If the citizens of BioShock Infinite’s Columbia and the aristocrats from Dishonored were to hold some kind of sporting contest, Vertiginous Golf is probably what they’d end up playing. Mini golf is undeniably great (even in the rain,) but physical courses are limited by scale and those pesky laws of reality.
Kinelco and Lone Elk Creative’s Early Access title takes the mini golf set-up and adds contraptions, fiendish layouts and courses so complex that all players are provided a hovering mechanical hummingbird to help them properly scout ahead. Tiny windmills are out, rotating platforms and buffed-chrome teleportation devices are in.
Vertiginous Golf goes the whole way with its conceptual future-Victorian setting. The game opens with the player stood on a miserable street in the rain, bereft of prospects. Ahead is the Vertiginous Golf shop, advertising an escape from this grey-skied misery. After dabbling in some appropriately phrased options (graphics settings include “pleasing” and “splendid,”) you take your place in a plush red seat and get brain-zapped to the sunny golf greens.
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Once there, you’re turned into a sentient golf club with the hummingbird pal which by chance is going to be my next cartoon pitch to Adult Swim. Wait, actually you’re two sentient golf clubs. There’s the putter, for when you’re trying to keep the ball on the floor, and the driver, which can loft the ball over greater distances and get you out of water traps.
There isn’t really any kind of aiming aid, so it’s up to you to line up shots with your eye and get a feel for how far the power bar will send a given stroke. Once you’ve made a shot though, it does leave a purple trail in the air for you to refer back to. If you narrowly pitched the ball off the edge of a platform last time, you’ll at least be able to see the arc of the shot and adjust as needed.
There’s also a rewind function to employ, but Vertiginous Golf is pretty tight with this. It’s not like so many modern racing titles where you can abuse time reversal to death. The more you make use of the putter, the more of your rewind bar will recharge. In that sense there’s a slight trade-off between avoiding the driver (which can bypass portions of the course if you know what you’re doing,) and being rewarded with more rewind power. Personally I favoured the driver, because a gentlemen should never cheat in that fashion. Oh, and because a rewind has to be committed to before the shot completes, which is rather tricky.
I was also saving rewind-power for the other special mechanic Vertiginous Golf chips your way; the ability to add small amounts of aftertouch to your strokes. Your ball has a small, jewelled beetle attached to it (look, it just does, okay) which can guide a shot further after its been played. This is useful for navigating around obstacles, or providing a small nudge to turn a decent stroke into an outstanding one. Alternatively, it can turn a reasonable shot into a disaster.
Each of the holes present in this early build offer multiple paths to the flag. A few of them have been consciously designed as such, but this is the type of game where you can find yourself on a bizarre part of the course and needing to chip your way out of trouble in a way that the course creator may not even have anticipated. I’d not expected that kind of emergent gameplay from a stylised mini golf title, so it was a pleasant surprise.
Carving your own demented path through the course is an option, but if you want to get the optimal score on each hole you’ll need to aim for the rather cunning “free stroke holes.” These are dotted throughout each course in somewhat difficult to reach areas and will close up after a certain number of shots have been taken. Get there in time though, and you’ll have a stroke knocked off your score. If you can (somehow) hit every one of these special routes on your way to the flag, you’ll get a hole in one.
You won’t get a hole in one though, because sinking every single free stroke hole seems about as likely as making it through all of the original Ninja Gaiden on your first go. That probably won’t stop you trying though. It’s a simple and classic mechanic, encouraging the player to take risks in order for a potential reward, but it’s employed well.
Having to eyeball distances, time shots and navigate around a cavalcade of fans, moving walkways and spinning discs means Vertiginous Golf is not the easiest of games. Pretty soon I was treating the par scores as distant memories and feeling relatively satisfied in just getting my ball to the end without too much calamity.
But with practice and (perhaps most of all) further experience with the course layouts, I think it’d be possible to improve. The Early Access version of this game provides plenty of opportunities for replaying and refining your skill on the same holes, as it currently only has nine to mess around with. That’s clearly the main area where the title will improve, as it otherwise seems pretty polished and close to release quality. If players do find bugs or have suggestions for improvements, they’re encouraged to submit them to the game’s community forums.
There are indications that the final release may also have a level editor of some kind and Steam Workshop integration, which would go a long way to keeping the game awash with new holes for me to be bad at.
With its lovely lilting piano melodies and classy manners, Vertiginous Golf carries itself with an air of distinction. Don’t be too enticed by this debonair demeanor however, as the game has a caddish heart and wants to lure you in with style only to bamboozle you with devilish contraptions. Fortunately, that turns out to be quite enjoyable and gives you the chance to employ a surprising amount of freedom over your shot choices and approach to each green. It needs more of those intricate holes before it can lay claim to being a full game, but this Early Access release is already looking above pa … err, like the one ‘fore’ y … uh … really rather good.
Vertiginous Golf is currently in Steam Early Access, priced at $15.00 USD.