Golf Story was revealed earlier this year as a Nintendo Switch indie exclusive. Since then, there has been a genuine interest among the Nintendo community on how this game will turn out. It’s luscious 2D sprites and unique claim that it is a “golf RPG” instantly grabbed our attention. Now that Golf Story is officially available and in our hands, I have to say that this game has been an absolutely wonderful surprise.
Golf Story focuses on your character’s journey to become a Professional golfer. Along the way, your character will meet a colorful cast of NPCs that are all hilariously mean. Despite his natural ability to golf well, the running joke of the game is that your character has an awful golf swing. The characters you make “friends” with will help you become a better golfer as you go around visiting new golf courses, completing various tasks, and competing in tournaments.
What makes this game is not the story, but the characters you meet. They are all incredibly expressive, emotive, and talkative. Each character has a distinct personality, further amplified by the animated word bubbles that appear as they speak. Lara is a short-tempered professional golfer who simply wants to be recognized for her hard work. Lucky is a scummy businessman whose sole goal is to make a profit. If it were not for the well-written dialogue between the characters, then the narrative of Golf Story would be a lot less interesting.
Earthbound Meets Golf
The presentation of Golf Story reminds me an awful lot of games like Earthbound and Stardew Valley. They all share a similar gameplay perspective, with detailed 2D sprites surrounded by luscious scenes of color. At first, I was a bit worried that these graphics would look bad on my television because the size of the pixel art would be stretched. Thankfully, Golf Story looks just as beautiful on a TV as it does in handheld mode. The game also performs just as well on both, with no significant issues other than a few graphical glitches that flash for a second every now and then.
The music of this game is good, if not a little repetitive at some points. Each golf course has a few tracks depending on what you’re doing, and each song is themed to the golf course you’re at. These tracks all sound good, but they get repeated over and over when completing side quests and challenges. The sound design of this game is absolutely fantastic. Hitting the golf ball, watching it fly, and listening to it thud on the fairway is all incredibly responsive and sounds real. The game makes use of the HD Rumble in the Joycons as well by amplifying each sound with the vibrations in the controller. I believe this is one of the most original uses of HD Rumble on Nintendo Switch by any developer, and I hope more developers find other unique ways of making use of this feature.
If Only You Could Tee-Up Anywhere in Real Life
Golfing in video games has followed a similar gameplay mechanic for quite a while now, with the three button press being the de facto way of doing so. Golf Story doesn’t exactly innovate on this front, but it does ensure that the gameplay is as tight as it can be. It provides you with precision-enhancing options like being able to see how hard you have to hit the ball if you want it in an exact location and allowing you to hit the ball from a specific degree or angle. Golfing in this game feels great, and this is further amplified by the stat system and the innovative golf courses.
One of the premises of this game that grabbed our attention is that it’s a “golf RPG.” Golf Story makes good on this claim by having staple RPG elements such as XP, a stat system, equipment management, and various quests. While these systems and gameplay elements are not as robust as an actual RPG, Golf Story makes the best of what it has to offer by making it fun. To earn XP and money, you must complete challenges, side quests, and/or main quests. These tasks are given to you by speaking to the various NPCs scattered across the golf courses. They range from simple things such as finding missing items to feeding fish, to bouncing balls off the backs of turtles, to fighting a skeleton army (best quest in the game in my opinion). Leveling up rewards you with the ability to allocate stat points to certain attributes such as power, purity, strike, ability, and spin. Be careful about how you spend your points; only the points allocated to power can be reallocated. Power affects the overall stats of the other attributes. Along with XP and improving your character’s attributes, you can buy equipment that will help your performance at each of the town’s pro shops. Sometimes this equipment is necessary to complete main quests in the game. Overall, though, they do provide certain advantages that help you hit balls out of bunkers more effectively or make a shot go farther than your character is naturally capable of.
A special part of Golf Story is that it allows you to tee up from anywhere in the game. You simply drop a ball and are able to hit it as hard or as little as you’d like to any area you can see. This feature gives you the ability to find secrets in the courses, or set challenges for yourself like seeing if you can bounce a golf ball off the roof of a clubhouse into a lake. There is no shortage of golf courses or holes to play in Golf Story. There are a total of 8 golf courses, each with their own theme or gimmick. For example, Cheekybeak Peak is located on the top of a mountain with strong winds and birds that interfere with your golfing. Lurker Valley seems to take place in a desert area with obstacles such as tar pits, and interactive gameplay elements like bouncing golf balls off the backs of turtles in the water. Each of these golf courses sports plenty of holes that progress in difficulty as you go through them. In my time playing through the courses, all of the holes felt original and made clever uses of their themes and gimmicks. Playing through them was definitely the most exciting part of the game for me.
Golf Story features more than just regular golf; there is disc golf (frisbee) and mini golf. The game also has a quick play mode that focuses solely on the golfing part of the game. You can play by yourself or locally with two separate joy-cons, and face off on any of the courses you’ve unlocked in the main story. You can set things like wind speed, hill size, and even the size of the hole. Golf Story’s quick play mode is perfect for when you just want to take a break from the story and simply play golf.
For all that Golf Story gets right, there are a few things that lead to frustrating moments. In between the actual golfing, the game has you do several quests that aren’t exactly related to golf. Some of the quests are fun, but they can become repetitive and sometimes downright tedious. After you’ve hit golf balls to an exact location for a challenge 10 times before, it’s going to become a bit stale. Fetch quests grind the game to a halt. It’s not that I don’t like them, but they keep you away from the best part of the game. Golf Story has a few quality of life issues that lead to some unnecessary frustrations. The game does not have any sort of pause menu when you’re in a challenge, quest, or tournament. This might very well be a decision by the developers to prevent you from “cheating” or retrying as soon as you mess up, but I don’t think this is the case because there are no consequences for failure. If you’re playing a 9-hole tournament and you make a mistake in the first 2 holes that you know you can’t come back from, then you must play through the whole thing so you can restart. The same thing goes for challenges and quests; the quickest way to quit and restart is to purposely mess up each shot so that you get the “TOO BAD” screen. It’s frustrating and, depending on the length of the event, can be a significant waste of time.
By blending addictive RPG elements, humorous characters, and tight golf gameplay, Sidebar Games has produced a remarkably unique experience that will keep you engaged long after your first Open Tournament win. The game can become a drag when you’re doing mundane fetch quests or linear tasks, but when golfing comes center stage it is all worth it. If you’re interested in a truly unique RPG, Golf Story will be a great addition to your Nintendo Switch library. Golf Story is exclusively available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $14.99.
Review Copy Provided by Sidebar Games