It’s time to lay Mario Golf to rest. It’s something I felt a tinge of with the release of World Tour, which left me feeling dissatisfied by its level design and required RPG distributed content. Now with the recent Super Rush leaving a bland and shallow flavor, it’s solidified for me; most other golf games have a lot more to offer than just adding Mario. All Mario brings to the world of golf is the corporate franchise power to make his games persist.
Golf has been one of the stranger sports genres for videogames because it’s constantly a site of experimentation and twists. That’s because once it’s stripped down, golf is one of the easiest rulesets to modify: get the ball into the hole. A lot of these games come from single creators and game jam groups experimenting with the form, but there are even larger budget games that don’t ever receive the attention and love that a Mario sports game can receive.
I’m not talking about Everybody’s Golf. I am talking about games that get weird about golf. Games that embrace how silly games can be. Games that bring golf to a new genre. Games that may not even look like golf at times.
Here’s a list of some of these games that may bring some excitement that you once thought was lost.
One of my favorite memories of What the Golf was treating it like a little bit of comedy when I used to take the subway to work every day. Rather than a standard round of golf, it uses the sport as a way of interacting with objects while maintaining the basic rules of the game. Keep it simple, remove the clubs and greens so all you have left is an object that needs to reach a goal. What if walking required you to golf your body? What if Superhot was designed with golf instead of guns? What if 2D platformers were designed like golf games? What really makes the game special is that it doesn’t stay grounded—and by consequence restricted—by its concept. There are challenges and jokes cleverly placed throughout that almost creates a similar effect to watching a laidback comedic show.
Many of the games on this take the basic idea of golf and turn it into something new, but Ribbit King takes the designed control and interface popularized in many toon golfers from the early 2000s and then redesigns the rules of golf to create something entirely new. The goal of frolf (the sport in Ribbit King) isn’t to hit a ball in as few strokes as possible into a hole. Instead, a bunch of animals, picnic baskets, and aliens catapult a frog around a course popping bubbles, jumping into whirlpools, and bouncing off of trampolines to get the most points before your frog finds its pond. Ribbit King already mastered how to rethink 3D golf, so everyone else can stop trying.
Living in a techno-dystopia sucks, but at least people are making golf games about it. Cheap Golf strips down golf to a neo-kilobyte style ramping up obstacles that the player must face as the game goes on. What distinguishes it from other 2D, stripped down golfers is that an AI named Susan is born and grows as you complete each hole. Golf isn’t the only element of importance as Susan begins to question what really matters to you.
While there are many games that rethink the game of golf, there are also games that just…fully embrace the absurdity that videogames offer. In Ninja Golf on the Atari 7800 the player attempts to play a normal round of golf, but the big difference is that you have to basically play Karateka for your ninja avatar to reach the ball landing. On top of this, every hole has a dragon that must be defeated rather than a typical golf green. There isn’t much reason to Ninja Golf, but it doesn’t make it any less entertaining.
Similar to Ninja Golf, minus the dragons and martial arts, Gueolf designs a game of golf within the controls, mechanics, and visuals of the original Rogue. With each click that the player angles their shot and sets power, enemies such as moles move on the map to attack. As a result, the player must manage fending off moles and other enemies while attempting to manage their shot and move through the course.
Kirby’s Dream Course isn’t much like a Kirby game aside from copying abilities, but it also totally rules. Players fling their Kirby around an isometric map, eliminating all the enemies in order for a hole to appear that signals the end of the level. What’s special about this game is the way that the levels are designed and just how multiplayer makes them shine. In a single match, you will be slamming into each other, competing for the last hit before Kirby falls asleep, and trying to take control of points on the board before the other player rushes to the end of the game. Where is this franchise golf game, Nintendo? Where is my sequel to Kirby’s Dream Course
Wonder Wickets feels like a homage to Kirby’s Dream Course in some ways. Similar to Dream Course, there is a mode where the player can touch all the orbs on the map with their ball to complete a course. However, Wonder Wickets expands past this point and includes many other challenges such as painting the tiles on the maps to win or collecting points in a pachinko machine style gameplay. On top of this, Wonder Wickets just looks incredibly cute—it’s probably the cutest game on this list with a close tie to Ribbit King. A golf game that’s cute and is super diverse in its content? Count me in.
What if golf was a visual novel about fantasy sport heroes called “battle golfers” who had to stop an evil organization from taking over the world through golf? >Battler Golfer Yui was never released in English but luckily there are translators who have worked to create a way to access the game. The actual golfing is pretty standard golfing without superpowers or anything, although the courses are pretty fun. However, it’s between the holes where the game becomes really exciting, as Yui explores, interrogates and interacts with the world to stop the evil Dark Hazzard.
100 ft. Robot Golf is the type of game where it isn’t designed around accuracy, but the theming is doubled down on. Players smash through environments with their mechs as they play through massive sized golf courses. The power of a shot isn’t measured by an abstract meter, but a throttle gauge. It’s just ridiculous.
The 2014 mobile hit strips golf down to its most basic actions, and then plops it onto a seemingly endless series of holes that often feel like pranks on the player. All you have to do is slide your finger across the screen to adjust the angle and force of your swing, and then hope you calculate everything correctly enough for your ball to make it into the hole. It’s extremely simple and yet crushingly, deflatingly hard—like golf itself, but way more fun.—Garrett Martin
Waverly is a trans game artist and freelance writer. She has written at Uppercut, Into The Spine, and Fanbyte. You can find her on Twitter @hotelbones.