What is the most relaxing thing you can think of? Going for a massage? Sitting in a hot tub after a long day of skiing? Watching a lava lamp? Prepare to have your relax-pants blown off from the comfort of your own Switch with A Little Golf Journey.
Much like golf in the real world, A Little Golf Journey tasks players with hitting a small, dimpled, white ball over and over in an attempt to eventually place it into a small hole. Much unlike golf in the real world, however, this game feels more like a puzzle than a sports experience.
The controls are super simple, and thus lend themselves extremely well to the puzzling: adjust your shot with the left joycon and hit A to send the ball flying. Things get much more precise when using the top buttons: holding ZR will allow you to perform a power shot, enabling your ball to travel much farther than normal; holding ZL will allow you to focus for a few seconds, this makes your shot keep still and will guarantee that the ball lands in the exact spot you are aiming for. Holding L will change the angle you view your shot from, completely flipping it so that you can see where the ball is landing rather than where you’re shooting from.
A different perspective is helpful in any puzzle game: players can move the camera around in order to see everything that is going on. Before lining up a shot, use the ZL and ZR buttons and right joycon, to zoom in and out and fly all around the map. This is essential for locating those juicy secrets, as well as the best places to land the ball to sink it with as few shots as necessary.
Each hole you play will show some stars in the top right corner of the screen. Underneath each star is a certain amount of dots; these dots represent how many shots you can take to collect that amount of stars. Therefore, sinking the ball with the least amount of shots will net you more stars. While the basic controls of the game are quite simple and easy, learning to take advantage of every opportunity can be quite challenging, and perfectionist-types will find themselves replaying holes over and over again in order to collect every single star.
The difficulty curve is extremely well paced and feels as relaxed as the game itself. New gameplay elements are added leisurely: from ice, to rotating platforms, to wind, each area feels different from the last, and adds new challenges to master.
There are a few gameplay elements that can feel frustrating at times. First, while you can adjust a regular shot to be as long or short as you want, the power shot has only one setting: maximum! This can be forgiven as a puzzle control element that you simply need to work around, but that doesn’t make those tricky shots any easier when a regular shot is too short and a power shot is too long!
The other interesting issue I ran into a few times involves the ball’s hit box. The hit box seems slightly bigger than the ball, and this can lead to some frustrating scenarios, particularly in the special, challenging levels where you must golf from tiny platform to tiny platform with very little room for error. There were several times when the ball would land at the extreme edge of the platform, and look as though it were hanging in midair. The reason this becomes frustrating is that, when hitting the ball from this position, no matter what you try to do, it will invariably smack itself against the edge of the platform and careen out of bounds. The fact that the hit indicator shows that the shot should be fine makes these strange hit-box interactions really annoying.
The game is very visually captivating. Having a bird’s eye view of every level really allows for a next-level appreciation of the game’s art and design. There are nine islands (stages), each with a plethora of levels to experience. Each island is differently themed: from Celtic-looking crumbling castles to a winter wonderland. There is so much personality coming out of each stage. On top of that there’s a quaint little story told through notes sent back and forth from two people named X and Y. Insights into their relationship are icing on the puzzle cupcake.
The music will have your brain releasing anti-stress hormones. Just sitting and listening to the soft piano score invokes a desire for a cup of cocoa while watching snow fall.
All in all, A Little Golf Journey is a magical solo-experience that will melt away all the stress of the day. More of a puzzle game than a sports game with very little of the frustration some puzzle games can provide. There are a few little nit-picky things that can be annoying at times, but the beautiful level design and fantastic soundtrack more than make up for it. There are plenty of secrets to be found in certain levels, and if you’re a completionist there is a lot of bang for your buck in this little gem.
A Little Golf Journey £15.49
Step aside multiplayer sports games! With an abundance of multiplayer games clogging up the virtual pipes these days, A Little Golf Journey is an introvert’s breath of fresh, solo-play, air. An arcade puzzle game with golf as the centerpiece. Take a nice, deep breath, but try not to inhale the golf ball.