Constraints are an interesting thing. For example, I am trying to write this review in 27 minutes. Why? Because I am under the constraint of this article going up tomorrow. And to do that, it needs to be done by midnight-ish.
Of course, that’s not the only constraint I’m working under at the moment. In all the time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve tried to write about one new thing each week. It turns out that playing a new game every week to the point I feel comfortable talking about it for several paragraphs is difficult. Forget playing through something ‘fun,’ even finding something just ‘interesting’ can rough.
The interesting thing about constraints, though, is that they lead to making choices you otherwise might not make. In this case, that choice was playing a visual novel where you date serial killers.
Hooked On You is a spinoff dating sim based somewhat on the Dead By Daylight world. Dead By Daylight is a game about either being a murderer, or trying to escape murderers, and Hooked On You is a game about trying to make out with them. So yeah, there are some differences.
I’m not really a visual novel person, but I did find Hooked On You interesting enough to finish (at least through the one route for the character I decided to pursue). That playthrough took about 3 1/2 hours to finish, but it’s worth noting that time also included me reading every line out loud. There are a total of four characters, so presumably, I could go back and play through the routes for the other three.
As this is a visual novel, I won’t go heavily into the plot, because that sort of spoils the whole point of the game. Instead, I’ll just give my thoughts on the tone and my overall feelings on the game. Also, if you hate reading, you could just watch me play through it here.
Since I’m not really into this genre, I don’t have too much to compare it with. For me, the strongest parts of the story were the interactions between the various in-game killers, and also the few moments where the game takes itself seriously.
Unfortunately, while those moments aren’t ‘rare,’ the game spends a fair amount of time leaning on the fourth wall. It tries to be funny, poking fun at a number of visual novel tropes, including a limited art budget, and has a narrator who talks far too much.
For me, those were the weaker sections of the narrative. They tended to distract from the rest of the experience, and often felt forced to pad out run time. I’m not saying I expected the game to be serious. But swapping between “look how meta we are,” and “Which person do you want to get to know better?” never really clicked.
This is a fairly pure visual novel. Most of what you’ll be doing is reading text. There’s no real erotic content or art in the game, even if some things are heavily implied. The tone of the whole game is far more tongue in cheek, even for the only implied sex scene that I encountered. There was a single mini-game sequence that gets repeated several times, where you have to stop a circle as it goes over an object. It’s pretty much a simplified version of mainline Dead By Daylights skill checks.
So what’s my overall take? Well, Hooked On You is interesting, but I don’t think you’ll get too much out of it if you aren’t already into Dead By Daylight. The game is fairly short, with most options and decisions being pretty clearly telegraphed. The the reward for completing sections isn’t erotic art/text, just more details about characters. As it turns out I do like Dead By Daylight, and thus have at least a passing interest in its lore, so I got something out of this game.
If you don’t have any curiosity regarding Wraith, Hunter, Trapper, or Spirit, and what sort of people they are when NOT gutting folks like fish, there isn’t too much here for you. This is a tie-in product. Maybe it’s more than just a gag game, but it’s also not really much of a standalone item.
Cult of the Lamb isn’t a bad game, but it doesn’t commit to any of its single mechanics adequately to be an excellent game. The only area where it makes any real innovation is in combining the various gameplay loops that it consists of. But perhaps as a result of that synthesis, none of those loops felt very deep. As such, I didn’t personally enjoy it, and I don’t recommend it.
Let’s back up for a moment, so I can catch my breath from outrunning the screaming mobs. The game is getting a lot of good press and attention right now, and I suspect my opinion is going to be somewhat unpopular. Still, before you crucify me, let me explain myself.
Cult of the Lamb presents itself as a combination of a management sim and action roguelike. You play as the Lamb, resurrected from a sacrificial death by an elder god-like figure, The One Who Waits. Upon being returned to life, you are entrusted with two goals. To build a cult in his name, and to slay the four bishops who trapped him.
I’ll cover the slaying first. The action roguelike portion of the game follows the somewhat standard roguelite formula. Upon beginning a run (or crusade, as the game likes to call them), you’re dropped into a level and given a starting weapon and a curse. There are four or so base weapon types, each with varying speed and attacks.
