Historically my relationship with the real life game of golf and it’s digital cousins has been something of a contradiction. Growing up less than a few minutes walk to a golf course and working there for several summers as a kid retrieving shanked balls I never grew enamored with the game itself. What isn’t to like about a game that provides a quiet, methodical, and zen like experience to be enjoyed over the course of an afternoon? Assuming you stay out of the water hazards that is. Golf’s video game counterparts however I always found myself fascinated by and believe it or not that started way back with the version released on the Atari 2600. In all of it’s right-angled glory this game ate up more of my time as a kid than I could safely admit without shame. Suffice it to say this was the start of my journey that would end with the arcade cabinet of Golden Tee Golf. A fantastic game by all rights it unfortunately arrived at a time in my life when the attention of my friends and I was squarely away from the bright lights of arcades. The father of one of my best friends played Golden Tee religiously and competitively from his PC at home during these years so it was a pretty consistent soundtrack to our own game playing and occasional LAN parties we held at their house. I’d occasionally stand and shoot the breeze with him as he played but that was just an excuse to watch the round of golf that was in process.
Why is this important, I hear you ask? Alright, that’s a fair question. Ultimately those days of watching Golden Tee were the last of which I gave any amount of attention to the golf genre for many years. I saw that games came out for systems I didn’t have and even if I did they still wouldn’t have rated high on my priority list. Goldeneye was never going to lose out to Waialae Country Club and for good reason. Fast forward to the launch lineup for the Switch and amidst all of the fervor for the system itself, the exclusives, the speculation there was a trailer for a game that immediately caught my attention –
With that image at the start of their trailer SideBarGames had managed to get my brain reaching for every hype bell it could get it’s grey matter on. The trailer itself was a beautiful blend of heartwarming music, nostalgic 16-bit RPG gameplay and a subject matter you would never consider could fit in so naturally. It wasn’t an outright parody nor did it seem to eschew realism in its entirety for the RPG side, it was… Golf! Most importantly it looked like fun which is something that all these years later as a responsible adult is an aspect that I value very highly in the games I invest my free time. When it released and I finally had time to sit down with the finished product I don’t think it could have more accurately encapsulated exactly what I had wanted, nay, needed from a Golf RPG. Like any outing to the greens SideBarGames didn’t shoot an ace on every hole but for my money, and I suspect many others, it came damn close. So let’s get down to the specifics and story is up first!
Dusting Off the Clubs
This Golf Story begins on a quaint but idyllic looking course called Wellworn Grove. You are treated to panning shots of the bustling fairways, frustrated golfers in the rough and well hit drives over beautiful water. You are there in line with your father to purchase a round for the day and you begin the game with a run through of some basic mechanics. They’re introduced through a series of father-son interactions on the fairway as he questions how you’ll handle certain situations.
After your successful trial-by-goose you wake twenty years later as a phone rings you out of bed and you are treated to a current day look at that once optimistic kid sinking putts at Wellworn Grove. It seems like life has taken some twists and turns since that fateful day which has landed the player a bit down on his luck. After an angry phone call from the protagonists ex he proclaims that it’s time to fulfill what he set out to do that day on the fairway with his father and join the pro-tour. From here the player heads out onto a world map to see a variety of interesting areas that they can look forward to visiting for now though their first stop is their old stomping grounds. It’s changed a bit in twenty years, the lustre and wonder is gone but the promise of a new chapter in the life of the player urges you on. Like with any RPG you are met by a myriad of characters who have suddenly with your arrival become utterly incapable of handling their own everyday problems. So you will set to work exploring and finding quest givers who provide tasks ranging from proving that some shots are indeed not impossible to identifying mystery switches. Most important among these odd-jobs is still finding a trainer to take a look at your swing so you can up your game for the pros. Naturally not everything will be solvable from the get-go but the various challenges will provide you with money, experience and ways to progress on your journey to the top!
Your travels will take you to a wide range of locales spanning deserts, beaches, mountains and snow covered courses each with unique challenges and hazards. Each course contains a cast of characters, quests and a pro-shop where you can expand your collection of clubs suited to the various environments and your own particular play style. Each of the courses you play on, in addition to providing new challenges, will be home to a tournament you will eventually participate in on the tour. Naturally the first of these will be the Wellworn Grove Open, the kickoff to the players career as a pro. It tests all the skills the player has accumulated to this point against the cast of characters and friends you’ve also gathered. From here on out your destiny is at your fingertips, just remember to fill in your divots and avoid the hazards!
