Now that I’ve completed Golf Story, I’m ready to join the chorus of voices singing its praises. Truly, for about a week following its September 28 release my Twitter timeline was thriving with positive word-of-mouth. Unable to resist the zeitgeist, and having come into an Amazon gift card that made the decision even easier, I teed up. The game is a charming story-driven RPG based around golf instead of swords and sorcery. Despite not being an avid virtual golfer, the act of golfing was immediately familiar and I was quickly making shots that had me replicating Tiger Woods’ fist pumps. My skills improved between outings as I participated in the bevy of sidequests that doled out experience and not-so-subtly doubled as training sessions. Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the hubbub around it, I thought this was a fantastic game and couldn’t put it down.
Feeling low amidst an ongoing divorce, the protagonist decides to live his best life and become the professional golfer he always wanted to be. Like Drake, he was starting from the bottom. Returning to the course he learned to play on as a child, he finds it like his current situation: in a manageable state of disrepair. Through the completion of odd jobs and solid golfing, he began turning things around for both himself and the course. His ambitions lead him to compete on the seven other golf courses dotting the island and at every juncture he had to prove his abilities to earn the respect of his peers. No matter how well I golfed that was hard to come by.
Although my experience with virtual golf has been limited and infrequent over the last twenty-plus years, I was comfortable with the power/accuracy bar. A 3-click system, after teeing up and selecting the club I wished to use I’d press the A button to activate the bar, a second time to determine the strength of my swing, and a third time to set my accuracy. Additionally, I could fine tune my shots by adjusting the projected trajectory or landing spot of the ball. Learning more advanced concepts, such as when and why I’d want to fine tune my shots came through sidequest participation.
The first thing I did after arriving at a new course was seek out the NPCs offering sidequests and challenges. There were about a half-dozen at each course and most taught specialized golf techniques via challenges. I wasn’t gaining new abilities or skills, just learning how to reduce strokes by taking more educated shots. That said, I did earn experience throughout the game and when I leveled up, I got the opportunity to dole out skill points to stats like power and spin. Periodically, I’d obtain better or differentiated clubs as well. The sidequests weren’t always so serious, however. Some of the more memorable ones revolved around disc golf, RC racing, and of all things a rap battle between young and old.
Once I exhausted the optional challenges at a course, I did what I came to do in the first place: play a round of golf. Match play and stroke play were the most commonly employed forms of golf and differences aside, both ultimately boiled down to getting the ball in the hole with fewer strokes than the competition. Sometimes, like when partnered up with elders who couldn’t hit the ball far but insisted on teeing off, that was easier said than done. I had my work cut out for me in instances like this but I found it fun to play from tough positions I wouldn’t otherwise get myself into. Save for the final tournament which took a few attempts to win and the occasional hard challenge, I had an easy time beating the game.
The golf courses themselves were set against different climates and were quite varied, from both a visual and hole design standpoint. Presumably in consideration of the Switch’s potential for brief handheld sessions, courses were only nine holes compared to the traditional eighteen. I appreciated the brevity afforded by this choice and felt like I could accomplish a lot with each session, at least more than just a round of golf. Moreover, it occurs to me because of this, the developer didn’t have the luxury of designing many banal holes. They had to make each hole unique and I feel they accomplished this while maintaining a cohesive through line within the courses.
After playing Golf Story, it’s easy to see why so many people were crowing about it. First and foremost, this was a well-executed golf game that was fun to play. Beyond that, it had a mix of characters and humorous dialogue that I found charming. I failed to mention it before but the pixel art and animation was beautifully done and charming in itself. If those aspects didn’t keep me coming back the fact that each session was brimming with variety and challenge would have. Simply put, this was an enjoyable golf game greater than the sum of its parts. Well worth playing. Finally, I would’ve thought of this as a fantastic game regardless of the developer, but special recognition has to be paid to Australia-based Sidebar Games. The slim staff made their console debut with this game and they really flew the green. Cheers!