I'm pretty sure that golfing games have been around just about as long as golf has. While it's true that I tend to lean towards the goofy end of the golfing spectrum, I generally enjoy most any golf game I sit down to play. There's something wholly relaxing about the process of lining up a shot, swinging the club, and seeing where the ball lands.
Well, in most games there is. In Golf Club Wasteland I found every other aspect of the game more enjoyable and relaxing than the actual golfing.
A Dystopian Tale
Golf Club Wasteland is an extremely melancholy game. The premise is pessimistic, showing a world where the uber-rich abandoned a destroyed Earth to live on Mars, then venture back to their wasted homeworld to play golf in the apocalyptic ruins. It's a dark story, that tends to be a bit more on the nose than it needs to be. I mean, the colony on Mars is literally called “Tesla City”.
Over the course of the game, you control a solitary golfer as they play through 35 holes of golf. Each hole features some sort of an interesting set piece. You'll find yourself golfing through a mall, across rooftops, around ruined statues, and across stumps as you avoid mutant squirrels. While there's a pretty big amount of variety in the ideas, the visuals are all consistently drab and depressing. There's an oppressive blue light over everything, which is cut through with purple neon and orange details.
Big Vibe Energy
The thing about the bummer of a vibe in Golf Club Wasteland is that it's a really, really good vibe. I'm glad that the courses tend to all fit right into the almost nihilistic, “what was the point” feeling because that vibe is the whole point of the game.
As you golf, you're tuned in to a radio broadcast called “Radio Nostalgia From Mars”. This background track is absolutely wonderful. There's a pretty eclectic mix of music that will play, but all of it works super well for just vibing out to. Intermixed with the music are announcements from the DJ and stories from listeners, which is really where the backstory of the world gets told. The DJ is clearly on the corporate salary and makes regular points to remind listeners what their responsibilities are to be a good citizen of Mars. The listener stories, on the other hand, are beautifully voice-acted tales of Martian citizens' last memories of Earth.
This is an absolutely wonderful way for a backstory to unfold, and I loved learning about the history through this radio station. There's also a plot in the present that unfolds through the golf story, but it wasn't ever nearly as interesting to me as the backstory was.
A Swing and a Miss
Honestly, nothing that actually happens in the present of the game was very engaging for me. The active story in Golf Club Wasteland is fine, but it doesn't really get engaging until way near the end of the game. That means you have to get through a ton of mediocre golfing before you'll really get into it.
There's a pretty set standard for how golfing games work, and it seems like this year everyone is bucking the trend. When I boot up a golfing game, I expect to set the angle of my shot, tap once to start my swing and set power, then tap again to determine how well I pull it off. Mario Golf: Super Rush, Clap Hanz Golf, and now Golf Club Wasteland have all bucked that system to various amounts of success.
In this game, you set the angle and power of your shot on a 2D plane by tilting the right analog stick. You'll see an arrow pop up that shows you the initial trajectory of your shot, and the further the arrow goes out the more power you're putting into it. While holding the angle in position, you tap A to swing.
This system never, ever clicked for me throughout the whole game.
I was never able to accurately gauge how far my shot was going to go. In a normal golfing game that wouldn't be a huge deal. In this, where you're often climbing up platforms as you go, it often meant my ball falling down a level or two and setting me way back in the course.
When I was about a third of the way through Golf Club Wasteland, I had to spend an evening working on a pretty hands-on project late at night. On a break, I hooked up my Switch to speakers and started playing through the game. I ended up leaving it hooked up after I finished playing, and totally vibed out to the music and stories on Radio Nostalgia From Mars. Getting hooked on that backstory ended up pulling me through the rest of the game, even though I could not click with the gameplay at all.
I can not overstate how glad I am that I kept playing. The story that this game has to tell in the back third or so of the golf course is wonderful. I ended up really, really connecting with the character I was playing and what they had gone and were going through.
Then, after you finish the course, you unlock a sort of slideshow comic that tells you more about the character's backstory, their adventure on Earth, and what happens afterward. Y'all, this story is wonderful.
I cannot recommend Golf Club Wasteland to you as a good golfing video game. However, if you spend the time to play through its story, there's an absolutely wonderful, multilayered narrative to uncover there.