Dangerous Golf review

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform Win, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Three Fields Entertainment
Developer Three Fields Entertainment
Release Date Jun 3, 2016

It’s not easy to make golf exciting. To pull it off, Dangerous Golf subverts the whole sport, both the rules and the attitudes. It’s in good company — the best golf comedies, like Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore, begin with the assumption that golf sucks. It is decidedly not very dangerous. Dangerous Golf taps into that exact same comedic wavelength, goofing on the stuffiness of country clubs.

This is a kind of golf where speed and chaos are the goal, and decadence is the butt of the joke, rather than the intent of the experience. Golf is the sport of the rich — which is perhaps why it feels so natural to tee off on their dining room tables. Three Fields Entertainment is also the team behind Burnout, so it shouldn't come as a particular surprise that Dangerous Golf has a similarly explosive, punk rock approach.

An explosive, punk rock approach to golf

Dangerous Golf is deceptively simple at first, with the majority of the more complicated mechanics introduced slowly over time. Here’s the basic setup — typically you only have two shots: your tee and your putt. However, most holes have what’s called a Smashbreaker; if you smash a number of objects beyond a certain threshold, you get a bonus shot where your ball catches on fire and you can bounce it into object after object, obliterating bookshelves and banquet arrangements, until the timer runs out. All the objects you smash have a money value, with the total damages added up for your base score. On top of the destruction you accomplish, you also get point bonuses for trick shots and unusually clever use of the environment. And that’s the majority of the game.

dangerous golf

It’s as much pinball as mini-golf in terms of instant response

At first I was completely on board with Dangerous Golf, loving the idea and the execution. Then I started wondering if this was all there was to the game. In the first hour or so, I was almost disappointed with how straightforward it was. But as the game goes on and the challenges become more complex, Dangerous Golf proves itself to be a genuinely deep puzzler.

The game has a lot of puzzles, around 100 holes' worth, but only a handful of different maps and regions. When you play a new hole at a course you've already been to, it rearranges the space with new destructibles, new bonuses and new mechanics but it’s still not wholly fresh. My appreciation for this choice came slowly. At first I felt like it was too slight a selection, but it’s obvious that the effort in the design went primarily into the puzzles and making the environments there tight. I ultimately didn’t mind that there are only a few different locations when the individual holes have such unique setups and solutions.

The increase in complexity brings with it a half dozen profoundly useful and fun mechanics, making the later game feel much more impressive than the early holes. You can Pistol Tee off with a huge smack to break through a window, or softly putt to make a hole that's embedded in a tabletop. You can use 'Danger Time' to slow down Smashbreakers, reorient the camera and admire the intricacy of the chaos. When you hit, say, a pyramid of champagne bottles, not only do they smash, but they splash champagne, shoot off corks, and then those corks can hit and break other things. It’s as much pinball as mini-golf in terms of instant response to your play. Some holes even let you play your shots from where they strike the walls and ceilings with a feature called 'Glue,' which is useful for avoiding hazards like three-layer cakes you’re not allowed to topple. Not all mechanisms may be used on every hole, and each hole seems designed with a kind of ideal shot in mind. That said, the game is geared to reward experimentation and boldness, and you can still get top medals for bizarre and accidental shots.

dangerous golf

Dangerous Golf is, by design, a party game. You must have a controller to play. I played on PC and wasn't even given an option to play with mouse and keyboard. Which is just as well — instead of complaining about awkward keyboard controls, I went out, bought myself a damn controller and enjoyed the game's relatively intuitive and easy console controls instead. Even on PC, there's a mode where multiple people play a competitive match, passing the controller back and forth. This game isn't meant for quiet mastery in an office chair, although you can play it that way too. It's meant for friends to play together, whooping and hollering, a shared and scored mayhem that I found relentlessly and irrepressibly charming.

For the first few hours and tours I played, the game ran incredibly smoothly with only one crash. Then something strange happened to it: even after updating and reinstalling the game, my drivers, and Steam I was experiencing wide-ranging technical hangups. On the majority of holes after the first fifty, the sound was intermittently broken. Sometimes sound effects and guitar riffs would play, but about 3 of 4 holes would go through in absolute silence. This is after experiencing a close-to-game-breaking bug on the Kick the Bucket level which crashed to desktop every time I tried to play. Three Fields has assured me that my issues were not common, but they were consistently bad on my machine.

dangerous golf

As the difficulty increases, so does the satisfaction of play

Having to fight through the technical problems to get to the later holes is a shame, because the game just keeps getting more engaging in the puzzle design as it goes along. It offers new shot varieties right up through the back quarter of the game, as well as twists on techniques you've been mastering. Some later holes chain together two maps, warping you from kitchen to bathroom with destructive opportunities in each. As the difficulty increases, so does the satisfaction of play, with more things to destroy in more creative and surprising ways.

All the little details really contribute to Dangerous Golf's punk-rock whimsy. There are holes in restrooms, where the toilets make farting noises when you smash them. There are holes with skeletons holding wine glasses who make surprised and insulted gasps when hit with the ball, surrounding a table piled high with exquisite desserts. And there are holes in a commercial kitchen with signs saying "Keep This Area Messy." The concept of Dangerous Golf is simple, but the execution is comprehensive. The game is delightful both in the greater design of its play and in the artistic and comedic details of the environment that you can putt right past if you’re not looking.

Wrap Up:

Dangerous Golf successfully blends puzzle with sports

At its worst, its most stodgy and boring, golf can come across as elitist and impossible to get into. After all, how well can you relate to the athleticism of a 50-year-old man with a polo shirt and a quietly satisfied smile? But Dangerous Golf turns this sport into something where anyone can smash as many priceless artifacts as they like and be rewarded for how stylishly they do so. Every aspect of its presentation and attitude is more rock-and-roll than traditional golf would ever tolerate. But it’s still, at its heart, golf: it’s a game of angles, velocity, and leisure. Dangerous Golf is a sports game, a puzzle game, and a blowin'-shit-up game, whipped into a smoothly designed blend that feels deeply satisfying.

Dangerous Golf was reviewed on Windows PC using a code provided by Three Fields Entertainment. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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7.0 Win