokes on the green with it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn to hate golf as much as it does.