Overall Golf Story tells a tale that is quaint, fantastical and relatable all rolled into one. It may not rise to the level of the gaming industries storytelling giants but I don’t think that anyone will walk away with anything short of a fond smile of their experience.
Overall Story: Lightweight and unobtrusive but well done for those who enjoy narrative elements more so than the combat of RPGs. Plenty of golf centric elements for those who are less interested in the narrative. An excellent blend for all involved!
With the resurgence of 8 and 16-bit style Hi-Bit games Golf Story is absolutely no exception. It easily stands shoulder to shoulder with it’s more fantastical counterparts like Shovel Knight, Owlboy, Dead Cells and so many others it’s hard to remember even a fraction of them. Golf Story is certainly far more contemporary than the other games I listed but I don’t feel that fact detracts at all from the games overall appeal or beauty. Honestly there isn’t a lot to say in this section of the review, if you grew up with 16-bit RPGs you’ll feel right at home especially given the fact that you’ll be playing this on a Nintendo console again. If you didn’t but are willing to give the retro-vibe a try I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the least, especially if you’re a golf fan who doesn’t mind a bit of humorous well written narrative or vice versa.
There are no surprises here when it comes to the graphics, what you see in the trailers and pictures is what you get and for my money it’s worth the price of admission.
Overall Graphics: I think this section is short but if you really need it, fine. Perfectly executed Hi-Bit style that is diverse and beautiful to look at, visually this game is a hole in one.
Bump and Run: The Mechanics of Golf Story
Like the graphics portion above there isn’t a whole lot to say in this section as the overall design execution of the game is tight and exceedingly clean. The physics of the golf, in my admittedly limited real life experience, behave as they should. At no point while playing it did I find myself wishing they had a feature which was overlooked or simply left out for one reason or another. You are given a breadth of control over how you approach your game, up to and including a few more fantastical items that let you take your game to the next level. After all what’s an RPG without some special gear you can equip?
The leveling incorporates a stat system that allows you to customize your growth as a golfer but ensures that you don’t cross a (comparatively) realistic barrier into being an unbeatable god on the green. That way the game remains challenging and fun even deep into it’s later stages.
I’ve broken down the stats (As shown above) a bit as they are not always easily understood from the start;
Power – Fairly self explanatory but this is how hard you hit the ball off the tee. If you like monster 300yrd drives then this is definitely for you. However it’s not quite as simple as that because the game will incrementally lower your other stats as you boost your power. It’s hard get that delicate curve, necessary backspin or arrow straight drive when you’re approaching your shot like Happy Gilmore.
Purity – How straight and true each shot you take will be as compared to your intended target. As well as countering accidental spin on shots that may make your ball stop short or roll father than you want. There are many ways to customize your shot but with a low purity stat you may find that your best intentions still land you in the rough.
Strike – While trying to time your button presses on the hit gauge Strike will make sure that even if you miss that crucial press that it doesn’t matter as much. There is even a set of clubs in the game that also work to correct these mistakes.
Ability – This helps increase the effect of spin you apply to the ball as you hit it, either left to right or to borrow a billiards phrase, when you put a little english on it. In addition this effects top/bottom hits that will help a ball stop where it lands or roll far beyond that point.
Spin – This increases the RPM of your chosen spin, enhancing the effect of it on the ball’s trajectory in the air and how it bounces or rolls once it hits the ground.
Like I said before, I am far from an expert on golf in either the digital or physical spaces but the game seems very thorough to me when it comes to handling the nuances of it’s real life counterpart. There are also all of the other basic considerations as you play like various hazards like wind, water, sand, slope, ghosts and what have you.
In keeping with the RPG motif there is also an appropriate but also limited gearing system that further allows you to customize based on your preferred playstyle, environmental conditions and some unique items that give you some additional powers you can bring to bear on the green.
Overall Mechanics: The designers of Golf Story were exceedingly thorough in their detail oriented design which should make even the most die hard golf fans happy. For the rest of us I also think they struck a good balance so that the system isn’t so onerous as to exclude gamers who aren’t in it exclusively for the chip shots, drives and long putts.
For a digital download cost of $14.99USD and being available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, Golf Story is absolutely worth the price of admission. An RPG Golf game that sacrifices little if anything from either of its disparate genres to deliver you a complete and engaging experience from your opening drive to your winning putt. What are you waiting for? Get out there and start swinging!