Golf Story Review
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Golf games, generally, involve playing a lot of golf and not much else. This makes sense of course as, like any sports game, you buy it to play the sport involved. Some have evolved to include a story mode in which you take control of a newcomer and plot their rise to stardom. However we would wager none of their stories would come close to the weird and wonderful journey our protagonist takes in Sidebar Games’ Golf Story. Taking place in a gloriously realised pixel art world, you are a man who decides to try to rekindle his childhood love of golf. The end goal is to, hopefully, take part in the pro-tour and become a professional golfer.
The journey will not be straightforward as, like any good RPG, we needed to undertake various missions and challenges in order to reach our goal. In Golf Story these range from stealing golf balls and battling the undead to playing detective and dealing with some troublesome birds. We also needed to defeat fellow golfers both professional and amateur to prove our worthiness. Annoyingly though, pretty much every golfer we met told us how awful our game was. To begin with we figured this was to do with progressing our golfer and that once we improved our stats sufficiently it would subside, we were wrong. Even when we were teetering on making the pro tour we were still told how awful our swing was.
It’s a joke that wears thin but thankfully many of the other pieces of witty repartee hit their mark. The writing for Golf Story is both funny and at times touching. Using speech bubbles that tilt, grow and shudder to emphasise their meaning, Golf Story’s story is rather entertaining. It isn’t, however, a long one. Even when padded out with various side missions if you’re anywhere near remotely competent you’ll get through things pretty quickly. We never once came across a mission or challenge that was too difficult, and only one or two required a revisit later.
As you play you earn experience points and cash. The former is used to improve your drive distance, ability to spin the ball, focus and precision. It’s important to note that when you increase your drive power other abilities are affected. As such it’s important to keep a good balance as later courses will require use of these skills especially to stay on the fairway. It’s a shame that, once you reach the green, the weakest element of Golf Story rears its head. Dropping the ball in the cup is where golf matches are won and lost and in Golf Story this is no different. However, there’s little assistance in reading the green beyond an arrow advising the direction and strength. Even then it’s either mild, slight or heavy and so doesn’t really help when trying to judge your aim. When it’s for a short putt it’s not too bad, but anything over a few yards made us feel a bit like Luke Skywalker and his fellow Rebels attacking the first Death Star. When we nailed it we felt ecstatic but when we missed, well, some choice words could be heard.
Each of Golf Story’s eight courses have a different look and feel along with a unique attribute that is in synch with the setting. Lurker Valley, for example, has a prehistoric aesthetic to it ranging from the tar pit hazards to the outfits worn by the course’s players. What makes it unique are the turtles that, if you aim your shot correctly, will bounce your ball off their shell allowing you to get to hard to reach places or extend your drive significantly. On the other hand Tidy Park, the gateway to the pro tour, mainly consists of elderly golfers who are happy to play a safe double-bogey than risk shooting for the pin. The course is curiously curated with very few actual greens placing greater emphasis on your short game with wedges. You’re also forced to use antique clubs so it’s an interesting place to play a round. It’s also where two of the stories’ most interesting moments take place. We wouldn’t want to spoil them for your but don’t think that because only old people play there Tidy Park is anywhere near boring.
Speaking of clubs, on your travels through the world of Golf Story you will spend money and time on investing in new clubs. Each pro shop you discover will have clubs you can buy as well as others that are literally forged specifically for you. However, just because you’ve acquired a new club does not mean they are superior. Like any good golfer (or RPG player), assessing the course and picking the right gear for the job is paramount. Get it wrong and the round you’re about to play is going to be a whole lot harder. It isn’t quite the handicap it should be (we got it wrong a few times and still beat our opponents) but there’ll be times you wish you packed the lightening wedges instead of the lofted ones. Realistically only Tidy Park becomes more difficult to play with the wrong clubs selected as the rest can be easily navigated with whatever clubs you like.
Once you’ve completed the story you’re free to explore the land of Golf Story which, on examination at the end of the credits, looks suspiciously like Australia complete with Tasmania. It’s probably no surprise to learn that developers, Sidebar Games, are from the land Down Under. We genuinely had no clue of the map’s design until that final zoom-out. It’s a cheeky little nod but it sends a loud and clear message of exactly where this game and its developers hail from. If you’ve completed all the side-quests or simply want to just play some golf, there’s a quick play feature which also supports local multiplayer for two players. You can pick the course, how strong the wind is, how difficult the greens are and so forth and then set out for a casual round of golf. The game keeps a track of the best score for each hole so you can, if you want, try to eagle every hole.
Overall Golf Story is a wonderful little game full of character and charm that one tends to find in the Indie scene. There’s nothing groundbreaking here but by introducing some light RPG elements, Golf Story does just enough to make it stand out. The constant bashing of your character’s ability, however, does grate towards the end and with the Switch docked the pixel art style didn’t work on a larger screen for us but as a handheld title it is superb. However, there’s plenty here to enjoy as the strange goings on at some of the courses along with some of the, frankly, ludicrous side-missions make the journey very entertaining.