The dagger is the fastest, but with low damage, while the hammer is the slowest, actually having a sort of windup before it swings. The sword and the axe sit in the middle. There are more variants applied to each of the base weapon types, but they don’t really change how the weapons play, just how much damage they do. Curses are just spells. You spend fervor to use them and they have some sort of damaging effect. You get fervor by killing and hitting enemies.
The system is pretty light on builds, so runs don’t feel that different. You can’t force weapon spawns to show up, and despite the variants, each variant feels the same as the base. For example, the poison dagger and the godly dagger don’t feel different to use, even if the second has much more damage.
Anyway, back to crusade mechanics. The goal of a run is to reach the end of the zone, which looks something like the map below. Along the way you’ll gather various resources and crafting ingredients.
While this might look a little intimidating at first, there are usually only 2-3 combat areas in a run. The rest are actually resource nodes, shops, or other small events.
Upon reaching the final area of a zone, one of two things will happen. One, you’ll face off against a mini-boss for a bit more loot and a recruitable. Or two, if you’ve already defeated the zone 3 times, you’ll face off against the zone’s boss: one of the four Bishops of the Old Faith.
I played the game on medium difficultly, and I’d say that none of the fights are particularly challenging. Only one boss fight in the game took me multiple attempts.
If you win the fight, you’ll get some bonus resources, and if you lose, you’ll lose some of what you’ve collected. Either way you’ll be sent back to your cult after. This is the management sim portion of the game. You can construct buildings with resources you’ve gathered. But you make the the most important building during the game’s intro: the shrine. The shrine is used to gather devotion.
Devotion serves the role that something like “Science points” would in another game. It’s used to unlock additional buildings and structures from your primary tech tree. The other resources you have to keep an eye on are the food and faith meters. While individual cultists have their own stats, these meters provide a sort of aggregate overview of the status of your cult. Keep your cultists fed, or they’ll start to starve, and get unhappy. Keep them loyal, or they’ll… I actually don’t know what happens to be honest. I never had any loyalty problems.
This might have been because the only time someone wasn’t loyal, I sacrificed them to be ritually devoured by tentacles.
Speaking of, rituals! Another building you unlock early on is the Church, where you can perform rituals and announce doctrines for your followers to obey. In theory, it’s kind of a neat idea. In practice, I never once ran out of the resource needed to perform rituals, so I pretty much just performed them whenever they were off cooldown. For some rituals the cooldown was several in-game days long.
The timing system itself is probably worth noting. Time passes the same regardless of if you’re at your cult, or on a crusade. And cultists can’t make their own food. So it’s somewhat necessary to either set things up so that they won’t starve while you’re away, or to try to minimize the time spent on your crusades.
This is as good a moment as any to talk about the cultists themselves.
While each individual cultist does have some of their own traits, they don’t offer much variety. I only ever saw cultists with a maximum of three traits, and most of them have fairly minimal gameplay impacts; things like “15% faster/slower gathering speed.”
The end result is that I never really felt incentivized to get attached to anyone, or to assign any specific cultist a specific task. The benefits to doing so were pretty much non-existent.
It doesn’t help that there are a bunch of other mechanics that discourage you from getting attached. Cultists can die of old age, which encourages constantly acquiring new members. But cultist death makes it feel bad to use gifts or invest any significant effort into leveling up a single member. There’s also a portion of the game where several of your cultists will be randomly selected to turn against you, and you’re forced to kill them. You can also unlock the ability to sacrifice members for various reasons, including to resurrect yourself after dying in the roguelike portion of the game, but I never used that feature.
This is the biggest argument for me on why Cult of the Lamb isn’t like Animal Crossing. Cultists aren’t friends or helpful NPC’s. They’re a resource to be used in your quest to slay the bishops. At their best, they’re pretty much slaves to your every whim. At their worst, you can sacrifice them to a pit of tentacles for emergency meat.
Since I’ve covered most of the game’s mechanics, let me try to wrap it all up into one neat package. The action roguelite section of the game doesn’t have the build diversity of other games like Binding of Issac or Atomicrops, or the mechanical challenge. At the same time, the cult management portion of the game doesn’t offer the mechanical depth of other sim games, like Cultivation Simulator or Dwarf Fortress.
