It’s no secret that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a fan of video games based on the sport of golf. Despite my early childhood self screaming in agony, I’ve talked highly of games like “Everybody’s Golf” on PS4 and “Infinite Minigolf“. I even dabbled in “Golf Clash” before I became obsessed and had to delete it from my phone due to lack of productivity. Back in 2004, “Mario Golf: Advance Tour” took the formula one step further by adding role-playing elements to golf. You played as a character who actually followed a narrative, leveled up, and competed against a cast of interesting characters. “Golf Story” from developer Sidebar Games compounds on that original idea from 13 years ago. Not only does it offer an engaging golf experience, it scratches that 16-bit RPG itch at the same time.
In true RPG fashion, you start “Golf Story” as a low-level amateur golfer with aspirations of making it big in the pro circuit. Right off the bat, your nameless character looks to up his game any way he can. First, you try to find a trainer, who tells you you’re awful. Get used to this treatment; pretty much everyone in this game doesn’t hold back on cutting you down. You have to prove yourself by entering matches against single computer opponents and eventually tournaments with larger groups. Along the way, you learn newer and better ways to use the game’s mechanics to your advantage. Additionally, your character earns experience and increases his stats by dropping points into abilities like drive distance, control, and spin.
While it’s a ton of fun to see those numbers climb with each level, the climb was so slight, I never truly felt like I was overpowering my opponents. I suppose this is done intentionally, so as not to make the game too easy. Still, I’m the type of RPG player that completes every side quest before moving on to the main quest. It’s awesome making those later battles a breeze after beefing up your character with menial tasks along the way. In “Golf Story”, you have the option to do those side quests to increase your stats before moving on. But at the end of the day you still rely on your skill as a golfer.
That brings me to one of the strengths of this title. The mechanics feel very familiar, but offer something I’ve always wanted in a golf game. Most games in this genre give you the “three button press” approach for hitting the ball. Your first hit starts a meter, your second hit sets your distance, and your third hit determines your accuracy. It’s a tried and true method to show a golf swing. “Golf Story” offers the same mechanic with a bit of a twist.
Before taking a swing, you have several options to give you more control on your ball placement. One button activates “precision mode”, which allows you to pick a shorter distance than the one your selected club gives. This is a feature I feel I never had in a golf simulator before. I always had to do some quick mental math to determine where I wanted the ball to land. Now I have an extra icon on my swing meter, and I just aim for that instead of the imaginary one in my mind.
A second button activates “hit point mode”, where you determine what part of the ball to strike. This affects the arc of the ball after you strike it and becomes a huge strategy for ball placement. As usual, you also have the ability to put topspin and backspin on the ball for even more accuracy on the green. This is just the beginning of the extra “tricks” that you can learn along the way. Each new area offers some additional training that make “Golf Story” a truly deep experience.
The charm of this game comes in it’s wonderful writing. The dialogue between characters is genuinely funny, and each one has a distinct personality. This is particularly impressive since all of the models are mere sprites with no facial expressions at all. One of my favorite moments of the game put a group on young golfers against a group of seasoned ones in an epic rap battle. Yes, you read that correctly. And it’s hilarious.
My only complaint with this game is the length. While I’m used to most RPG’s taking twenty or more hours to complete, I found myself yearning for the credits quite a while before the ending. This doesn’t mean the game isn’t fun, but I wish it had been a few hours shorter. On top of that, the difficulty spikes to a frustrating level in the final matches and tournaments. This was strange, because I had almost no trouble with the rest of the game. This shift left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth, but not in a way that keeps me from recommending it.
“Golf Story” Final Verdict
“Golf Story” is an easy recommend, especially you’re a fan of golf and role playing games. It’s a great debut from a new developer that makes me very excited to see what they do in the future. They have an obvious love of classic RPG’s and have put an incredible amount of love in the plot and characters, all while making an intuitive sports game at the same time. Having this game on the Switch is particularly great, as it’s works perfectly on the go. If you’re on the fence, don’t hesitate spending the $14.99 on this charming gem.
This review is based on a review copy for the Nintendo Switch provided by Sidebar Games.