Dangerous Golf isn't really a golf game per se. It's more of an orgy of destruction: A bizarre mash-up of crazy golf and… well… elements of the Crash Mode from the Burnout series. It should come as no surprise, then, that the people behind Dangerous Golf are in fact the same team that founded Criterion Games, and brought you that classic arcade racing series.
The game takes place across four different destinations, a French chateau, English castle, Australian outback gas station, and an American diner, and the objective is very simple: Cause as much damage as possible by thumping a golf ball around the interiors of said locales. On the face of it, it doesn't sound like a particularly thrilling prospect, but there are many neat touches and mechanics that turn this game into something quite entertaining.
For a start, all interiors are packed to the gills with breakable objects. In the chateau, there are vases on pedestals, tables elaborately set with dinnerware, art on the walls, and bigger items like grand pianos. Travel to the outback, and the Australian gas station has shelves stacked with cans of oil, there are gas pumps to blow up, and racks of tires and automotive parts to destroy.
Each location features multiple rooms with different layout configurations. There are 100 in all, and almost all of them are locked when the game starts. The challenge is to unlock and complete each one by earning a score high enough to garner one of four medals – either bronze, silver, gold, or, if you're particularly skilful and/or lucky, platinum.
The quest for a medal begins by teeing off from each level's starting point. Aiming the ball is simply a case of moving the camera left or right, and once you're happy with its potential trajectory, you can unleash it by tapping forward on the left stick. That sends the ball flying at speed towards whatever you were aiming at, bouncing off walls and objects, and smashing everything it touches – which earns points. The important factor here, though, is to garner enough of a score on your first shot to set off a smashbreaker – a super-powerful second shot that lights up your ball in flames for a limited period of time. Unlike the first shot, a smashbreaker is controllable after you launch it, and by moving the camera, you can make the ball careen and ricochet around the environment in slow motion, destroying yet more items and earning you even more points.
Once the smashbreaker's timer has expired, the ball comes to a rest, and you have a single chance to putt the ball into the hole that's located somewhere within the environment. Like teeing off, putting doesn't have aftertouch, and you have to aim the ball using the camera. It's here where an element of strategy comes into play. As you set off your smashbreaker, it helps to note where the hole is, so that as the timer ticks down, you can maneuver the ball to a location that will enable you to make a successful putt. It's important to do this, because if you don't make the shot, you're penalized half your score, which is usually enough to ensure you don't get a medal. Assuming you do make the shot, however – perhaps bouncing the ball off a couple of walls for an extra bonus – your overall score is tallied, you're awarded a medal dependent on how well you did, and new levels and maybe even new locations are unlocked.
There are a wide variety of ways to boost your overall score, and it's this aspect of the game where most of the fun can be found. Destroying groups of items yields bonuses, as does smashing everything of a certain type. There are often specific objectives on a level, such as breaking all statues, which can give you a "signature smash" bonus, and secreted away on every level is a gold bottle that, if you can find and break it, gives you a "secret sauce" bonus.
As you progress through the game, additional mechanics are added to the proceedings to help mix up the action somewhat. Some levels are on a timer, meaning you have to take your shots very quickly, and potentially even cut short a smashbreaker so you can take your final putt before the time limit expires. There are also putting challenges where you have a room full of holes and a limited amount of time to make your shots, and some levels have hazards to avoid – particular objects that the ball mustn't touch, otherwise your turn is invalidated.
But mostly, though, the game is all about destroying stuff. And the sheer amount of havoc you can wreak is really impressive, especially when you have a smashbreaker going. The game's physics is really impressive, and the way things break and fall feels very satisfying – especially when you manage to create a chain reaction, such as toppling a series of statues on plinths into one another like dominos, or bouncing the ball up onto a set of shelves and smashing everything on them. Some levels even have cans of paint that spatter everywhere, or, in the American diner bathroom, urinals that explode and spray water all over the place. When you do well, a level is completely wrecked by the time you've finished with it.
The game is quite challenging, and some levels require quite a bit of perseverance to conquer. Indeed, that's one of a few complaints I have about the game. The difficulty curve can be somewhat uneven at times, and there were a few screens where I got hung up trying to score sufficient points to garner a medal and unlock the next set of levels. What doesn't help here is that loading times are quite long, and if you want to restart a level, you have to reload it completely – which can become irritating when your first shot isn't enough to set off a smashbreaker, and you have to start over several times in a row.
Another aspect of the game that can sometimes cause frustration is blocked line of sight because the ball has ended up in a pile of broken bits and pieces, or stuck in the corner of a room or perhaps in a sink. Fortunately while putting you can highlight the flag so you can see its outline through the mess, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can see which hazards might lie between the flag and the ball, so you have to shoot blind, which isn't ideal. Finally, the game's frame rate can become a little spotty when things get crazily explosive, and that can make the ball difficult to control during a particularly destructive smashbreaker.
Still, despite those bugbears, I enjoyed playing Dangerous Golf. There's just something gleefully wanton about its destruction that makes it rewarding and entertaining to play, especially over the short term. I'm not sure how long it'll keep me coming back to see if I can improve my scores, but I had a lot of fun playing through it the first time around.
Ultimately, Dangerous Golf stands on the cusp of being a brilliant game. Its core mechanics and premise are sound, and its novel gameplay provides plenty of moments of satisfaction, but its rough edges take the shine off the overall experience, and peg back the game from being truly great to one that's just good.
The nicely-designed interface has a punk rock aesthetic that works surprisingly well.
The single-player game might not draw you back repeatedly over the long-term, but it's a lot of fun on its first play through. If you really do enjoy the action, there are local and online multiplayer modes to help extend its appeal.
Punk rock ditties punctuate the action, and the sound effects are solid.
The backdrops are beautifully rendered, making them a joy to completely wreck.
At its best, Dangerous Golf is an addictive and enjoyable game of wanton destruction. Its levels are challenging, and destroying the beautifully-rendered interiors is just plain fun. However, a few flaws are evident in the gameplay that take the edge off the enjoyment, making it just a good game, rather than a great one.