I’ve never envied those developers who choose to take up the task of developing a ‘sports’ game. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with sports games, but there’s an inherent sense of stagnation that plagues that genre, one that is most noticeable in franchises that rely on annual releases. Developer Kinelco is no stranger to the minigolf game; its portfolio includes Vertigolf 1 and 2, which I’ve actually had the pleasure of playing years back.
Vertiginous Golf is a different game though, providing a more free-form golfing experience, wrapped up in a steampunk Victorian world. Booting up the game, the game kicks off in first-person mode, and you’ll start off in a dark street, with the only light coming from a nearby shop. Upon entering, you find two rows of chairs lining the sides of the walls, with a bulky-looking set of screens standing in for a traditional in-game menu. After you choose your course, you can plop down in one of the aforementioned chairs, and be digitally whisked away to the golfing destination of your choice.
Window dressing aside, Vertiginous Golf is a bit different from your standard casual golfing (or even minigolf) title; Tiger Woods this is not. Rather than having a full set of clubs to work with, players navigate each course with a driver/chipper (which is used for long distance shots and maneuvering around obstacles and environmental objects), and a putter. Courses are noticeably more open than most other games in the genre. You are free to carve your own path through each hole, though there are specially marked “free stroke holes” littered across each hole. Getting to these points within a certain number of shots will knock a stroke off your total score, so those that are focusing on ranking high on the leaderboards will focus on chaining these together.
It all sounds pretty standard, but each hole isn’t simply made up of your standard fairway. Moving platforms, fans, ramps, conveyor belts, and all sorts of other obstacles lie in your way, adding a surreal element to the entire experience. Thankfully, there are a few abilities at your disposal that alleviate some of the frustration. You can summon a mechanized hummingbird, allowing you to fly around the level, surveying the course and plotting out your route. More importantly though, are the rewind and aftertouch. Both these abilities are tied to a rechargeable meter, which fills as you use the putter (but not the driver). The rewind ability functions like it sounds, though you have to use it during the shot, as opposed to using it after the ball comes to lie. You can also choose to save your meter’s power for the aftertouch, which allows you to make small nudges to a shot, useful for correcting errors or navigating around obstacles.
The game plays well overall, but it stumbles a bit when it comes to course design and shot placement. For the most part, every hole is open and non-linear, which makes it difficult, if not frustrating, to figure out an optimal route, much less where you are supposed to go. Replaying courses helps of course, but the other issue is the lack of a visual interface when you make shots. The game doesn’t provide a guide for where the ball is likely to wind up after a shot, let alone where you are directly aiming, meaning you’ll have to eyeball everything on your own. It takes a while to get used to, and while I admire that the developers did state that the goal for the game was to make something that required work to master, I gave up on playing locally with friends, as newcomers are at a distinct disadvantage.
Even though it’s still in Early Access, Vertiginous Golf is a solidly built title, even if it’s lacking a bit of refinement and polish. Courses have a visual flair to them, and while there aren’t that many holes to play on, there’s plenty in the pipeline. Even in its current form, it’s worth taking a swing at.
– Shaan J.
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