Slam dunk hole-in-one
My expectations were a bit skewed going into Golf Story. I heard “golf role-playing game” and painted a picture in my mind of a grand, sweeping, save-the-world story in which problems are resolved (for some reason) with clubs and balls rather than swords and spells.
It turns out Golf Story is a story about golf. As a golf RPG, it is more golf than RPG. But with solid mechanics and consistently sharp writing, it’s engaging from beginning to end, even if it isn’t the game I expected.
Golf Story (Switch)
Developer: Sidebar Games
Publisher: Sidebar Games
Released: September 28, 2017
Golf Story tells the tale of a man who gave up golf as a child but wants to get back into the game. He leaves his wife (or the other way around) on a quest to join the pro tour. Naturally, that involves joining the local club, securing a coach, winning an amateur tournament, and maybe quelling an undead uprising along the way.
Those surreal asides are some of the best parts. Thankfully, there’s a lot of weird optional stuff to do along the way to becoming a pro golfer. Even on the more normal golf courses, there are miniature side missions like saving a kid from an alligator (by hitting him with a golf ball), returning bird eggs to their owners (by hitting them like golf balls), or thawing frozen characters (by hitting them with flaming golf balls).
Not every side mission is strictly golf-centric. There are a couple of disc golf courses in the world, along with disc golf enthusiasts who insist on making the distinction between their sport and “ball golf.” There’s a remote-controlled car that throws back to games like R.C. Pro-Am. There’s even a stealth Pac-Man-esque section later on.
When it’s sticking to golf, each course offers its own unique hook as well. Some courses have animal hazards that will pick up and move a nearby ball, occasionally to the player’s benefit, but often straight into a bunker. The beach course has an abundance of bunkers and water to navigate. The old people’s course is strangely landscaped, with puddles to play out of and some holes located in the rough instead of the green.
Tidy Park, the course frequented by the old golfers, is probably my favorite area in the whole game. And it’s not for the odd hole layout; it’s because the characters there have some of the best story bits and comedy lines in the game. The elderly folks put a premium on playing with a more traditional style, praising a clean six over a messy four. Tidy Park is where the murder mystery takes place. Tidy Park is where the freestyle rap battle happens.
The comedy isn’t limited to that one course. Throughout Golf Story, the hapless player gets swindled, offering up a sarcastic “makes sense” to events and explanations that patently do not. It almost feels like a drawn-out gaslighting campaign, as everybody in the world denounces the player as an unskilled amateur at the same time he’s nailing eagles on every other hole.
The campaign runs for just about the right amount of time. RPG fans who want to see the story through to the end can probably get through in under 20 hours, but golf game fanatics who want to earn all the top scores on each of the eight courses can always drop in to play a round. It keeps track of best scores per hole, so multiple replays can be necessary to get a gold medal on all of them.
Even though Golf Story isn’t quite what I expected it would be, it is an absolute delight. It’s more than just a golf game with RPG mechanics, but it’s not quite a full RPG with golf mechanics either. It lies in a sweet spot in the middle, where people who care about one but not the other can still get into it.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]