At the same time it doesn’t have the comfy factor of something like Animal Crossing, since many of the mechanics apply pressure to your cult. It feels like a waste to construct various decorations and buildings when the same resource could be used to create another outhouse.
I’ve talked a lot shit, so before I wrap this up, I want to say some nice things. Cult of the Lamb has absolutely incredible art style, that it executes to near perfection. And while the plot twist is pretty easy to see coming, there were a few moments in the game that did creep me out. It’s not enough to change my opinion on the game. In 12 hours of gameplay, I can’t tell you the name of a single cultist or about a really cool run, but I do remember a small set of dialogue from an NPC that twisted the knife on how fucked up the game’s universe is.
So, yeah. I don’t personally recommend Cult of the Lamb. This isn’t because it’s a bad game. But what I personally tend to prize in games is either new weird mechanics/risks, or really fun moment to moment gameplay and systems. Cult of the Lamb doesn’t do either of those things. Instead, it’s a synthesis of existing mechanics, and watered down versions of their systems.
This interview is part three of a series from an interview with Jongwoo Kim, the creative director of Lucifer Within Us, a unique mystery game. To read our writeup on the game, click here. To read part two, click here.
Technical Troubles of Transforming Time
Fritz Wallace: Lucifer Within Us has an incredibly unique timeline mechanic that allows you replay and see what each suspect claims to have been doing at any given point in time, and to rewind and move around. How does that system work?
Jongwoo Kim: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but most games with a replay system won’t let you rewind. For example, if you watch a replay of a game like StarCraft, or an RTS, it’s usually not actually a replay, it’s just a recording of all the button presses.
But for Lucifer Within Us, because the player needs to be able to smoothly rewind, we had to record the animation data for anyone point in time, in addition to recording all the animations and false testimony for any given point in time. And in addition to that recording, we had to make sure all of this was consistent with the audio for any given point in time.
For example, if Gideon says one thing, but is located somewhere else, it won’t be a smooth experience. So you have to be sure when things are going to play, aligning your time cube.
It’s actually a weird technical challenge that isn’t done often. It’s the kind of thing I’m quite proud of, like a very cool toy sort of thing. It’s quite satisfying for me to be able to rewind things back and forth, and see the characters move around.
Fritz Wallace: I’m curious about this, since I’ve done a small amount of work with Unity myself. What made it so difficult?
Jongwoo Kim: So certain parts are Unity specific, but the bigger problems are “How do you make a system where the player can rewind to any point, at any time, and still have it make sense?” And there are quite a few problems.
The first one is logistics. How do you ensure a character’s movements are believable and make sense if the player can watch every moment of what they’re doing? Especially if what they’re doing a lie. The simple solution is to have them idle for a large amount of time once they reach what they’re doing.
Before we implemented rapid scrolling/skipping, it was frustrating for the player experience to watch everything happen slowly, when you have idling like that. But if we’re assuming that the player should be able to navigate at any point in time (which is what you’d want to be able to do as an investigator), there are other weird challenges.
For example, characters say their lines, but that won’t necessarily line up with the length of a given section of movement. Initially we had extensive testimony lines, but we realized players don’t want read paragraphs of text. Also, any text that’s not explicitly describing the actions being taken tended to be misleading, and players wanted to ask questions. There needed to be coherence between what was spoken, what was happening, and what was seen.
But all of this still has to align with the logistics of the case, how the character gets there, and be continuous, because it’s a timeline. So the solution we came up with was that we had an editor built on top of Unity, that would allow us to record the case from beginning to end for every possible variant. And there are additive variants, it’s not like it’s just every single variation. So you’d have the vague testimony for every character, the true timeline for every character, and then every layer in between.
Fritz Wallace: So for example, in the third case, where each of three suspects has to still line up and make sense at any point in their stories.
Jongwoo Kim: So yeah, those three paths have to happen, but you have to keep in mind, sometimes the timing of objects involved in the case changes too. For example, in Gideon’s case, when and how he manipulates the coronet changes the testimony and outcome. The same is true of Abraham and the shovel. So you have to make sure certain objects disappear from the timeline, and only appear when they’re speaking.
