Thoughts on Zen Golf (Steam Next Fest Demo)

Hello. I have returned to write on more game demos I’m playing for the latest Steam Next Fest. This post will cover a golfing game, because of course I will write on the best sport to play in video game form. I ended my last batch of Next Fest posts with Cursed to Golf and will begin this one with Zen Golf. It’s like poetry.

Game Summary

Zen Golf is a relaxing and chill mini golf experience. Get lost in the beautiful zen gardens and all original lo-fi Japanese soundtrack with up to 20 friends on over 180 levels! Or play against state of the art AI opponents for rewarding and fun solo play.

– Steam page

Review Portion

Ah, I’m differentiating the headers for these posts! How freeing it is to just do whatever you please.

Anyway, Zen Golf is a very straightforward and simple game. It’s mini-golf that you play on PC. Revolutionary concept, it is not. Still, there is nothing to suggest that it tries to be anything more than what’s on the surface. A physics-based mini-golf game with an aura of “Zen,” complete with tranquil fixtures adorning courses and a soothing soundtrack.

To go from here, I could take two paths:

1. Explain the game based on its surface mechanics and little more.

2. Speak of its emphasis on the “Zen” and how it fares in quality.

Of the two, neither sound particularly attractive on their own. Instead, I will do both.

But first, let me take a selfie.

    What can one expect with Zen Golf? Mini-golf. Well yes, but what else? Mini-golf. At least in terms of the demo, and what is in preparation for the full release, that’s really it. A game where you participate in many different courses playing mini-golf. Of course, there are various things to make the game more interesting, such as obstacles, inclines/slopes, and strong winds, but the core mechanic can simply be described as “Hit ball into hole.”

    The “Zen” aspect isn’t particularly emphasized all too much, however. There are, to my knowledge, four music tracks in the demo, and while fine on their own, they don’t do a whole lot to quell the frustration that will inevitably surface from the challenge in gameplay (more on that later). Visually, auditorily—these two aspects paint a thin image of “Zen-ness”(?) to the game that seems more decorative than substantive.

    At least you can customize your ball. That’s what this is really all about anyway, right? They have all sorts of designs—floral patterns, basic patterns, various colors, emojis… the world is yours, my golf friends.

    Difficulty is certainly a fun topic when concerning golf-type games. Most games I’ve played revolving around the sport range between “Tough but fair” and “Dark Souls? LMAO.” Zen Golf leans more towards the former, but beginning your zen-venture will have it feel a little more towards the latter. Combining the physics-based gameplay with constant new measures designed to screw up your shot, it’s a constant tug-of-war battle of figuring out how to combat each hole.

    Look at all of these options!

    What also doesn’t help is the structural integrity of the game’s coding. Not to insinuate it is a glitchy mess, but I did come across a couple game-halting/breaking bugs during my time with the demo. Mostly these came across as not being able to progress on “Click any key to continue” screens and some strange thing where balls refused to stop moving if they touched each other in some fashion. Still in need of some polish here and there.

    There also exists some minor issues of pacing and stability. Playing with three other bots, which I did for the first thirty minutes, moves at a glacial pace. Turns do not continue until balls have come to a complete stop, and with holes with inclines and the heavy emphasis on physics, this can take a while. One can “Skip a turn” to make it go faster, but that just simulates a bot’s entire sequence, not just a single shot. That’s not quite the length at which I wish to skip…

    As one small nitpick, the default sensitivity of rotating your ball’s trajectory is way too loose. I had to crank that setting all the way down to avoid any nuisance. In a game of precision, this seems odd.

    I would go on to be obliterated by the bots at the end of this.

    Now, all of this makes it seem like I do not think this is that good of a game. This is not true whatsoever. I had a great time with this; all prior are simply things that could be improved upon. Mini-golf is something I take great pleasure in participating in, and the developer did a good job of replicating how frustratingly gratifying the entire process is. “Oh, it was so close to going in! If only I used a little more power!” “Wow, I didn’t mean to do that but it went into the hole, so actually I’m a genius.”


    Zen Golf’s biggest weakness is also its core strength: it’s essentially just mini-golf. Really dwindles down the potential player base, yet also gives those within that specific collection of people exactly what they want. If you read the synopsis for this game and thought it sounded fun, you will very likely find this fun. Just be sure to register that it is at liberty to destroy you, at least initially.

    Zen Golf has a demo you can play now on Steam. (Link under “Game Summary.”)

    If reading this compelled you to give me a dollar, feel free to tip me on Ko-fi.

    Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of your day.

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