Golf Story Review
Just Short of a Hole in One
Golf Story was recently released for the Nintendo Switch and developed by Sidebar Games out of Australia. The story follows a young man on his journey to pursue his childhood dreams of becoming a professional golfer. The game is one part arcade golf simulation and one part RPG which combines to make up one joyous experience on the Nintendo Switch.
The game starts out in a flashback with the hero learning how to play golf with the teachings of his father. We flash forward to see our hero as an adult. He regrets never having fully pursued his dream as a professional golfer, so he decides to change all that at the behest of his soon to be ex-wife. You shortly head to your nearest golf course and the real adventure begins.
Wellworn Grove is the first major golf course we tackle on our way to becoming a pro. But first, our hero must work to find and be accepted by the golf course's head coach. Coach is hesitant to help our hero and isn't very nice about it either. But after proving your worth, he will finally take you on as a student.
In total, Golf Story contains 8 different golf courses. All of which have several unique quests and sidequests to discover. The primary objective is to complete the course with a low enough score to move on. Each course contains 9 holes to play. But there are several other quests to complete in each course, from fetch quests to match-play battles, to digging up treasure or helping out a ghost. The game does a really good job of making each challenge and quest unique. There is a fantastic callback to Pac-Man in one of the later courses that will make any gamer smile.
After performing quests, the player will earn money and experience. Money is used to buy updated golf equipment and other items. Just about every course has shops that have at least one or two things to buy. The different clubs purchased or earned will give unique features to adapt to specific courses. The Digging Wedge, for example, is especially handy for hitting your ball out of sand bunkers. Likewise, the Skimming Woods is good for courses with lots of water like the Bermuda Isles.
The RPG elements of the game come from the quests and earning experience. You level up from experience as you complete main objectives and side quests in the game. Each time you level up you can add five points to your overall stats. Those stats are Power, Purity, Strike, Ability, and Spin. Power is the most self-explanatory and allows the player to drive the ball further. This is absolutely necessary to complete some side quests and really helps on those Par 4 and Par 5 courses. However, almost every time the player upgrades their Power stat, all their other stats will decrease. So there is a constant balance between granting your player a heavy swing with lots of power, but still maintaining a good amount of accuracy, spin, etc. I did feel that Purity and Ability weren't entirely clear on what they did or how they helped. I feel that could have been better explained in the game.
Each course has a unique environment to play in. Lurker Valley is filled with cavemen, dinosaur bones, and tar pits. Cheaky Beak Peak is filled with very high winds, lots of trees, and Cheaky Beak birds that will snatch up your ball if it lands near their nests. Bermuda Isles has beaches and sand bunkers throughout the entire course so you'll want to bring your sand wedge. Coldwind Wastes is covered entirely in snow and has a quest to retrieve some hot chocolate.
Throughout the campaign, I found myself consistently laughing and enjoying the dialogue and story of the game. The developers did a great job of making characters stand out and give them personality. There's also a running gag that the main character gets belittled throughout the entire game.
Probably the greatest set of dialogue in the game takes place at Tidy Park, where a very old gentleman has an epic rap battle against a brash young upstart from Wellworn Grove.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward, but with enough technical nuance to keep the player on their toes and forced to learn how to adjust to all types of conditions. Earlier courses get the player focused on the basic mechanics of hitting the ball and aiming with their clubs. Hitting shots requires a few presses of the A Button: first, to begin the meter, the second time to select the power of the shot, and the third for accuracy. Anyone who's played Mario Golf or just about any recent golf game should be familiar with this and it is very accessible to everyone.
As players progress through Golf Story, the courses get more difficult with added problems. Strong gusts of wind start affecting the player's shot and the greens no longer lay flat, which require major adjustments during putting. There are also a lot of environmental hazards, from sand dunes to puddles and lakes, to Cheaky Beak birds or moles that will grab your ball and toss it in the deep rough or sand bunkers if your shot lands in their vicinity.
