A quirky combination of sports game and RPG produces a highly original and entertaining result
The title Golf Story really does a great job of setting expectations here: yes, this game is, indeed, a somewhat bizarre combination of golf and RPG. It’s the kind of idea that you’d never come up with yourself, but then makes perfect sense when you see it in action.
The underlying plot — something about following in your father’s footsteps, rekindling your love of the sport — isn’t exactly important: you’re here to play golf, and get better at playing golf. But it quickly introduces the two main gameplay functions, and demonstrates just how well they can be integrated.
As an RPG, there are tones of Link to the Past — and countless other top-down, 2d adventure games — in style. It’s another pixely homage to the 16-bit era, which is very well suited to both golf and RPG, in my book; give me a sports game that looks like Sensible Soccer or an RPG imitating LttP, and you’re halfway to a sale already. The characters are well animated, and combined with the humorous dialogue, do a great job of adding personality to the game.
You set off in a world of unknown size (although it’s not spoiling too much to reveal there are a total of 8 ‘areas’), in which some parts are locked. Non-player characters abound and are eager to draw you into their own personal side-stories. Tasks range from honing your golf skills, to finding certain items and locating other characters. One longer sequence is practically a ‘mini adventure’ game, which I really enjoyed.
On occasion, though, I found the typical side-quests lacking. Golf Story finds a way to shoehorn a great number of diversions into the main golfing theme — digging up treasure with your golf club, for example — but when these are repeated several times, they can verge on feeling like a bit of a chore. Admittedly, I did go out of my way to finish many of these optional tasks, so I clearly didn’t find them too much of a drag.
The golf game works in a classic ‘arcade’-style: easy controls which adopt the almost universal ‘power and accuracy’ bar which starts on your first press, gets more powerful the longer you wait for the second press, then gives you a small duration in which to press one final time, to set accuracy. It’s an interface that works absolutely as expected, and can be understood pretty much straight away.
Having said that, there’s quite a bit of depth underneath, should you choose to explore it: different clubs (of course), but also spin, various power settings and refinements, and a whole bunch of skills that can be upgraded with experience points won. As I’ve implied, though, it’s not really necessary to get too bogged down by complex settings. Most of the time, you can just play using the basic actions, and you’ll progress just fine.
Each location contains its own course, with various unique hazards, including moles that grab your ball if it gets too close, crocodiles that swallow your ball, slippery ice, etc. These are, of course, in addition to the staple golf hazards of water, bunkers, and various grass types. The extra hazards come across as a bit ‘gimmicky’, but they might help add variety for anyone not completely convinced by the standard golf play.
The golf playing was fun but I liked it most when playing for longer sessions. Anything under an hour, and I felt I was just relearning some of the techniques I’d learnt previously, only to then stop. Longer sessions enabled me to hone those skills and actually improve. And I wish there was a way to cancel a shot — every now and then, I’d accidentally start my swing when setting it up, and have no option but to play out a terrible shot.
In general, this is not a difficult game. The RPG is not completely linear, but it’s constrained enough that you’re never left feeling stuck with no idea of what to do next. But when it comes to the golfing, the final course really steps things up a gear. Water everywhere, constantly changing wind, a par six hole: it all conspires against you. I really found myself unprepared for this final challenge. Although the side quests do a great job of training the player across all gameplay aspects, up until the end, I think the use of various skills during main play itself is under-required. The first seven courses tend towards the easier end of the scale, so they don’t really encourage mastery until it’s absolutely required.
That final course, and its difficulty, helps to emphasise all the details of the golf gameplay that might have been previously overlooked. However, in doing so, it highlights just how much RNG is (seemingly) involved. This is fair — like any sport, there is an element of luck involved in golf, so it seems reasonable to simulate that, too — but I did find this frustrating when challenged to perform at the highest level. It took me maybe 20 attempts to finally beat, and it felt like it was going to take a lot longer!
The most obvious fault to pick might be a predictable one: whilst the combination of these two genres is highly original, and the result is a well-polished, enjoyable game, it’s not going to be ‘best in class’ either as an RPG or a sports game. In particular, the RPG feels a little ‘light’ — I would have loved to have seen one or two extra extended challenges, having been teased by the single bit of significant RPG action that is on show here. The golfing didn’t entirely convince me that I was getting much better or that my judgement was improving; too often, it felt like luck (usually bad!) was playing a part. It’s a shame, too, that video capture isn’t supported, so your greatest shots will have to remain a memory.
But Golf Story is, at its heart, a silly, challenging, novel experience, one which I would highly recommend to any Switch owner, especially those with an affinity for retro gaming. At its price-point, it represents excellent value for money.
Although an exclusive, Golf Story is not the individual game you’ll ever buy a Nintendo Switch for (that vacancy was already filled long ago by Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey). However, it is the kind of title you should be buying a Switch for: quirky, fun, accessible. It’s a game straight out of the Nintendo playbook, and it’s obvious why the company supported its development so enthusiastically.
I’ve played Golf Story for about 20 hours in total, most of it docked. That was about how long it took me to complete — I don’t feel in a big rush to return to it right away, but there is additional content that still remains, so I might go back one day.
I paid £10.79 for Golf Story, which I consider reasonable; it’s currently priced at £13.49 but is quite likely to go on sale at £8.90 between May and June/July 2019.