The coronets explosion example, she (Alex Bull, 3D Artist) had to make an animation, and then adapt the animation so it’s rewindable, but with the pieces still appearing and being discoverable on the ground.
If you go back and look at everything side by side and where things are, you actually might notice a few small changes. There are some errors, and we tried to be very careful about avoiding them, but it was very tricky. We also discovered during testing that certain players are much more obsessive about certain errors then others. In the first case, the glass door and its position at the start of the case would frustrate players, because the door ends the testimony closed, but if it was open when the player gets there, it raises questions about who opened it, because someone must have.
And so any error like that in the recordings became frustrating to players because it both throws the player off, and breaks that sense of being a detective. The vision of the game was for the player to use everything they see, and figure out the answer themselves. It was damaging and misleading when we made mistakes like that.
From a very tech point, and this is Unity specific. There’s no built-in system in Unity that supports rewinding animations for the duration of the cases we have. While Unity does have a system that can work for 2 minutes in length, there was no guarantee that our cases would be under 2 minutes. It also has further restrictions: i.e., can only record during run-time. So a player would have to watch full case normal speed 1 before that system was usable.
So we had to figure out another way. I won’t go too much into details, since I’m not sure that’s interesting to anyone who isn’t trying to perfectly recreate the system in Unity. There was an alternative animation system available in the Unity made by the developers that allows you to play any animation arbitrarily. And so by using that system, and then another way to capture either every frame, or however many intervals you wanted, to take a snapshot of a character, their exact animation state, what they were holding. And we’d take snapshot after snapshot, and then using those snapshots, we didn’t have to use Unity’s animation system any more. And using those snapshots, we could interpolate between the states.
It’s a bit strange to say snapshots though, because that makes it seem like it’s an actual film in a way, right? But in reality, it’s still taking place in the physicals space of the game, the characters still are moving around, and have physical properties.
In the ideal world, I would have wanted it so you could just reverse time whenever you wanted. If someone threw an object, you would just have the physics system run in reverse, accelerate it in the other direction. But because the player could skip around to any moment in time, and physics going backward is not something Unity supports, the approach we took was different, by recording at every major interval and interpolating, and taking enough snapshots that it looks smooth.
Fritz Wallace: That’s a pretty intense technical challenge.
Jongwoo Kim: Yeah, I don’t think the studio ever talked much about the technology we built for this project, but it is certainly something weird and unique about the game.
Fritz Wallace: So it seems like a lot of effort was put into both designing these systems and making them work technically, which is fairly impressive.
Jongwoo Kim: Yup.
Fritz Wallace: Would you ever want to make more games using the timeline mechanics? Or more games in that setting?
Jongwoo Kim: Yeah, so if I were given the opportunity to revisit that world, I’d really love to. Would I like to revisit those mechanics, whether it was using that IP or not? My answer would be a careful “Yes”.
While we didn’t milk everything we could out of it, in terms of logistics and mechanics, it’s a very particular setup. In the sense of, not just the implications of the mechanics, as much as the logistics of making a game like that work. In order for that to happen, since I no longer have access to the code base, I’d have to rebuild a lot of things. And that’s the main thing I’d be reluctant to do.
If I could, I’d love to make more cases. I think a timeline based approach has a lot more space to be explored. I also think some of the choices we made for Lucifer Within Us do restrict some future possibilities because of the narrative commitments of that project. I’m very happy with those narrative commitments, but at the same time a digital exorcist needs to exorcise demons. So we have to provide demons, and that narrows the possibilities compared to a traditional investigator. I don’t think that pertains to the timeline though.
This concludes part 3 of the interview. The final part will go up tomorrowand involves the games lore, headcannon, and some of the lessons learned from the project.
Elden Ring came out on February 25th. As I write this, it’s currently June 19th. I purchased the game upon its release. Since then, it’s been 119 days. For a large portion of time, this article has been sitting in my drafts post, with just the following text.
“I have not beaten Elden Ring.”
As of today though, I can finally update that text. Instead, it can now read:
“I have beaten Elden Ring.”
So now what?
