Review: Golf Story

As the saying goes, “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” which is why I’ve rarely ever found myself playing the sport unless it is in a video game. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the skill needed to be able to hit a tiny ball hundreds of yards into a small cup nestled strategically between grassy hills, sand-filled bunkers, and serene bodies of water; I have a great swing but I just can’t actually hit the damn ball. Fortunately, the sport translates pretty spectacularly into a video game, no better example of that of late than Golf Story, a truly special RPG golfing mashup created by Sidebar Games exclusively for Nintendo Switch.

The mechanics for Golf Story are fairly basic. Pressing the Y button at any time while wandering around on a course allows Player (the player character, of course) to tee up a ball and let the big dog eat. Flicking up or down on the analog stick cycles through the different types of clubs available (putter, wedge, iron, wood). Different clubs change the loft heights to a ball’s flight trajectory, as well as the distance the ball will be able to travel. Hitting the ball is a fairly straight forward process that uses the classic three-click method. After setting the aim direction with the left analog stick, successive hits of the A button begin the swing, set the swing power at the desired level as the meter fills, and then determine how accurate the shot will be by timing the final push. A perfectly timed hit provides a very satisfying rainbow arch across the fairway or green. Like in a real game of golf, sometimes power isn’t always the best way to handle a situation. Playing it safe is just as likely to keep the ball from landing in a water hazard or bunker. Learning how to best approach each hole or golf scenario is key to being successful in Golf Story.

Since the game is segmented by an overworld where new and unique 9-hole courses are gated off by story and NPC interactions, Golf Story smartly introduces new techniques as the narrative unfolds. Each new area is filled with side quests, puzzles, and quirky little moments that add unique layers of fun and challenge on top of the traditional golfing. For instance, in the first area, Wellworn Grove, four little green buttons can be found around the course. By teeing up a ball, aiming for the buttons (they’re usually surrounded by water or fences), and successfully hitting all four, a new building is unlocked, which in turn provides access to a putt-putt golf mini-game. On another course, players are challenged with hitting balls into specific areas found on floating sections of land mass. These specific areas also just so happen to be buffeted by strong winds, teaching players how to read the wind direction and speed to help adjust where to aim and allow the wind to blow the ball into the intended target area.

Each course offers unique challenges like this that ultimately are used as teaching tools for learning how to fully take advantage of the game’s mechanics. Adjusting the height of the arch, where to strike the ball (meaning high or low at the point of contact between the ball and club itself, to accommodate a low flying ball or a high flying ball), and how to read the green and the slope to ensure a putt is sunk in as few strokes as possible. All of these lessons are provided during mini-games or short session challenges, helping to build an almost muscle memory-like conditioning to call upon instinctively when facing similar scenarios during the story-based matches. 

After completing any of the missions or mini-games, players earn XP and money. Money obviously can be used to buy various pieces of equipment, while the XP goes toward leveling up skills. Power is the main measurement, and as it is leveled up the distance per swing increases. Other attributes include Purity, Strike, Ability, and Spin. When Power is selected, these other skills have a chance of being reduced, so skill point placement isn’t as simple as pumping everything into the one main stat. This is a nice twist on leveling up.

The story unfolds as Player time and time again tries to prove his mettle on the course. Even after absolutely killing it in a match, the game humorously puts Player down, much to his incredulity. Rarely does the game give Player any satisfaction in his accomplishments, but this sort of constant dismissal provides Player with the chance to keep trying to prove himself, thus allowing players to really dive into the game and have a lot of fun enjoying all of its little details. 

What makes Golf Story such a joy, though, isn’t just achieving Player’s dream and reaching the final championship event. The journey and seeing what sort of minor events occur along the way truly make this game fantastic. In the caveman and dinosaur themed course Lurker Valley, Player has to prove that members from Wellworn Grove didn’t steal an idol before being able to golf in their competition. Solving the puzzles to find the idol is a very satisfying process (and a hint to anyone stuck, you can dig with a particular club). On the other end of the narrative puzzle spectrum, Tidy Park unveils a mystery about finding one of the founding club members and solving whether or not a werewolf is on the loose. Probably my favorite of all the courses, though, is Oak Manor, which is basically a graveyard where a dead course designer’s ghost asks Player to go around playing each hole to be able to give him a sense of how well it was designed since he died before he could ever play it. 

The depth of variety to the puzzles and story is astonishing. While some of the moment to moment gameplay can feel repetitive, there is such a wide range of environments to explore that the game constantly feels fresh and exciting. To further break up the monotony of just playing golf, the game is loaded with extra challenges like races, where you are either running around on a course, or driving an RC car, or flying a drone and dropping golf balls into cups, as well as other events like long drives, disc golf, and the previously mentioned putt-putt golf. 

Since Golf Story is tailored to the Switch, the game is perfect for short sessions. It’s nice to be able to quickly pick up the game, get partway through a 9-hole match, and then put the Switch to sleep to come back to later. I will say that I played through more than three-quarters of the game in handheld mode versus having it docked on my TV. To me there’s just something slightly off-putting about seeing 16-bit character and environment pixels blown up on a large screen.

I’m no golfer in real life, but I found myself absolutely smitten with the constantly changing events that unfold in Golf Story. The quick nature of the golfing mechanics and all of the mini-games is pure fun, while the dry, witty humor kept me engaged and grinning the whole way through. A nice variety of environments plus mini-games that aren’t just golf related also add to the fun. The music is wonderful as well. Each course has a variation on a theme–Jazz, Calypso, and Irish folk, just to name a few–and I found myself several times replaying sections just to be able to listen to the music again. Gamers looking for a unique indie title to add to their Switch collection should definitely give Golf Story a go.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Engaging story
+ Excellent golf mechanics
+ Fun, dry, witty humor throughout
+ Fantastic music
+ Great for both short and long play sessions

Cons:
– Some minor spikes in difficulty due to random wind or green conditions

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Sidebar Games
Developer: Sidebar Games
Release Date: 9/28/2017
Genre: Adventure, RPG, Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2

Source: Review code for Golf Story provided to VGBlogger.com by Sidebar Games.

Buy From: Nintendo eShop for $14.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.