Title: Golf Story
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Where To Buy: Nintendo E-Shop
Golf Story is perhaps the Sports RPG I’ve always craved. Years ago as a huge FIFA fan, I wanted to see the football title put aside the sole focus of simulation and venture into the role-playing genre. In 2017 the dream is a reality as FIFA, Madden and the NBA series now all have deep story-focused campaigns. However, they still lack that classic RPG feel. Where are the zany characters and bizarre side quests? Golf Story ticks all of these boxes whilst remaining a surprisingly competent sports title.
First and foremost, if you are not a golf enthusiast, do not ignore Golf Story. The Nintendo Mini SNES has just released and brings with it some of the greatest JRPGs of all time. Final Fantasy 3, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound; Golf Story takes inspiration from all of these and is very much a role-playing game above all else. The gorgeous 16-bit graphics mean that Golf Story could be in the collection and you would never know the difference.
Recent sports based career modes seem to follow the same rags to riches story. A protege suffers a personal set back and on their road to recovery, you witness cameos from sporting legends and finally achieve the dream of becoming a highly paid sports star. Golf story could not be more different. The game begins with a father and son playing a simple round of golf with the bond between the two being the stimulus for the adventure. Your character certainly aspires to reach the Pro Tour but this is a story about the journey, not the climax.
Golf Story does play out as a fairly traditional role-playing adventure but whereas confrontations and other predicaments are traditionally settled by swords, hit points and combat; Golf Story resolves each conflict with the hitting of a ball… or on occasion the throwing of a frisbee. Experience is earned by completing missions and can be spent on stat upgrades. New clubs can be purchased with cash rewards and each has different traits such as striking distance or wind resistance.
Golf Story is a genuinely competent golfing sim and harnesses the classic three button prompts seen in the original NES game golf. You control the aim, power, and accuracy. Wind will affect the trajectory of your shot whilst the terrain and gradient of the terrain will modify the landing. Although using these basic mechanics will allow you to be triumphant in Golf Story, they are a number of additional options available to really improve your game. Adjusting the hit marker on the ball can change its arc allowing the ball to drop faintly onto the fairway whilst special abilities acquired throughout the adventure can slow time or give an extra boost to your tee-off. Aside from hazards such as bunkers and lakes, Molerats will move your ball if it encroaches on their territory whilst turtles may prevent a ball landing in the water by rebounding the shot off of their shell. Playing a round of golf feels exciting and rewarding as an albatross or hole-in-one are not only obtainable but frequent. My only complaint in regards to the controls is the limited ability to scout out the hole. You can zoom out with the thumbstick but can only move briefly in each direction. To explore, I would use my strongest club and use the trajectory indicator to see into the distance but often obstacles would block my vision.
There is an abundance of side missions in Golf Story starting with simple tasks such as attending the driving range or assisting helpless golfers but soon they become far more unpredictable. You have the freedom to explore the entirety of each course and can strike your golf ball from practically anywhere. This privilege means that side missions are not bound by the rules of golf and my favorite task involved playing a newly created course using existing holes. You may have to hit the ball over buildings, car parks or other holes entirely and it makes great use of each well-crafted course. This opportunity is available at each destination and would be the first side quests I would seek out. Some of these outlandish adventures can be challenging yet annoyingly if you make a mistake, you are unable to quit the task at hand. The opposite is true where you accomplish your goal with attempts to spare yet you have to continue with the task reaping no additional benefit.
As you explore new courses which offer more fantastical environments, the activities mirror this philosophy. One course resides high in the mountains and has perilous cliff faces surrounding each hole whilst a haunted golf course has ghostly lawnmowers maintaining the turf. Skeletons frequent the spooky course and a particular quest finds you firing eyeballs into their empty eye sockets. On Stickybeak Peak the multicolored birds have gone livid as their eggs have gone missing. After finding out a stall is attempting to sell their young as golf balls, hitting each colored egg back to their mother’s nest frees the course from chaos.