The game also allows for more precision while golfing. Pressing the X Button allows the player to dictate where they hit the golf ball. The player can hit the ball high or low depending on how they want to counter the wind or how high in the air they want their shot to go. By pressing the Y Button it allows the player to aim their shot more precisely. This is especially useful when you're at a spot on the golf course where one club doesn't go nearly far enough and yet the next club in your arsenal goes way beyond the green and hole. By entering Precision Mode, you can scale back the club that goes well beyond the green and set a marker to know exactly how hard you should hit the ball in order to reach the green.
The art of the game is retro-inspired, similar to pixel art from the Super Nintendo era. Characters have text bubbles for all of their dialogue. They make great use of colors, especially in unique places like Bermuda Isle and Oak Manor. Since this is a Nintendo Switch game, the game looks great in both TV and handheld mode. I found myself playing the game mostly as a handheld as it's a great game to pick up and play on a lunch break or when you only have a short amount of time to game.
The music works well and the soundtrack has some nice tunes. The sound effects of getting a perfect shot or chipping in a mega eagle are especially satisfying. The Switch's HD Rumble support is used especially well for contact with the ball, dialogue, and digging up treasures.
More than just golf
Golf Story is more than just an arcade golfing game. The RPG elements and the ability to level up to increase your stats really adds an extra flair to the game. On top of that, not only is there a ton of fun dialogue and character interactions, but there are other mini-games besides just golfing. Disc Golfers show up more than once in the game and the player can partake in some Disc Golf if they're tired of plain old regular golf. Just make sure not to call it a frisbee! The game also offers moments of lawn bowling, RC race car driving, mystery solving, and drone flying.
And then there's Galf, which is a video game of golf inside a golf video game. Galf is a little secret found in the game. It's essentially Sidebar Games' recreation or ode to the earliest golf video games of the Atari or Nintendo Entertainment System era. Honestly, it's not very fun, especially compared to the much-improved game mechanics of Golf Story itself. But it was another moment in the game that made me smile and laugh.
Unfortunately, Golf Story is plagued with several bugs that seemed to get worse as the story got closer to the end. I encountered at least a few different times where my character got stuck in an object or went into the wrong scene and I was forced to reboot the game. At one point, late in the game at the Tidy Park members-only party, I reached an area that was supposed to trigger an important story scene that never triggered. I was forced to reload my save file 4-5 times before it finally triggered, despite me not doing anything different. I honestly thought my save file had become corrupted and I thought I was going to have to play the entire game over again (I was about 20 hours in at that point).
Apparently, others encountered an even worse bug in that scene where their player avatar shrunk to miniature size and the player could not further story progress from that point forward. I believe this specific issue has been patched at the time of this writing, or the fix has been submitted to Nintendo.
Overall, you'd like to see a game this enjoyable not experience this many bugs during a playthrough of the game. It wasn't bad enough to completely ruin the game, but it definitely brought the experience down a notch.
Who Should Play This Game?
If you're a fan of arcade sports games like Mario Golf or enjoy a relatively light RPG game experience in a sports setting you will really enjoy this game. If you're a fan of the movie Happy Gilmore and always dreamed of becoming a pro golfer, you can live out that dream in this adventure.
What Makes the Game Worth Buying?
Golf Story is an extremely charming game that offers a lot of bang for your buck. The story mode of the game takes roughly 20-25 hours to complete and is filled with a variety of different courses and quests. The game also offers local co-op play with a variety of courses and other options (match rules, wind effects, hole size, etc.). Golf Story absolutely deserves a spot in your Nintendo Switch library.
Really solid golf mechanics
A fun, charming, lengthy story
Funny dialogue throughout
Interesting side quests and variety of courses
Multiple bugs experienced during the playthrough
Some of the player's stats were not super clear on how they affected gameplay
Disclaimer: A Switch review code was provided by the developer.