A charming and serene blend of golf and putt-putt.
While playing Metroid Dread, a review code for A Little Golf Journey made its way to me, and it turned out to be a wonderful foil to the dark, challenging, and tense escapades of one Samus Aran. From publisher Playtonic, A Little Golf Journey is exactly as its title suggests (or maybe even more): a series of 100 holes spread out across 10 distinct areas, including a desert, a snow-covered land, and even the ruins of a castle in the middle of a forest. The gameplay is incredibly simple and accessible, but what really stands out is just how tranquil and zen the whole experience ends up being. While trying to avoid the sand traps scattered about, I may have found a true diamond in the rough.
After a brief introduction to the controls, you are mostly left to your own devices as you make your way from hole to hole. A bit of narrative spice is added in the form of a conversation that takes place via postcard-like note between two golfers. The notes generally pop up before or after every hole, and some even offer tips on how to navigate particular holes or find secrets hidden therein. And secrets are incredibly plentiful in A Little Golf Journey. Many holes and paths are inaccessible until you discover how to unlock them, which usually requires completing a specific challenge on one of the surrounding holes. For instance, you might find a transparent block tucked away behind a tree, and striking it with your golf ball begins a timed mini-game where you need to hit four or so targets before time runs out. Another challenge involves seeking out a blue, flame-like spirit that scurries away every time your ball makes contact with it; after a handful of hits, a secret hole opens up that you need to sink your ball into to unlock a new path.
The golf mechanics are fairly straightforward and definitely skew towards the more basic side. By pressing the A button, you prepare for your shot and can adjust its distance with the control stick. There’s a bit of a sway to the ball that you can use to gain a bit of extra distance or alter its trajectory. By holding down the ZR button, you can perform a power shot (provided you aren’t in the rough or a bunker). The power shot has even more of a sway to it, but the ZL button can be pressed down for a couple seconds to allow you to focus the show and prevent the swaying. Putting is even easier with just a line that shoots out from the ball and can be extended to increase power. Each hole awards from 1 to 4 stars based on how many strokes you take to sink your golf ball, and how many shots you need for each star rating is clearly displayed on screen. You’ll need to collect a decent number of stars to progress as you can’t move to the next area within achieving a particular star total. Another collectable comes in the form of “Blue Things,” which can only be described as such. These encourage you to return to previously completed holes to find a single Blue Thing hidden there, and earning enough of them can unlock even more content, like a small course within a water-logged, underground ruins.
The presentation shows that A Little Golf Journey actually goes a long way, with its vibrant colors really popping on the Switch OLED. Holes on the overworld map spring to life as you complete them, as color returns to the map and signals your progress. A subtle yet beautiful blend of piano, guitar, and harp plays throughout the overworld and the individual holes themselves, and an particularly effective combination of day, night, and dusk settings both sets the mood and adds variety to the experience. The art style overall contributes heavily in making A Little Golf Journey such a pleasurable way to get your golf fix on Switch.
With 400 stars to earn, dozens of Blue Things to find, and countless secrets to discover, it turns out that A Little Golf Journey is actually much larger and content-full than its name would imply. I love having it to chill out with before bedtime as I need to wind down after multi-hour Metroid Dread sessions, and I think it might actually be my new favorite golf game on Switch, closely edging out Golf Story. I did encounter a few technical issues where my ball got stuck and I had to restart the hole, but this wasn’t a frequent occurrence. If you’re looking for a peaceful and zen-inducing golf experience, there might not be any better than A Little Golf Journey. I intend to relive this journey over and over as I shoot for the stars, and yeah, those little blue things, too.