The courses become more varied as other elements such as heavy snow create more exotic environments but in the need to remain nonrepetitive, a few of the later trials are less enjoyable. Solving a mystery of a werewolf sighting within the clubhouse felt illogical and resulting in me having to talk to everyone multiple times in the hope of progressing the story. A Pacman homage in a maze although witty took far longer than it should and became tedious. As Golf Story continued into its final hours and the game is surprisingly long, I found myself becoming more frequently stumped on how to progress. The main reason for this is the lack of a deep quest tracker. You are given an image and a brief description of the task ahead but no insight is given. Knowing when new opportunities are available to you requires a visit and a lap around each course. The majority of the side quests are fun and creative and I was really frustrated when I completed the main mission and the game jumped to the next day, making side activities I had yet to complete inaccessible.
As much as Golf Story draws influence from both the sport and RPG’s, it is also quick to jest at some of the typical tropes seen in both. The first fifteen minutes of any Pokémon game plays out the same as your mother rallies behind your dream, giving you her blessing on your big adventure. Golf Story finds our protagonist on the phone to his estranged wife as she exclaims her disbelief that you could pursue such a ridiculous profession. This could be the basis for a somber adventure but Golf Story is full of tongue-in-cheek humor. Unlike in typical role-playing games where every NPC is usually helpful and supportive of your quest, the opposite is true here. Your coach who consistently refuses to train you is rarely impressed with your performance. When you eventually train with a more friendly and welcoming coach, she too is quick to exclaim her disbelief that you get results with such an unorthodox technique.
When Golf Story is not making fun of the RPG genre, it roasts the sport of golf just as much. As you line up for your final putt on the green, dramatic music kicks in reminiscent to the score from Chariots of Fire. Old-timers frequent the best golf course in the local area and scoff as younger, backward cap wearing delinquent attempt to play on the holes. While competing, opponents may stroke a tee-off into the rough and cockily claim that they did that on purpose. Golf is taken extremely serious in real life and this just gives Golf Story more material to work with.
Satire is nothing without good writing and the team at Sidebar Games, an Australian developer, bring an abundance of charm to theirs. Dialogue is displayed through speech bubbles and these can reflect conversations or inner thoughts. If a character speaks aside, the writing shrinks as they attempt to mask their outburst. The bubbles themselves can tip to one side and deflate reflecting the emotion of the speaker. Golf Story is written in English unlike the Japanese ports of the past so you now have Australian colloquial terms so expect to hear ‘mate’ said fairly often or attend the aforementioned course Stickybeak Park (which means a nosey person down under). This more contemporary dialogue choice allows for some relatable and hilarious moments with particular highlights including your, now presumably ex-wife, showing off her new lover as you tee-off in a major competition. One of the best examples of the hilarious writing is during a freestyle rap battle between a group of teens and pensioners dropping golf terminology in their rhymes.
It cannot be understated just how good Golf Story looks and sounds. I’ve already mentioned the retro feel to the graphics but care and attention have been taken to the smaller details. Characters look unique such as the larger build of your coach of the vibrant pink hair of your rival/friend Lara. There is even a brilliant easter egg of a retro golfing game within Golf Story complete with an in-game manual. The musical score is even better than the visuals with a range of instruments and compositions making areas feel distinct. Some of the most influential scores from titles such as Final Fantasy 7 have inspired the music and when supported by the chirping of a nearby bird can make wondering around as relaxing as golf can be.
VERDICT: Once I had completed Golf Story, unlike in other sports titles where you continue into the next season, I didn’t need that. Golf Story is a classic RPG first and foremost and the climatic story, although very self-aware, had the satisfying conclusion I desired. Golf Story does more than simply blend two genres expertly together; it sugar coats it with charm, humor, and hilarious writing. The odd technical issue and Golf Story‘s overly ambitious need for varied content are small issues in an otherwise brilliant debut title from Sidebar Games. For any Switch owner looking to expand their catalog, Golf Story will do perfectly.
- Classic RPG Vibe
- Competent Golfing Game
- Variety of Quests and Courses
- Beautiful Musical Score
- Camera Controls
- Tedious End Game Missions