Arcane Golf

A game by FromLefcourt for PC, iOS, and Android, originally released in 2018.
Arcane Golf is a physics-based miniature golf game set in a medieval fantasy world. The game features 200 single-screen courses divided across four themed areas – Dank Dungeon, Water Temple, Forest Ruins, and Arcane Lair – each with unique level elements and obstacles. Lessons learned in earlier casual levels are slowly built upon to create more complex spatial puzzle challenges later in the game where expert play and quick reflexes are required.
The player is greeted by a mysterious dry-witted wizard who offers advice on completing levels. This character appears frequently in the early going to tutorialize basic gameplay mechanics, and he pops up as new elements are introduced, making less frequent appearances as the game goes on.
The entire game can be played using a mouse or touchscreen interface, with the player manipulating the magical golf ball by clicking/touching anywhere on the screen and then dragging in a direction. A power indicator - with a range of 1-100 - shows how strong the shot will be and the ball’s trajectory. A shot strength of 100 will send the ball rocketing across the screen, which is required to overcome certain challenges, but generally the player will want to gauge the appropriate strength before letting the ball loose, lest he smash into deadly objects in the environment.
In the game’s original release, the player had a limited time to line up a shot, but an update in December of 2020 eliminated this time limit to make the experience more forgiving. This update also rebalanced the difficulty to take advantage of longer shot times, added new interface elements to assist with accuracy, and enhanced the visuals and animations.

Overall, the tilesets are quite simple, but there are lots of nice little effects, such as water dripping down stones, flames flickering on torches, and splashes when a water-imbued ball makes contact with solid objects. There are also a few visual references to other games here and there – mostly to RPG’s, given the fantasy-style tileset – but also to the moving paddles in Pong, Tetris-themed block layouts, and Pac-Man-style dot collecting.
The goal in each level is to reach the cup at the end, but the methods for doing so change as the game goes on. At first, the player simply needs to get the ball to the hole by bouncing it off of walls and around corners, dodging spikes or other obstacles along the way. Later, the player is required to activate switches to open barriers that block his path forward, or collect gems in order to cause the cup to open. The cups are slightly magnetic, so the player doesn’t need to be absolutely precise with his strokes, and he can slightly undershoot or overshoot his target.
Unlike most golf games, there is no par score. Instead, the player is given a specific number of strokes with which to complete each level, with most early levels offering only one or two strokes, and some of the more complex levels allowing for four or five strokes. There are occasional speed-based levels where the player is given nine strokes to activate a switch and then get to the end of the level before a door slams shut. Conversely, there are zero-stroke levels where the player must gain strokes or otherwise manipulate objects to reach the end. Levels immediately end if the ball is destroyed or if the ball stops moving when no additional strokes remain.
With no par, the player has no extra strokes with which to make up for mistakes – and also no reward for completing a level with strokes remaining – so he is essentially tasked with performing a perfect run each time. This isn’t terribly difficult in the early going with open level layouts and somewhat slower gameplay, but later levels require multiple rapid operations in succession with little room for error.
Levels are designed around trial and error, and there is little penalty for failure given the levels’ short length and the ability for the player to perform a quick restart at any time. In addition, should the player find himself frustrated after multiple failed attempts, he is free to skip any level and return to it later. There is no limit to the number of levels that can be skipped, and the player is free to move from one themed area to the next even if he did not complete all of the preceding levels.
There are a few possible starting states for the ball, one of which is a tee that causes the ball to bounce slowly up and down, giving the player a few options for his trajectory. In the Water Temple, the ball is often frozen in a stationary position instead, and in some levels, the ball simply falls from a fixed position, requiring that the player interact with it before it strikes a deadly obstacle (all zero-stroke levels begin this way).
The player has full 360 degree control of the ball and any momentum leftover from a previous stroke is erased upon subsequent strokes. It’s not necessary – and usually not possible – to wait for the ball to come to a stop before hitting it again, resulting in many situations where the player must send the ball flying into the air only to hit it again in midair to knock it toward the goal. An energy meter drains when the ball is hit, and the ball cannot be hit again until the meter refills, but it refills at a decent pace on its own and fully refills when the ball strikes a wall, so the player rarely has to worry about it.
In the early going, the most common obstacle comes in the form of spikes, some of which are stationary and some extend and retract, requiring the player to get the timing right to bounce the ball through the area while the spikes are retracted. Later, flame spouts offer a similar challenge with a longer range.

The first themed area introduces green slimes, which look similar to the slime enemies that have appeared in fantasy RPG’s for decades. When the ball hits a slime, it gets stuck. Sometimes you need to avoid slimes altogether, but they are often used to your advantage, allowing you to wedge your ball between obstacles and then follow up with another strike from a safe position. But the maximum velocity of the ball is significantly reduced when knocking it free from slimes, so the player must factor this into the strength of his shot.
Some of the more complex challenges center around the appearance of ghost gems. Touching one of these gems causes your ball to become incorporeal, allowing it to pass through solid objects… even going so far as to fall out of the level, resulting in instant death. The challenge here is to line up the proper angle to send the ball into the ghost gem, then pass through a solid object, and click/touch to cause the ball to rematerialize on the far side. Obviously, rematerializing inside a solid object destroys the ball. Early on, the player only needs to pass through a wall or two, but later areas require the player to send the ball flying all the way across the screen before rematerializing, or perform multiple rematerializations in succession.
The Water Temple introduces several new elements, including bubbles that trap the ball and cause it to float slowly upward. The player must use these bubbles to his advantage while also avoiding spikes along the top of the screen - or deadly bodies of water at the bottom - in order to guide the ball safely through. This area also introduces disappearing-reappearing blocks that must be avoided or bounced upon to reach greater distances, as well as bottles of water that grant an additional stroke when touched, and red gems that teleport the ball while preserving its momentum. Teleportation gems and ghost gems are the source of many of the more complex late-game puzzles as the player flits around the rooms and flies through walls.
The Forest Ruins introduce wind that pushes you upward, destructible blocks that get smashed with each bounce, fire spirits that spit grab you and spit you out in a given direction, and flying fairies that give you direct control over the movement of the ball… usually requiring that you navigate it through tight winding spaces ala Irritating Stick. There are also some high-speed challenges where he must speed down slopes to hit a ski jump-style ramp at the bottom to go rocketing into the air.
The final themed area - Arcane Lair - features bubbling lava/acid, moving blocks, and eyeball-like objects that send the player along in a given direction at a high rate of speed, often with multiple eyeballs lined up in a row. Again, the back half of the game very much emphasizes perfect play, with many rapid-fire movements and complex spatial puzzle elements. This is quite different from the more casual levels offered earlier in the experience. As a result, highly skilled players are likely to find the early experience quite tame, while those who are comfortable with the early experience are likely to find themselves frustrated by the difficulty of later levels.

Arcane Golf was developed by Steven Lefcourt under his FromLefcourt label, in collaboration with Greg Perkins, a.k.a. thatgregperkins. The duo originally worked together under the label Gold5Games. Mobile versions of the game were released by Clickteam.