I’ve played a good deal of golf sims in my time, many with big names attached to them: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, etc. Golf Club Wasteland goes the other route, hitting you with an early disclaimer that any connection to real people is purely satirical.
You can attend my TED Talk for an explanation on why satire should never be prefaced with a disclaimer. If people don’t get it, they don’t get it. Here, I’ll stick to the game, which is actually a pretty fun (albeit somewhat depressing) arcade puzzle golf sim.
The premise behind Golf Club Wasteland is that major corporations and the one-percenters who profit from them have rendered the Earth uninhabitable. Rather than take the steps necessary to prevent the planet’s destruction, the uber-rich simply flee to Mars. Eventually, the remains of the Earth are turned into a makeshift golf range.
One-percenters gonna one percent.
You are Charley, a lone golfer back on Earth, complete with spacesuit and jet pack. A radio broadcast from Mars plays throughout the game, providing the atmosphere and relaying some of the backstory. It’s calming, like the late night radio shows that I’m not sure exist anymore. People call in to tell their stories, then we listen to some decidedly European synth pop music. All the while, you’re trying to guide a golf ball through the bleak remains of abandoned buildings and parks. The deeply blue visuals seemingly taunt those stuck on the red planet, but the Earth has become a jagged mess of dilapidation.
At least the neon lights still work. Let that be our legacy.
The golfing mechanic is pretty simple. You use the L-stick to choose your angle and the power behind it (pulling backwards further results in a stronger stroke), and you hit A to swing. There are no clubs to choose, and the entire game is played on a 2D plane.
That doesn’t mean Golf Club Wasteland is simple, however. Although you’ll eventually get the feel for the distance your ball can travel at various angles, some of the holes require very precise swings to get where you want to be. And when overshooting a platform means falling back to the ground floor of an office building, it can be frustrating. You know…like actual golf.
Thankfully, the game is fairly forgiving. Said platforms often have railings that will keep your ball in place, and the physics have been adjusted to prevent excessive bouncing and rolling. In fact, your ball not rolling enough in some conditions may prove more annoying.
Varying difficulties will help you through, too. You can play without pressure, with a par requirement in order to advance, or with an Iron Mode I didn’t even try. Even if you go with the easy mode, there are still incentives for doing well. Journal entries that provide much of the story are unlocked with each hole, and you have to reach certain requirements to see them. You can still advance, but you’ll want to replay the hole if you don’t do well enough. Additional bonuses—a graphic novel and the official soundtrack—are provided at the game’s end, and are worth obtaining.
Some fun gimmicks warrant replays, as well. Many holes have secret routes you can take. If you’re able to find them, they’re usually good for shaving a few strokes off your score.
It all plays pretty well across the game’s 35 holes. They flip between quite easy and incredibly difficult at a whim, much like a real golf course would.
But I dare say that arcade golfing isn’t the main focus of the game. Rather, it’s the story it tells and the feeling it conveys. There’s a loneliness to it, as well as a wistful longing for a time when fewer people and circumstances interfered with our pursuit of happiness. Life on Mars isn’t working, it seems…at least not for the people who listen to Radio Nostalgia from Mars. They pine for Earth, but that privilege is apparently only available to those who can afford to golf there.
And what about our lone golfer? Well, that’s part of the story, and it’s one worth hearing. Golf Club Wasteland succeeds as both a cautionary tale and as an entertaining arcade golf puzzle game. If you’re into Eurodance music, it succeeds as a radio show, too. I’m not sure if that’s a combination many people were seeking, but I’m glad it’s out there.
I just hope it doesn’t give the actual one-percenters any ideas…