There are three separate tacts I feel I could take with reviewing Elden Ring. I’m going to try to stuff them all into this article, but I’m going to start with the most straightforward one. Having finished the game do I recommend it? Do I like Elden Ring? Is it fun? To which my answers are “It depends, yes (but not as much as Bloodborne), and sometimes.” Let’s expand those answers a bit, but first, let’s talk about what Elden Ring is mechanically.
Much like its predecessors, Elden Ring is an over the shoulder action game. You could also just call it a Soulslike, the genre From Software effectively invented. It shares many other traits with other From Software games. These range from how bosses are handled, to a large portion of older games’ equipment systems, to the most infamous: the fact that when you die, you drop all your unspent currency/experience, and get one chance to run back and pick it up. And if you fail, you kiss all your experience goodbye.
There are a massive number of differences as well, though. Unlike previous games, Elden Ring is open world, and when I say open world, I really mean it. There were three separate occasions in my playthrough where I thought I’d seen the entire world, only to then walk directly into a brand new zone. And because it’s so big, you get a horse (best value; Torrent legit looks more like a yak) to traverse the world. There’s also a brand new crafting system, which I never touched, and the ability to summon spirits, which I used a lot.
To my mind, the biggest ramification of how open the world is, is that there isn’t strictly speaking a single path to the end of the game. There are some required bosses, but the early game is open enough that it only requires you to beat two out of a fairly large set of bosses. Anyway, now that we’ve covered the game’s general mechanics at least slightly, let’s go back to those three questions I answered above.
Answer Ye These Questions Three
First off, do I recommend Elden Ring? Here’s why my recommendation is an “It depends.” Elden Ring is a Soulslike, and it’s a From Software game. This means the game is hard, not by being unfair, but by just being very punishing for mistakes. I talked about this sort of design in my Bloodborne writeup, if you want to read about this design philosophy in more detail.
Elden Ring could almost be taken as a synthesis of the games From Software has made. So if you enjoy those games, it’s an easy recommendation. At the same time, it’s a very unique experience. I’d argue that if you’ve never played a Soulslike, Elden Ring is currently the pinnacle of the genre, making it a good entry point.
With that said, if you’ve played them before, and didn’t like them, or simply don’t like action oriented combat games, Elden Ring is likely a bad fit. The ability to beat Elden Ring isn’t something reserved for only the most elite gamers, but it is a game that demands far more patience and tolerance then any other AAA title I can think of. There’s a reason the “Easy Mode” mod has 40,000 downloads.
Next, question two: do I like Elden Ring? Yes, I generally like Elden Ring, but, I still don’t like it as much as Bloodborne. The reasons for this can be grouped into a few big reasons: (A) weapons, (B) combat, and (C) “I just don’t like open world games.”
A. Weapons. I simply like Bloodborne’s weapons more, specifically their trick modes. The ability to spend resources on a single weapon, but to swap between modes based on the enemy you’ve encountered was something I enjoyed quite a lot. Elden Ring has a much greater number of weapons available, but none ever actually really clicked with me the way Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane did. In addition, although I found a lot more weapons, I simply didn’t have the stats for many of them, and thus ignored them.
B. Combat. In Bloodborne, when you get hit by an attack, if you can strike an enemy back fast enough, you can recover a portion of your health. This lends the game a very aggressive tone, encouraging offensive play. In Elden Ring, you do not. This simple difference sets an incredibly different tone, and frankly, I like fighting more than I like waiting. This brings us to the other thing I liked better about Bloodborne combat: parries.
In Bloodborne, your secondary weapon is almost always a gun. Guns are not really ranged weapons. Instead they’re used to perform parries/counters, and you almost always have access to them. Elden Ring doesn’t have guns, and while it does have parries, Parry is a single special attack option available only on shields, and using a shield means giving up two handed weapons, and also many other combat options. Look, I just liked my shotgun okay?
C. I just don’t like open world games. This one is pretty self explanatory. I just don’t. Elden Ring is an open world game, and it uses a lot of the common open world tropes, including various repeating objectives and structures, having to collect maps for new areas, and in the latter half of the game, a fair amount of re-used bosses. Also a crafting system.
I do not enjoy getting lost. I do not enjoy crafting shit. And I really don’t enjoy trying to find a specific reagent. Yes, I could use a wiki, but I didn’t for reasons we’ll cover later. I mentioned this in my earlier Elden Ring writeup, but it also made it feel much harder to figure out if I was just bad at a fight, or if my character’s stats weren’t high enough. Is skill too low, or is number too low?
