I can’t say that golf is my favorite sport. Actually, let’s roll that back a bit. I can’t say I even have a favorite sport. Sports just don’t interest me, unless of course I’m going to an actual game, and that’s only because it gives me an excuse to eat expensive junk food. Golf isn’t exactly a junk food sport. Can you imagine someone standing around on the course, chowing down on a giant plate of nachos? I can’t even fathom the logistics of that, let alone being allowed to do it in the first place.
Do they even serve nachos at golf courses?
Now that I think of it, if real golf is anything like Golf Story and they serve nachos, it may be the sport for me after all! However, we aren’t here to talk about my hobbies or nachos. We’re here to talk about Golf Story, one of the most memorable games I’ve played on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a great blend of story, humor, and gameplay, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Obviously, golf is a central theme in Golf Story. I know that seems extremely obvious, but what isn’t so obvious is how different it is from other golf-centric games. Part of the fun is completing the various challenges, like finishing holes while only using a putter, hitting targets with a limited number of shots, using the environment as an aid, and playing some… unconventional and unofficial course designs.
Interestingly enough, golf is one of those sports that lends itself well to RPG mechanics, like many other sports. Gaining experience and leveling up rewards you with points to spend in various skills, like being able to hit your ball further, having more accurate drives, and affording you better ball control. It’s entirely possible, while not being wise by any means, to pour all of your available points into hitting the longest drives possible. I say it isn’t wise because the holes you’re playing aren’t all par fives, meaning hitting max yards isn’t generally helpful in most cases. In fact, long drives make your shots less predictable, especially once you start factoring in wind, slopes, and hazards.
But that’s not all! Part of what makes a game an RPG is sweet loot, and you’ll get your hands on some good stuff as you play. As long as you’re willing to invest some cold, hard cash. You have a plethora of choices when it comes to golf equipment, including the usual assortment of clubs, among a few other more unusual purchases. What’s nice is that the different clubs you can buy tend to have unique characteristics to them instead of the standard “this one is slightly better than the others” shtick.
Of course, Golf Story may not have the same trappings of every other RPG on the market. You won’t be making decisions through dialogue trees or navigating some epic story which chronicles the world teetering on the edge of destruction. However, there’s just enough RPG in this story about golf that can sate players from all walks of life.
That, and the actual golf is pretty fun too. Except when you barely miss the edge of the course and land your ball in the water hazard because the wind carried it a little too far to the left on that stupid spooky course. I friggen hate that course, and that jerk that has a supposed cool, new way to play the nine holes.
I’m never trusting that guy again…
Got a little diverted there. Back on track now. Something else I absolutely love is how Golf Story actually encourages the player to use the entire course. In many cases, it felt like I wasn’t horribly penalized by landing my ball in a bunker or in the rough. I felt like chipping instead of putting was a viable option. I felt like I could play how I wanted to, and that’s great.
Say goodbye to ultra-realistic courses, complete with meticulously motion captured players like Tiger Woods, or that Rory whats-his-face who took over the EA series after Tiger torpedoed his career temporarily. Golf Story instead uses a retro design that reminds me of playing Golf on the NES, during a time when I didn’t play games without using my trusty Game Shark. That didn’t mean I didn’t try, but I distinctly remember going way over on strokes in every match… mostly because I found myself loving hitting the balls into the water for some reason.
Golf Story is reminiscent of SNES RPGs, and while I feel the games market is overly saturated with retro-inspired games these days, this one stands out for that reason. Like with Stardew Valley, it doesn’t bank too much on the fact that it looks like an older game in order to capitalize on nostalgia. Instead, it feels like a modern game that simply has the look, sound, and feel of an older game. I can appreciate that approach since I enjoy newer games, and don’t really hold a candle and a pair of rose-tinted glasses for retro games.
I touched on this a little earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again. Golf Story isn’t only about golf. Sure, it’s a big part of the experience, but there’s more going on than you’d initially expect. Granted, the other parts of Golf Story aren’t nearly as fleshed out as the main component, but that doesn’t detract from the fun. Instead, there’s plenty to do aside from the main character’s pursuit of pro status, and there are some fun diversions to be had along the way. There’s a wee bit of sneaky-sneaking in a traditional golf resort, some stealth action hedge maze shenanigans where you’re pitted against a radical golfer group, and even a chance to do a gift exchange of sorts on a beach course.
What I didn’t expect at all though, was the diverse range of course environments. The beginning course is innocent enough, despite lacking in any sense of quality control. The courses are poorly maintained, with enough gophers present to drive Bill Murray insane, and an owner who apparently learned how to run his business from watching cheesy mafia movies. As you progress though, you’re treated to good times at places ranging from old folks’ golf courses, to prehistoric greens in what I could only assume is a former tar lake, to mountaintop courses overrun with pissed off birds.
Each course has unique challenges to overcome, with the last of them all being probably the most conventional designs out of them all. However, even if the last course is the most normal, it’s still fun since there’s a sense that you’ve finally made it and each hole is still fairly challenging.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
It took me a good while to understand that the main character in Golf Story is an adult. He first sets foot in Wellworn Grove with no money, nothing to his name, and begins begging for lessons from a washed up, old golfer. Still, it isn’t long before the main character is able to convince the coach to train him, much to the dismay of the coach’s other trainees, who I can’t figure out are children or adults as well. Not that it matters, I suppose.
Aside from my own questions about the age of the characters, I found the entire story to be both interesting and exceedingly funny. The developer clearly has a fantastic sense of humor, and managed to piece together an experience that I’m not likely to forget. Each person is remarkably flawed, yet redeemable in their own ways, and the main character himself is likable at the very least. He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s as innocent as he is gullible.
That, and I love the repeated jabs at the commercialization of sports in general. There’s a sub-narrative of the main character seeking fame and fortune as a pro, mostly as a means to connect with his father, but it never really comes to light past the beginning of the game. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I couldn’t help but feel like the primary motivation just falls off as the game goes on.
WILDCARD: A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Golf Story is one of those games that left me impressed. Not because I like golf all that much, or that I like this style of game in the first place, but because it’s a cohesive experience that I’ve rarely had the fortune of finding anywhere else. Like the various environments you explore during the story, it has some widely disparate elements sprinkled throughout. Where most games seem as if the developers were content with making their title a one-trick pony, Golf Story is well-rounded and remarkable.
That isn’t to say it’s perfect by any means. I found myself on the receiving end of some pretty irritating bugs, including one where I found myself outside the boundaries of the level I started in, and had no way to get back to where I needed to be without failing the challenge I was working on and starting over. Annoying, for sure, but not a deal breaker and likely difficult to replicate.
Golf Story is a gem on the Nintendo Switch. It’s one thing to make a good game, but Sidebar Games took a longshot and hit a hole-in-one. It’s the full package of a funny and endearing story, with solid gameplay mechanics, and fun distractions! One could say it’s above par. Except that being above par is bad in golf… You know, that’s a dumb saying, especially considering that saying something is below par if it’s bad for some reason. Stupid sports idioms. Incredibly idiotic idioms…
Criticisms of stupendously superfluous sports sayings aside, Golf Story is a fantastic game that’s worth belonging in the collection of any Nintendo Switch owner.
How does Golf Story sound to you? Ready to hit the driving range? Already finished up and back at the clubhouse? Are you ready for me to knock off the stupid sports references?
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