Golf Peaks

Developer: Afterburn
Publisher: Afterburn
Steam / / Google Play / iOS / Switch / Xbox

Reviewed on Android (Google Play)

The Bottom Line: Perfect for playing in short bursts, this cute puzzler starts out strong but has a back nine that requires too much trial and error.

You can take the golf clubs away from the golfer, but you can’t take the gopher away from the golf course. What does this have to do with Golf Peaks? I’m not sure either. In any case, while Golf Peaks looks like a golf game on the surface, at its core this is a pure puzzler.

As in most golf games, the goal in Golf Peaks is to sink the ball in the hole. What makes Golf Peaks unique, however, is that ball movement is controlled by cards. At the beginning of each course, you’re given a hand full of cards, each with a number. Playing these cards lets you move the ball across the grid. It’s very simple: Just pick a numbered card, choose one of the four cardinal directions, and the ball will roll the given number of spaces. Repeat until ball meets hole or you run out of cards.

While early courses are straightforward, later courses introduce obstacles such as sand traps, icy patches, and conveyor belts. The challenge comes from navigating these traps with the limited cards in your hand, and make no mistake – this is a tough game.

Not Your Uncle’s Golf

Golf Peak’s challenge is belied by its cheerful visual presentation. The pastel graphics are colorful yet reserved; the game would look right at home running on a touchscreen in an IKEA. These inviting aesthetics were a smart choice, because it’s impossible to get angry at a game this cute, even when its devious puzzles have you pulling your hair out.

Read ’em and weep

The game’s puzzling courses fit neatly in the middle of the screen. There’s no scrolling necessary, so that at any time you can visualize all potential moves – an essential feature in a game like this. Meanwhile, your hand of cards occupies the bottom third of the screen. It’s a layout that brings to mind roguelite deckbuilders such as Slay the Spire and Monster Train. Although Golf Peaks has practically nothing in common with those games – no RNG here – one could hardly fault you for making the connection.

In fact, Golf Peaks doesn’t have much in common with golf, either. If we were to strip away the visuals, this could just as easily be a game about navigating a robot through a factory or shifting a pawn across a 3D chessboard. Choosing golf as the motif was a brilliant choice, though, as it offers an immediate sense of accessibility. Programming robots to navigate factories sounds like hard work. But golf? Even your local assistant to the regional manager can play golf.

Hole Lotta Love

Spanning 120 levels, Golf Peaks has no shortage of content. I played it gradually over many months, completing a puzzle during a down moment or a few of them during a flight. The first few puzzles are simple, serving as a tutorial, while later puzzles can be quite frustrating. Fortunately the game is forgiving, offering undo and restart buttons that are always within reach.

On the more difficult courses I often had better luck working in reverse. This meant figuring out which cards I needed near the hole first and then mentally working my way back to the starting point, all before playing any cards. Yet on the trickiest puzzles even this tactic failed me, leaving me to rely on rote trial and error. At these times I felt like I was working harder, not smarter, and finishing a puzzle felt more like a relief than a victory.

It’s cold up on these peaks

That’s why my departure from these peaks was met with mixed emotions.  Yes, the presentation is splendid and the underlying concept is sound, but there wasn’t enough here to fully sustain my interest for ten worlds of twelve stages each. By the end, I felt like I’d played through a 27-hole golf course when I’d rather have stopped at 18.

If you’re looking for a few hours of fun with puzzles Golf Peaks will not disappoint. It’s especially enjoyable in the early going as you figure out the ins and outs of the card-based movement. And although the later puzzles can be frustrating, fortunately you can step away from it at any time. If only it were so easy to weasel out of that round of 18 holes that you agreed to play with the assistant to the regional manager.

Rating: 79 of 100 Pixels

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