This Dungeon Golf review is made based on a review key provided by the publisher and played on PC and Steam Deck for the purpose of creating this review. The game is available in the Steam Store for €/$ 16,99.
We already delved into Dungeon Golf extensively in our interview with Dungeon Golf’s game director Tony Gowland, just before the year’s end. The game has been in early access for quite a while and got an official release on 9 december, last year.
Everyone’s favorite holiday pastime dragged down to the dungeons
If you think about the concept of a mini-golf video game, you can more or less approximate what that could and should be. But we are talking about Dungeon Golf, which drags this harmless and family oriented holiday pastime into the dark (but colorful) oubliettes of despair.
At first sight, the game aims to be a party game for the family to enjoy, judging by its colorful and cartoons presentation and accessible controls and mechanics. The objective of the multiplayer options is fairly simple: finish the intrinsically designed mini golf courses with fewer shots than your opponents. The power and aim mechanics are kept simple and to the point, without any busywork or hint of aspirations to add realism. You can add some strategy to you game by using the sponsor deals (buffs) and special powers characters have. But these are all optional. The finer details en subtility in the gameplay are there, but in a way that Nan and Uncle Bob could join during an couch multiplayer session on new year’s eve (par example) without feeling overwhelmed.
Ghosts and Ghouls
The dungeon courses are filled with all sorts of ghouls and monsters, trying to make your and your opponent’s life harder. If your ball ends up near one of these dungeon dwellers, they will stomp you and your ball, which will result in your ball being slung away, adding an additional strike. Then again, if you hit a monster with your ball, you will lose a strike. Getting a hit on the monsters can easily be missed, resulting in additional lost hit if you end up in striking reach of that particular monster.
Apart from the aforementioned living and undead creatures, the courses are filled with passive and moving objects like slopes and hills, wielding hatchets, moving bridges, and the like, demanding at least some sort of a tactical approach and to not bluntly whack your ball into any of these contraptions. Just like real mini-golf, your opponent’s balls stay on course and could hinder you for a clear shot as well.
Fairytale and make believe
Talking about the decor; I have to say I really like the visual style of Dungeon Golf. All the characters are visually quite unique, all reminiscent of fairytale characters without ever directly pointing to any existing characters or IPs. Sir Joffrey, for example, isn’t “the knight in shining armor,” but is a knight’s horse on a hobby horse. The wizard named Young Felix, which looks like an archetypical wizard, but in this case without pants. This is a cheeky idea coming from the game director’s daughter, by the way. Jimmy Fabula is an “Undead Influencer,” meaning a skeleton with a body warmer and a cap, armed with a cell phone, aking a selfie after every successful hit. It all sounds like a bunch of haphazardly grabbed-together ideas, but they all work amazingly well. The only outlier is Sandy Bunker, who, apart from her clever punned name, basically is a golfer with a golf outfit and a golf club.
Along with the appealing character list, the dungeons themselves do not disappoint either, to say the least. They look fantastic with colorful cartoony goodness full of detail. As mentioned in the interview, the stages feel like set dressing for a Disney World ride, in a nice late PS1 and early PS2 cartoony style, much like the Crash, Spyro, and Medievil games. There are four themes in total, and in every corner, stuff seems to happen. Assets that are placed in the decor are intended to help you achieve the story goals or to create shortcuts. Many times, these obstructions helped me without them ever intending to do so, launching my ball in a totally unpredicted path to a good or bad result.
When it comes down to gameplay, Dungeon Golf does everything right for the basic mini-golf party video game experience. The multiplayer modes are the meat and bones of the game and are very configurable as you can set the free play, cup, and match mode up the way you like. Not enough friends? Add up to 3 bots to make some artificial ones.
You can also go solo and opt for the story mode, which adds a bunch of nice objectives to the course. Instead of playing against other players or the CPU, you play to meet level objectives. These range from trying to clear the hole as fast as possible, defeat all the monsters, or open specific chests within the level. There are thresholds, when met, that will earn you bronze, silver, or gold. This certainly adds to the longevity of the game without getting too repetitive if you take your time.
Those CPU-controlled players aren’t the brightest AI players you’ll ever see, though. While in some instances, they can make brilliant and somewhat sus plays, more often the computer-controlled player thinks it’s possible to play through a pillar or fencing to go straight to the target. Other times, it thinks it can aim straight to the target even if there is a huge out-of-play area in between. Maybe in golf, you could drive over it, but you surely can’t in mini-golf.
Apart from the AI, there are some more pressing problems, though. Mainly the camera. It is all over the place and gets stuck in tight places. Characters disappear in walls if the shot angle happens to not line up well with the surrounding objects. That last thing is maybe a forgivable consequence of wanting to play a golf game in a closed and walled-off area. I would rather just want to make the shot than the game telling me “I can’t make the shot because there is an object in the way”. The stuttering, jumpy camera, and wildly angled switches feel much more a case of unrefined execution than anything else. If the graphics give me nostalgic feelings of games like Medieval and Spyro on the original Playstation, the camera work sure does as well.
The Pacing of (Mini)Golf
What it all boils down to is if this game is fun, with a group, online, or solo. To start off with the online bit; it is nearly impossible to get a lobby filled with people playing the game. Real enthusiasts should try Ant Workshop’s Discord channel to specifically hook up with people in order to play a game. But if you do, or you got friends willing to invest in the game too, you must have the inner peace to sit out other people’s tactical decision making and execution. You can, while others are in turn, take a look at the map and prepare your own plan. But just like a regular golf game, you have to sit out, up to three other people, wasting time, being indecisive, and having trouble getting out of last place, keeping themselves in play. Just like every other turn-based strategy game.
Personally, I’m okay to sit out the duration of the other players’ tactical time-outs. I’m not sure everyone has the patience for games that can take up way more time passively than actively. But hey, that’s the way mini-golf works, isn’t it? Either way, it is fun to take the mick out of your mates over Discord after they just totally messed up a play, went out of bounds, or made a stupid move look even sillier. That is the magic of this game in short. If the camerawork can be sorted out in upcoming releases, it will be a very solid offering and maybe one of the better multiplayer party games available on Steam. It would fit a more couch multiplayer-oriented device like the Nintendo Switch much more than PC, in our opinion. Once Ant Workshop makes that decision (presuming they didn’t already), we sincerely hope the game will find more footing in the market and boast some sort of cult following, with a sparkling online player base. It deserves it.
How does Dungeon Golf play on Steam Deck?
Dungeon Golf plays well on Steam Deck. The controls of Dungeon Golf work phenomenally well with the Steam Decks control setup. In regards to performance, some minor framerate hiccups are noticeable during regular play. Non of them I consider hindering gameplay.
- visually charming looking fairytale goodness
- wacky characters
- above par level design with basic-but-solid gameplay mechanics
- general presentation and production is top notch.
- Camera performance
- General pacing of the game is not for everyone, inherited by the mini golf concept
- Barren multiplayer wasteland (unfortunately)