If Mario had a golf game 30 years ago it would have looked and sounded something like this–and that's meant as a compliment, not an insult. The retro graphics are a definite design decision and they do the job rather well.
You are "the Wee One" and are introduced to the game by a genie-like Scotsman, who is your mentor, the golf pro and the course designer all rolled into one–he probably cuts the greens and rakes the bunkers too… Apparently you're in golf purgatory and must prove yourself a champion in order to escape (or something...)
To assist your gameplay you are given a small selection of Ace Cards, there is a huge range of these cards which give you all sorts of assists and buffs; from extra shots, the ability to freeze water hazards or even change the direction of the ball in flight! Trust me, you're gonna need all the help you can get…
Once you've completed a hole you can enter the Eterni-Tee Pro shop where you can buy Ace Cards, change outfits and put into or retrieve Ace Cards from your Card Binder. Using your cards wisely you can bank duplicates for future use and build up a reserve to help you on later holes and rounds–which is vital.
There are 10 outfits to choose from and a couple named 'Plumber' (Red & Blue) and 'Brother' (Green & Blue) confirm my tenuous Mario connection.
We reviewed a game called Golf Club Wasteland last year, and its toughest challenge, Iron Mode, was basically roguelike, and Cursed to Golf is pure roguelike. This means that if you take too many shots on a hole it's back to the 1st tee! The main difference with Cursed To Golf is that you'll be rewarded for completing holes and can buy various skills and buffs to help you continue...
You can practice the various skills required on the driving range until your thumbs bleed but it's difficult to master a hole because in true roguelike style they're usually procedurally generated, so although the graphics mean many holes look similar every one is different. The difficulty can vary hugely, you could get a hole in one (yes I did) or hole out successfully in 36 (yes, I did that too!)
You can zoom the camera out to check the layout of the hole in advance but can rarely see the place where a long shot is going to pitch or even its full trajectory, so making a shot is always about 50% guesswork. The ability to add "aftertouch" spin to the ball helps, and you can even spin the ball forwards and backwards on different bounces during the same shot.
Okay now here's the game's big bogie, and it's a real problem. One of the best things about golf is the ability to recover from a bad hole and shoot a decent, or even exceptional round. Cursed To Golf doesn't allow you to do that. One bad hole–one bad shot even‐–and it's basically game over unless you have the right Ace Card up your sleeve. Even if you complete the first "round" (a round is a random number of holes, usually 5 or 6) and get to the boss battle against The Scotsman, he's always going to be extremely hard to beat. He does make the occasional mistake but not often. Should you lose to him (and you will), it's right back to the start, with all your Ace Cards and money gone! A full round consists of mini rounds with a boss hole at the end of each. Beat The Scotsman and it's on to a desert level where if you fail to complete a hole you… yep–it's back to The flippin' Scotsman's course…get through it all again and it's off to a ridiculously complex cavern course against an opponent that actually cheats by having a bird fly her ball to a better position and even steals your ball and drops it in water or rough! Aren’t games supposed to be fun?
In addition to this basic difficulty level sometimes the hole generator seems to be having a bad day and throws up a hole that's practically impossible, with hazards everywhere, obstacles that seem designed to frustrate and even fans that you expect to help that actually throw your ball into water!
To add to the base difficulty of every single normal hole, you may choose to take a route through the course that rewards you with cash or Ace Cards, but you'll also have to pass a Cursed Hole, which will occasionally cast a curse on you that renders completion impossible. The difficulty level is truly bizarre at times!
I rather like Cursed To Golf but like a number of games of late, possibly due to poor testing, I think it's too hard. It starts off difficult and just like epoxy resin gets rock hard–quickly. Mastering the use of the Ace Cards and the abilities they can give you (which aren’t always immediately apparent) is important, so practice is vital and thankfully they do give you a practice course with unlimited cards to use. Cursed To Golf could have been a great little game and a sleeper hit, but as it stands it's just too demanding, too penal and has no difficulty settings for us normal mortals–if they added a "beginner" difficulty level (maybe giving a full set of Ace Cards on every hole, or just slowing down the aim line and ball movement?) it would have really helped Cursed To Golf's accessibility and appeal.