Golf Story is a surprisingly mature tale told in a fun and completely charming RPG that is pretending to be an old school golf sim. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Golf Story but I was curious to see how they melded a golfing sim into the adventure of a retro Pokemon-like RPG. I was also curious to see how a 16-bit golf game stacked up in today’s world filled with Mario Golfs and Everybody’s Golfs. What SidebarGames gave me was an absolutely adorable game that I couldn’t put down and, hour after hour, was the most fun I’ve enjoyed on my Switch to date.
The game begins with equal parts learning the system and learning about what drives you: your relationship with your father, with your wife, with this sport. Throughout your journey, you will learn more about the system and about your supporting cast, but always in the most fun and personable of ways. Filled with optional side quests, each course teaches you the subtleties of how to master it and always in fun and unique approach. One course may have you racing around it. Another will have you aiming to hit sea turtles. And yet another will challenge you to distinguish between the different colors of birds and how they affect the field. Each course also presents its own challenges, teaching you how to maneuver obstacles by mastering skills like ball spin and reading the air and slope indicator.
Golf Story’s quest line is very linear. To prove yourself, you must go to course X and accomplish A, then head to course Y and accomplish B, etc. Usually the accomplishment is to unlock being able to play a full round of golf on that course and to record your score. But to do that, you are often tasked with finding certain things or performing a task. Doing these, in addition to the side quests and optional challenges, allows you to increase your money and your experience. Money is used to buy new golf clubs that offer unique qualities. It may not be the right club and you can’t change your club mid match, but a specific club may offer you a unique effect that assists on the specific course you are playing. A putter that allows you to control the curve of your ball or a wedge that allows you to play from water. Experience is used to increase your player’s statistics, but in upgrading one, you affect the percentage of your others. If you decide to max everything into power, then your other abilities get worse in contrast, such as accuracy getting worse because you aren’t accounting for the extra power. So risk it or create a well-balanced golfer. The choice is up to you.
In fact, I would say that if I were to point out a negative to this game, it is the same negative I typically come across in RPGs. Plenty of times I find that I am not ever thinking about which gear to use in play. And since you can’t change club sets in mid match, it’s even tougher because I force myself to think about them. I found a club set that I liked and I would rarely change it, instead preferring to change my approach rather than my tools.
The golfing mechanics are very much what I grew up with. You choose the club that fits best for the distance and then you aim in the direction you want to swing, you press a single button to begin your backswing, you press that button again to begin your downswing, and you press that button once more when it is most centered to get as straight a shot as you can. Putting works in mostly the same way, but remove the last button push. In fact, Golf Story cleverly inserts an emulator for an old school golf game within itself to truly illustrate how closely it pays homage to these classics.
In the end, Golf Story is truly about its personality. Each character is so well written and the dialogue boxes really do a fantastic job of presenting just how a person is feeling or the manner in which it was said. They present a sound of their own and I was able to feel the personality of everyone. An 8-Mile style rap battle between a group of older past their prime golfers and young hooligans was a moment that had me laughing out loud with its creativity, and I felt more like I was singing along rather than reading.
Sidebar Games delivers a clever story that oozes with personality and, while doing so, developed an extremely competent and challenging golf sim that fits perfectly in their light-hearted world. Golf Story is a perfect companion for the Switch and tells a surprisingly heart-felt tale at times.