Next, question 3, the most important question: Is Elden Ring fun? I had fun with Elden Ring. I was also frustrated, annoyed, bewildered, and pissed off. Those two sets of emotions aren’t necessarily exclusive. Elden Ring, and Soulslikes in general, are satisfying because of how obnoxious they can be, and how good it feels to finally dunk an enemy that’s been wiping the floor with you for several hours.
(We’re about to get into spoiler territory, so if for some reason you want to avoid spoilers, now would be the time to leave.)
With that said though, I would say I had less “Fun” in the second half of the game, and closer to the end. The environments are far more sparse, and bosses are heavily reused. In addition, the final section of the game is effectively a boss rush, where you have to face FIVE bosses with no other zones or content between them. Of these five bosses, I’d argue the first and third bosses you encounter are more impressive and interesting than four and five, which gives the game a weird tone.
Also, while I don’t want to be too direct, the “Final” boss of Elden Ring is one of the worst fights I’ve ever seen in a From Software game. This is for several reasons and I’ll cover them quickly. First off, the final boss is large, which would normally be fine, except they’re so big that getting close enough to attack them requires that you’re also so close that you can’t see the tells for their attacks. Second, they only have one lock-on point, directly in their chest. This makes it hard to stay focused on them, and hard to see their tells, which come from the head and arms. Finally, despite being an absolute chonky lad, they spend most of the fight just running around the arena, and getting close enough to them to hit them is the primary challenge. It’s incredibly annoying.
There are quite a few awesome bosses in the game, but the final boss is not one of them.
So now that we’ve answered the big important questions, let’s move on to the other thing I wanted to talk about, and perhaps the biggest issue coloring my experience with Elden Ring.
I’m pretty sure I played the game wrong.
I Played Elden Ring Wrong
That sounds pretty weird, doesn’t it? After all, arguing that someone is “playing it wrong” is usually used to perpetuate elitism. It smacks of explaining why someone you don’t like, usually because of gender, skin color, or both, isn’t a “Real Gamer.” So using it to describe yourself is weird.
So why do I think I played it wrong? Funnily enough, it actually has nothing to do with in-game behavior or mechanics.
My playthrough of Elden Ring was completed with as few spoilers as I could feasibly make it, and completely solo. I never once looked at a guide, wiki, or any form of information or tutorial. I also played in offline mode and never used an online summon. The extent of my exposure to information from outside the game was one or two offhanded comments from my friends (“Mimic tear is good”) and a few small memes that I encountered accidentally.
I did this for my pride. From Software games are hard, and I wanted to be able to say to know that “I beat Elden Ring without having to look anything up, by myself.” That’s literally the entire reason.
And in retrospect, it was a pretty stupid decision.
Everything about how Elden Ring works feels like it’s designed to be “experienced” as a game in some form of multiplayer. Not in-game multiplayer, but exchange of information multiplayer. You find something cool about how various mechanics work, and share it with your friend. They tell you how a certain symbol on the map always indicates it’s an area where you get resources to upgrade your weapons. It’s a virtuous cycle of phased discovery within a group.
The game is built of a million small riddles and puzzles, but once you solve them, you can share them with someone else. This is true of many From Software games, but Elden Ring being open world takes this to a whole new level. There’s just so much stuff, and a massive amount of it is easy to miss.
I kind of regret doing everything completely on my own, and I think I would have had more fun if I played more earlier, and chatted with friends about stuff, rather than the grinding slog I took to do it all myself.
There’s probably a lesson there, but let’s pretend this was a one-off thing, and wrap this article up. There are a few other issues I have with the game, including the crashes and boss re-use, but I already wrote about those a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure it’s worth re-hashing.
Elden Ring is an advancement of the Soulslike genre, and synthesizes many of the mechanics and environments from previous From Software games. Even so, there are several weak portions of the game. While it deserves the acclaim and praise it gets, I wouldn’t call it perfect by any means. If this article has inspired you, and you’ve now decided you want to become Elden Lord, it’s available for the current gen consoles, and also PC.
