Mobile app stores are garbage when it comes to finding good games. Sure, they have “most popular” lists and lists of recommended games based on past downloads, specific genres, and so on; but for every game that makes it onto one of those, there’ll be a hundred of quality games that don’t. Instead, they get lost in the sea of clones, uninspired cashgrabs, and general shovelware that fills out most of the iOS and Android libraries.
Pukka Golf is the kind of game that I would probably never have heard of, and certainly wouldn’t have looked at twice if I did. I don’t particularly care for golf (or golf games), and I’m not sure what “Pukka” is - so even if I did see it listed, it wouldn’t have registered on my radar. It’d have been lost to the murky depths of the app stores, never to cross my mind again.
Fortunately, this isn’t what happened. Instead, a press release fell into my inbox on a fairly quiet Friday afternoon, I opened it up and watched the trailer out of vague curiosity, then went to download Pukka Golf right away because it looked like a boatload of fun.
The end result? Pretty much all of my idle time since that fateful Friday - bus rides, ad breaks, trips to the toilet - trying to sink golf balls under par and within unforgiving time limits to try and perfect every outrageously creative stage.
The mechanics are simple: golf courses are side-on, 2D affairs (like side-scrolling platformer levels), you use the touchscreen to aim and control the power of your shot, and the goal is to get to the hole in as few shots as possible. What separates Pukka Golf from other, similar 2D golf games, though, is that you can take your next shot while the ball is moving. A short timer (about a second or two) prevents you from abusing the system, but beyond that, you have free control over when to take your shot. Couple this with some truly remarkable level design, and you’ve got deep, addictive physics-based puzzler that the simplicity of the mechanics belie.
The quality of the level design can’t be overstated; Daniel Pitts, the level designer, has 10 years of experience and it shows. No two levels are alike, even in a game with a level count in the hundreds, as each one presenting fresh new challenges. New surfaces are gradually introduced to keep things from getting stale; ice lacks friction, mud lets the ball stick to it even when it should, explosive crates, well, explode. When you start mixing all these different elements together, things get truly exciting - there’s nothing quite like using and ice and explosives to guide your golf ball through a maze to get a hole-in-one.
The quality of the level design can’t be overstated.
Where Pukka Golf falls short is with presentation. The visuals, music, and sound effects are simple and unremarkable - not bad, by any means, but they don’t stand out, either. Having said that, they’re functional, something that too many mobile developers seem to forget about in trying to make their game look flashy at the cost of useability. The menus are quick and easy to navigate, and in-game, the basic graphics and interface convey all the information they need to with ease.
In terms of payment structure, Pukka Golf is a welcome reprieve from the pay-to-win, pay-to-survive, or pay-to-play-more-than-once-an-hour abominations that abound. The free version is ad-supported and includes most, but not all, of the game’s levels, while a single, $2.95 in-app purchase removes apps and opens up the last few levels. I got through most of the game (around 70 or so of the game’s 110 levels) in free mode, and even then I upgraded because of ads, rather than because I had hit a content well. You can’t describe the free version of Pukka Golf as a demo - the bulk of the game is right there, without you needing to pay.
I walk away from Pukka Golf with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I enjoyed it immensely, and I’d urge everyone with a smartphone to give it a go. On the other, I’d never have heard of it if it weren’t for a well-timed press release, and it saddens me to think of how many other great games go unsupported because of the bloated, poorly organised mobile app stores.
Wait, did I say “walk away?” Who am I kidding - Pukka Golf will keep me busy for plenty of bus rides to come.
Pukka Golf was reviewed with a full version unlock code provided by the developer for review purposes. The bulk of the review (roughly 70 of the game’s 110 levels) was played with the readily-available free version, while the unlock code was redeemed towards the end, in order to fairly compare the free and paid-for versions of the game.
Correction: Pukka Golf has 110 levels, not 330 as originally stated. There are 330 stars (optional objectives) to complete, three per level.