Golf on Mars "review"

Posted by Campbell Bird on June 23rd, 2020
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Golf on Mars is a minimalist golf game and the follow up to Desert Golfing. In it, you traverse a seemingly unending Martian landscape by hitting a golf ball from hole to hole using the tried-and-true pull-and-release touch control scheme popularized by Angry Birds. But there are no birds here, much less any that explode. Nor are there powerups, enemies, menus, or even levels. It's just you, the ball, the holes, and the seemingly endless Martian landscape for you to navigate. Oh, and there's a counter at the top that's tracking your total stroke count, too.

In just a 2 megabyte package, Golf on Mars offers an open world that's larger than just about any mobile title I can think of, and the course progression seems to be unique for each player. This is to say that hole 345 in your game may not look like anyone else's, and neither will the hundreds of holes of that came before or after it (though presumably there will be some overlap in course types, just in different orders). In this world, there is basically only one rule: finish the current hole to unlock the next one. The App Store description for the game says that each hole is a par 3, but there is nothing in the game actually holding you accountable to that challenge.

There's also nothing keeping you from passing over a hole and continuing across the world in Golf on Mars. You'll probably discover this the first time you overshoot a cup. As your ball approaches the right side of your screen, the scene will scroll and follow your ball until it loses its momentum. If you're lucky, you'll still be able to see the hole you missed. If not, you might see a trail of holes to come that you've rolled past with your current goal out of view past the left side of the screen. In most cases, you'll just start heading back over to the left, but there's still nothing stopping you from continuing on your way across Mars if that's what you decide to do instead.

This sense of freedom and exploration in Golf on Mars is a big part of its appeal. You want to see what's coming next and what kind of challenge it might present. It's also interesting to see how all of these holes link together. You may even have to take advantage of obstacles or terrain features from previous holes to navigate the next one. In this way, Golf on Mars can feel at times like a platformer that is simply keeping track of your jumps between checkpoints as opposed to a golf game.

The freedom allowed in Golf on Mars wouldn't feel as magical as it does if the game wasn't so convenient to play. The app itself has one of the fastest boot times I've ever seen, and upon loading just dumps you right where you left off. Once this is done, there are no other load times to speak of and no other distractions to keep you from golfing away. You don't even really have to think about when you'll reach the end, as Golf on Mars provides essentially an infinite number of holes to play.

With no end and precious few rules, Golf on Mars might sound dreadfully boring, but the thing with this game (and golf in general) is that--even in the most repetitive situations--you need patience and focus to perform well, and the payoff involves having to play less of it. Mastery of this Martian golf is immensely satisfying, and your desire and ability to hone your skills becomes its own reward. There is just no feeling quite like gliding between holes, sinking one after the other, in just one stroke each.

To aid you in this pursuit, Golf on Mars has a spin system that allows you to put front or back spin on your shots, which add a level of complexity so that you navigate just about any obstacle with precision. Speaking of obstacles, there are a wide variety of hazards in Golf on Mars, some of which you may not even see until you've played several hundred holes. Heck, there may even be more that I still haven't seen yet, and I don't think I'll ever have a way of finding out.

This seemingly paradoxical nature is ultimately what makes Golf on Mars such a special game. Inside such a tiny package is a vast and unknowable world, and you're just golfing your way through all of it. Hundreds of holes in, I'm fascinated by the novel situations I'm still encountering, even though some of them are making it awfully hard to maintain a par 3 average.

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