Golf With Your Friends brings me back big time to the late 80s. You see, the idea of having a miniature golf game is not new, far from it. Back in my early days I spent a lot of time on the infamous Zany Golf. And Golf With Your Friends is basically a modern version of Zany Golf in 3D with the bells and whistles that come with modern technologies.
Miniature golf has not changed. It’s still about landing your ball in the hole with the least amount of putts. If you are not familiar with the genre, it’s like golf, without the long distance walking and the boring trees: here you have to deal with obstacles designed to be there, and a properly designed track. Just like in older minigolf games, there is no club selection (you don’t even see your character), so as far as you can tell it’s just the golf ball in various environments.
Golf with Your Friends brings some twists to the well established genre, with jetpacks, teleporters, black holes, gravity pits and boosters on the different courses. In the forest course, some parts of it involve moving logs and saws emerging from the ground, requiring very timely moves. In the spaceship zone (and others too), mini black holes will drastically change the trajectory of your ball when you come too close – which is something you can use to your advantage as well.
In the Egyptian-themed zone, you sometimes have to bounce on pillars to do a proper ricochet to get to the right spot. There’s also Worms and Escapists zones. In the Worms zone, the land is filled with mines and other explosives: travelling too close to them cause explosions which send your ball flying in unexpected directions. Mayhem! Overall, if you like the more traditional minigolf game, Forest is probably the closest you can get.
Playing alone is not too much fun, so this is really the type of game where you want to play either online or in Hot Seat Mode (local multiplayer) with friends. When I tried to find some online games, I could not find any public lobbies, so your mileage may vary. In any case, Hot Seat Mode works well if you have anyone else at home to play with. As far as I know, it would probably NOT work with Steam Remote Local Multiplayer functions since Hot Seat should appear as a single-player game in which you take turns, not a simultaneous multiplayer experience. But feel free to correct me if that is not the case.
All in all, the game is fairly well designed. It works as you expect it, nothing strange with the physics. The controls are very intuitive, the right joystick is used to set the direction and camera, the left one for adjusting the strength of your shot; it could not be much simpler. In local multiplayer you share the same controller. If you are worried about COVID19 please rub your gamepad in alcohol regularly. Also note that it’s possible to use a mouse, probably more precise and accurate overall if you prefer playing on a desk.
In the provided courses, difficulty typically increases as you reach later stages. At some point, you will no longer see where the final destination is supposed to be, and the game could do a better job of highlighting where you should go next. It’s not always clear.
I did find a few more issues. For one, in Hot Seat Mode, when switching players at every round, the camera remains in the same direction as the last player’s, instead of resetting the view to the previous player’s angle. It’s mildly annoying after a while and I think they should probably fix that.
Hot Seat Mode has another problem: when you start at the beginning, every player’s ball is in the same spot, and the balls mix up together with different colors. It’s very confusing for the first shot to understand who is who unless you check out the player’s name. I guess this shows how Hot Seat Mode did not get much love during development compared to regular online modes.
Not an issue, but the environments are mostly decorations and it feels a little weird in the aquatic world to see the ball fall on the water surface and roll further instead of entering the water with a splash. In other areas the water is a gameplay element since the game lets you make the ball jump at the press of a button as long as it keeps moving.
When you do an 18 holes course, there’s a single soundtrack based on the theme playing in the background. Thankfully they are relatively pleasant and unobtrusive, yet not very remarkable.
Golf With Your Friends comes with a very complete level editor that you can use to create your own 18 hole courses. It allows for a lot of flexibility and very precise positionning of different elements. On Steam, this also means the game benefits from the community workshop: you can find dozens of user-created maps to download in order to expand on the base content. This is exactly the right approach to make the game last forever, as long as people keep playing and making stuff for it.
On Linux, GWYF has a native client so there’s no need to mess up with anything to get it running. However, using Proton does make sense if you actually care about… performance. On my GTX1060 machine with the native client I get 30 FPS in High settings while there’s nothing remotely impressive going on. This begged the question… can Proton do better? and the answer is a resounding YES. On the very same machine, with the Windows version running on Proton, I can go up to Ultra settings and stay at 60 FPS like it’s nothing. I’m sorry to say, but with this kind of performance it’s going to be hard to give native clients a good reputation.
This is not the game of the year, but as far as party games go, it is definitely part of the Team17 catalogue next to Overcooked 2, Worms, and others. It’s got that casual, well-made vibe to it. Time to retire Zany Golf for good!
One very last comment. If you are cheap and not interested in purchasing something like GWYF, you should be aware there is a FOSS alternative called NeverPutt which is a decent introduction to the genre. Chances are it’s included in the repositories of your distro.
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