Dangerous Golf feels like the result of a whole game studio being frozen in 2005 and then thawed out a couple years ago and kept in isolation. The Unreal Engine 4 technology is new, and it looks nice, but the opening record scratch, halftone patterns, and bad alternative rock recall something I’d have bought on Xbox 360 for five bucks because the store didn’t have any copies of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. Though even in 2005 I’d have returned Dangerous Golf immediately for eight cents in store credit.The sport of ‘Dangerous Golf’ is played by shooting a golf ball into cluttered rooms—a kitchen, a dining room, a gas station convenience store, as examples—with a mind to cause as much damage as possible. The creators’ roots in Burnout are heavily apparent here: if we can give game objects physics, we should destroy those objects in luscious slow motion as often as possible. I very much agree with that philosophy, but little about Dangerous Golf’s trick shots or secrets or cheesy guitar riffs is much fun, and even its destruction is disappointing. 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.Once the Smashbreaker ends, and I’ve earned bonuses for taking out all the bags of flour, or splatting paint on artwork, or accidentally finding the level’s hidden ‘secret sauce’ (again, welcome to the early 2000s when the phrase ‘secret sauce’ was funny for some reason), the ball plunks down wherever I’ve ended up. Now it’s time to ‘putt.’ If I set myself up with a direct line to the hole, this is easy. I just point the ball at the hole and flick the analog stick and it will rocket in. If not, I have to bank it. I aim at a wall and cross my fingers and it goes in pretty often. Unless I get myself stuck around a corner from the hole where I don’t have a chance, sinking the ball is about as hard a firing a t-shirt cannon into stadium seating without accidentally turning around and blasting an athlete in the face with a wadded up Hanes.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 runs decently, at least, and I didn’t encounter any game-breaking bugs, but there are other little irritants. Sometimes the ball gets stuck in something and just jitters around while I look at the side of a bucket. Other times I have to putt with my eyeball against some canned vegetables.
Once an audio glitch caused a horrifying feedback sound—like a guitar being tortured by geese—and I had to scramble to turn my speakers off while my puppy bolted into the next room (she’d been sleeping under my desk, poor thing). I haven’t been able to replicate that particular issue, so I can’t say if it’ll happen to anyone else, but I’ve seen a few others complain about different audio issues. The total lack of mouse and keyboard support, however, is definitely for everyone. That’s just ludicrous for a modern PC release.From watching the trailer, I expected simple, satisfying fun from Dangerous Golf. You destroy things and get points! But it turned out dull and weirdly styled like it’s from 10 years ago. I had some fun here and there, but I can’t think of a single funny or surprising moment. Busting up a kitchen with a golf ball gun just isn’t that interesting with so little control. You flick an analog stick, the ball moves unpredictably, and some bread falls over. That might have made Dangerous Golf popular in 2005—hell, 3 Doors Down was popular in 2005—but a good physics engine and nice graphics are nothing special today.