Vertiginous: To cause, or to be related to causing vertigo. Golf: A pastime made infinitely more enjoyable by pinning the word “mini” to it with a hyphen. Vertiginous Golf lets you play this time-honored tradition of miniaturization with all the fun of dystopian guilt and sorrow.
The game opens in the rain, with a small, chrome hummingbird clanking annoyingly in front of your face. The next thing you’re likely to see, provided you haven’t immediately whipped your camera around, is a glowing green storefront, with the words “Vertiginous Golf” bathed in light. Step through those doors and an empty set of chairs greets you – a miniature amphitheater for miniature golf.
At the back of the room is a set of screens that pop up as you approach, and from here, you can choose your course and style of play. Once your selection has been made, a chair activates, and when you sit down, a stream of electricity passing through your brain sends your consciousness to the “Vertigisphere,” where members of Lun-donne’s elite quite literally putter away while the less fortunate – the denizens of Scudborough – only get to experience the mechanical marvel as a sort of wholly immersive video game. The world of Vertiginous Golf appears to be an alternate universe version of our own, where the rain pours constantly, keeping any light from reaching the ground. In a very Bioshock Infinite move, a scientific discovery allowed people – well, a certain class of people, at least – to quite literally rise above the problem, placing the new city of Lun-donne in the sky, above the rain. Naturally, because of the expense, Lun-donne cannot house everyone, and so the least wealthy are stuck on the ground. The gap between the classes is quite literally miles long. It’s a powerful metaphor and a relevant one, even if it is a bit on the nose.
The clever bit is that all of this is conveyed through playing rounds of mini-golf. To clarify, nothing is particularly small, but there is no way that Vertiginous Golf could ever be confused with anything approved by the PGA, and so it has the most in common with golf’s quirky younger sister, mini-golf. Each course is, like the rest of Lun-donne, stuck in the clouds, and each course seems custom-built to make the notion of even breaking par a hilarious joke. I was actually proud of myself for not going too many strokes over par from hole to hole.
The truth is that, despite how poorly I tend to do, each hole is carefully constructed to allow for players to get a hole in one if they’re very good at gauging their shots. Yes, shots. In Vertiginous Golf, it’s possible to get a hole in one despite having taken multiple shots, provided the free shot mechanics are taken advantage of. Each green has a “Free stroke” hole which, if sunk, subtracts one stroke from the scorecard. On top of this, the N.A.V. recordings around each hole, which both provide the narrative and are required pickups to actually finish the hole, award a free stroke, since it’s necessary to waste a shot getting to them anyways. By carefully planning a route between the two methods of earning free strokes, it’s possible to take upwards of five or six shots and get a hole in one. It’s a good feeling when it can be managed, even if it does feel vaguely like cheating.
Delivering the narrative through the N.A.V. recordings – electronic vinyl discs, with a hologram component – is a clever touch, although it feels like they missed an opportunity. The whole story is delivered in a very specific order, since each N.A.V. pops up after one is collected, and players have to collect all of them in order to unblock the hole and finish the round. While the game is built very well to accommodate this (it would likely take a lot of reworking to do it any other way), it seems weird to essentially force the player to hear the story, even if the recordings are only present in the story holes. I would have preferred a more freeform version, like having the N.A.V.s be optional collectibles, and then have the story presented in a non-linear fashion. I will admit that this isn’t actually a problem, so much as it is a personal preference.
The golfing itself is very difficult, as this review has implied, in addition to being surprisingly complex. Players have a whole suite of tools at their disposal. The putter is the standard equipment of any mini-golfer, and it plays an important role in both regenerating a resource and, obviously, hitting the ball. The pitcher lets players get a bit of gap crossing power in exchange for a loss of horizontal oomph, though to keep some holes from being too easy, portions of it don’t allow the pitcher to be used. When looking around the map, the little mechanical hummingbird lets players see through its eyes, and maneuver through the course to plan the best route.
And then there is the “Influenza Bug,” a mechanical bug that lets golfers influence (get it? Influence? Influenza?) the direction of the ball. This can provide a needed boost forwards, backwards, or sideways. Any direction, really. Last but not least is the rewind tool, which lets players roll back their shot, provided two things: One, that the ball has not come to a full stop, and two, that they have enough rewind fuel. The putter regenerates fuel, but the Influenza Bug also drains it when it pushes the ball around, so it’s necessary to try and ration the fuel. Just don’t forget to use it.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that the game is way, way more fun with friends. As much fun as I had getting 15 over par alone, in the dark, in my room, it was infinitely more fun to watch my friends achieve the same excellent score.
Vertiginous Golf is a golfing game with a whole lot of complexity. Any time I got frustrated with my horrible scorecard, I just had to remember that the game wasn’t really punishing me for it, and that it was just mini-golf. Not worth getting frustrated over, really. Especially since I could go and play some real mini-golf, on the ground, like a regular person, and totally crush whoever I was playing with. Yes. Excellent. That makes me feel much better.
Vertiginous Golf is available now through Steam, and you can buy the base version at the sale price of $15.99, the Gold Edition for $19.99 (which just contains a bunch of aesthetic items), or, best of all, a four-pack for $47.99, so you and your friends can all be awful at mini-golf together (all prices are listed in USD). If you want to find out more about the game, you can also check out its website, or the website of its developers, Kinelco and the Lone Elk Collective (the latter is a sister team of Kinelco, and does not have its own site).