Golf with your Friends is a fun multiplayer title, but a wonky physics engine and over reliance on gimmicks saps the enjoyment in many places.
Golf With Your Friends is a minigolf game developed by Blacklight Interactive, and published by Team 17. You might know Team 17 for things like Worms or The Escapists. Or maybe for that moment earlier this year when they tried to make NFTs. PCGamer has a fairly good writeup on that whole fiasco here.
Back to Golf With Your Friends. It’s a minigolf game that supports up to 12 player multiplayer. There are a dozen or so courses of 18 holes to play through in the base game, and an entire Steam workshop of other courses of varying quality.
As a minigolf game, it’s… pretty good! Decent. Passable. B-. The big issue I have with it is that the physics engine is incredibly wonky. There’ll be portions of the game where everything seems reasonable and consistent. Then it’ll break completely with no rhyme or reason.
Here’s an example. One course has a set of moving platforms that move up and down. For one set of friends, they were able to hit their ball onto these platforms. The ball would stop moving and they’d be able to hit off the platform. For me, every time I hit a ball onto it, the ball bounced, never stopped moving, then clipped through the bottom of the platform and went out of bounds. Originally I thought this was the result of lag, or some client side weirdness. Then it happened multiple times in the level editor in single-player.
And the more I played of the game, the more of these weird moments cropped up. Ramps that behaved inconsistently. Vacuum pipes that didn’t vacuum up the ball. Finishing an entire round without some sort of bug or weirdness is a rarity on par with the Ark of the Covenant.
I found Golf With Your Friends best as a multiplayer game. Multiplayer serves a duel purpose of making golf bearable and as an excuse for the bugs. There are people out there who can find joy in mechanical repetition and mastery of a task, and we call those people athletes and speedrunners. I find joy in waiting for my friends to line up for a perfect shot, then knocking their ball into the water by smashing into it with my own. Also crowing about absolutely nailing a hole in one that was complete luck.
Your friend group might not interact like a group of self-cannibalizing jackals, though. In that case, you can turn collisions off. Golf With Your Friends has a variety of game options, including hole type, ball type, collisions, max stroke and time limits, jumping, collisions, and powerups. While this variety of settings is good for custom levels, and tweaking gameplay to suit your friend group, not all of the options feel like they were actually tested.
For example, you can play with a cube, instead of a ball. For a large number of courses, it is straight up impossible to actually get this piece of trash into the hole. And even the more subtle tweaks, such as making things extra bouncy, can have unintended consequences. On one course, having a ball that was larger meant that a launcher gimmick would fail every time. This would have been less annoying if it wasn’t the only way to the hole.
Now let’s talk about gimmicks. Most courses in the game have some form of trick or gimmick. Some of these are fine, like the small number of moving objects in the forest course. Some are obnoxious, or confusing, like the magic platforms in the ancient course. And some are pointlessly stupid, such as the non-stop explosions in the worms course. They’re not enough to make it unplayable, but they do make it pointlessly difficult. And these obstacles also tend to be buggy.
There’s one more thing I want to talk about before I wrap this article up, and that’s the game’s built-in level editor. It allows you to make and publish your own courses to the Steam Workshop.
It is also one of the most garbage pieces of software I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. Hotkeys are an absolute nightmare, Y is up and Z is sideways. The resize tools work differently for each object. You can’t group move objects. You can’t group copy objects. The level editor has a “Play Mode” which can be used to test courses, but remember all those game mode options I mentioned above? You can’t actually turn any of them on while testing, so you’re stuck playing vanilla golf.
Despite all of those issues, I actually did make a course I called “Pain Mountain,” and if you’re curious, you can play it here. It’s not the only Pain Mountain on the Steam Workshop though, so a rebrand may be necessary. The Pain Mountain tourism board is looking into it.
And that’s Golf With Your Friends. A reasonable minigolf game, but with a large number of bugs and weird behaviors, a usable but aggravating level editor, and multiplayer that’s fun, but not consistent. It’s not very polished, but it is fun. It’s also several years old, and is no longer the only multiplayer minigolf game out there. If you want to play, you can buy it on Steam here, but I’d suggest waiting for a sale so you can pick up a few copies to play with your friends.