I'm a few holes into A Little Golf Journey, digging the low poly graphics, vibing to the conventionally chill acoustic guitar and piano soundtrack, and thinking "yeah, this is a pretty solid golf game." Then as I contemplate whether to risk a shot over the water to score a birdie, I notice a shimmering presence suspended in the air. A giant floating, practically invisible cube has appeared above the water, like if a block from Super Mario gained Predator cloaking. A quick thwack later, I've landed my golf ball on top of the cube, letting me easily snag a collectible I'll need for later levels.
Despite these immensely satisfying surprises and secrets to uncover, A Little Golf Journey is first and foremost a super simple, super chill golf game. Even among contemporaries like the post-apocalyptic Golf Club Wasteland or the wackadoodle What the Golf, Golf Journey is content with crafting a very forgiving, very colorful experience that is indisputably relaxing as hell.
The setup is thin enough that you can quickly get into the swing of things. You're a golfer, and a friend of yours has sent you a series of letters inviting you to drive and putt your way through a bunch of low poly dioramas. Environments range from a traditional wooded forest you'd see in any North American country club, to a distinctly Japanese cherry blossom zen garden, and all the way to pink and blue cyber world ripped right out of Tron.
A Super Mario-style overworld lets you roll your golf ball from hole to hole. Complete a hole with at least one out of several possible stars and you'll witness a splash of color return to the overworld map, bringing nature and rustic man-made lighthouses and torii gates back to life.
The golf itself is pretty simple, with a little wiggle room for adjustments. You simply aim your ball and choose between a normal strength shot or a power shot that trades distance for accuracy. Pull the left trigger on your controller and you can focus for a couple seconds to ensure you're properly threading the needle between the fareway and a sand trap. You can even turn the camera around 180 degrees in case you're backed up against a wall of trees or need to see the other side of a gap in a wall ahead of you.
It's no PGA Tour 2K-whatever, though. In fact, Golf Journey shares a lot of DNA with Okidokico's previous game OK Golf, which released on mobile. There's no option to set control spin so your ball doesn't fly off into the trees, which is a shame because arcade golf games aren't terribly complicated to begin with. On the bright side, it does mean I can zip through or restart a level faster to pick up a collectible I missed through the first time.
That simplicity also allows you to focus more on the satisfying diorama-like beauty of each course. Watching color come back to each section of a level is incredibly amusing, and though your path is generally linear, it's always fun to unlock a new path that lets your golf ball roll up to the top of a building or discover a hidden scene.
The best bit of fiddling with Golf Journey's controls? You can detach the camera from the ball and move around each level with full 360 degree control, much like a noclip mode. While this tool lets you more easily analyze your next shot, it's even more useful for hunting down translucent blocks that trigger speed or accuracy-focused bonus challenges, or discovering nearly invisible blocks that you can climb to land the perfect shot on an otherwise out-of-reach collectible. The free camera also adds a deeper appreciation for the design work on each level. I took a moment to just enjoy the lanterns sitting on a lily pad lake's surface, and I can't wait to see if developer Okidokico adds an official photo mode later on.
Complete certain challenges and you'll unlock secret holes that either open up new routes on the overworld map. Collect enough "blue things" scattered around certain levels and you'll gain access to the Caverns of Skill, special bonus levels that really put the pinch on your aiming skills and your ability to think three steps ahead. One particular highlight involved having to carefully shoot my way across a series of painfully small islands, then use the edges of tall stone pillars to bounce around a cliff, then precariously lob my ball through ancient fortress ramparts to the hole.
The whole experience is anchored by a lovely (and lengthy) soundtrack by Haakon Davidsen, whose main previous credits include other indie games like Golden Light, This Means Warp, and Pest Control. Davidsen's work doesn't strike me as poignant or layered as composers like Amos Roddy or Ben Prunty, but it's definitely his best work thus far. Each track blends soft, contemplative scales with calming synth or string backdrops, thankfully going further than your average chill adult contemporary or, god forbid, world music. At first I thought the soundtrack might be one of Golf Journey's weaker elements, but it works so well with the relaxed pace of the game that I hardly felt jilted or let down by any track. Suffice to say, it definitely stays in line with the game's journey to be immensely chill at all times.
You can grab A Little Golf Journey on Steam now.