Golf Story Switch Review
It would be all too easy to label Golf Story as “an RPG with added golf,” but there is more going on under the hood than just that. It has heart, a lot of it, and a warming sense of charm oozes from each and every pixel during every moment you spend with it. It’s look, when hardly unique in the current gaming landscape, gave me strong vibes of a SNES RPG – and as a result brought 20 year old nostalgic memories flooding back. As I played I was reminded about rides home in the back seat of my parents car, reading a manual back to front, before getting home to dig into a new game. Golf Story made me wish for that small part of my childhood to make a return. I have a feeling that younger version of me would’ve ended up enjoying the game just as much as I do right now.
Although endless parts of Golf Story are worth praise the writing is the star of the show here. The game’s tone has a firm footing in humour, but uses its jokes correctly to weave an endearing and earnest tale over its 18-or-so hour run. Most impressively; it manages this whilst rarely stepping into tedium.
People are what make life interesting, but sometimes difficult, and Golf Story celebrates this with an exciting, talkative cast. Dialogue is conveyed via text alone, with no voice acting of any sort used. Regardless, Golf Story manages to be an extremely expressive game – a highly impressive achievement. The text is oozing with charm in both content and presentation. Font size, how the text appears, and even HD Rumble is used to give the dialogue a sense of flair. There are layers of personality infused into each character, giving them a distinct voice, even though they remain silent. Like a well written book the game allows you to imagine a unique voice for each cast member as you read the words. It certainly helps that the narrative is backed up with low-key jazz tunes you could sip a coffee to; giving proceedings a certain sense of panache it may lack otherwise.
As you’d expect from an RPG – Golf Story is all about completing quests, earning XP, and money. I was going to say “quests of all shapes and sizes,” but most tasks you partake in here are bite-sized in nature. Anyone that has devoted time to an RPG before will know some quests can be more enjoyable than others. Somehow, Golf Story manages to make a huge swath of its quests likeable. Looking back at my time with the game there was only one that required a tad too much back and forth trading that caused annoyance. Everything else just worked; was very clever; or low impact enough not to cause an issue. Some quests may last less than a minute, whilst others are a tad more complex, but all are entertaining and rewarding due to clever dialogue that makes them instantly memorable.
The game constantly finds unique ways to reinvent its deceptively simple premise. Early on players are tasked with simply hitting the ball onto the green – which is done using the oft-used three-click swing meter. If you’ve ever played Mario Golf and/or Everybody’s Golf you’ll be familiar with this setup. Once that becomes second nature you’ll be using it to hit golf balls from the top of a food truck at skeletons; then taking swings from a swan boat onto an island in the middle of a lake. Golf Story has an ongoing fascination with mole rats and their nocturnal activities – a problem that can only be solved with golf! Later on you partake in an espionage trip to a rival’s course with a fake caddy tagging alongside. Even more ludicrous quests see you returning eggs to angry birds with your trusty club. These are very strong eggs we are told – so it apparently makes sense!. This is a game that is always happy to take a running jump into absurdity – and for that reason alone I adore it. It is both wacky and lovable in so many ways.
Those wanting a pure golfing experience might not appreciate what Golf Story offers. If the simple thought of a Par 6 course annoys then this is not a game for you. It has chosen to ruin a good walk in a more absurd way. Whilst you regularly get a chance to play in 9 hole events, each of the courses (of which there are eight), has a gimmick tied to it. The more simple gimmicks are courses with a high wind variance, whilst another sees you golfing across a set of small islands. The more extreme gimmicks see those aforementioned mole rats stealing your balls if you land it too close to them, and giving you a nasty lie to play your next shot from.
One glaring omission is the lack of some tutorial. Golf Story very much asks you to learn on the job. If you don’t know golfing basics going in, and your knowledge consists of “put the ball in the hole,” then you might be a bit confused. Away from the golfing part, the RPG aspect of the game can also be a tad confusing. There is a level up system with skills that can be improved via earned ability points. The problem here is that the skills have confusing monikers. You can upgrade your spin and power stats and have some idea of the end result, but purity and ability is also upgradable, which makes a tad less sense for new players. Eventually I grew to understand what everything meant, but regretfully I was investing points in skills I was unsure about early on.
Furthermore, the current iteration of the game (v1.0.0), has a few bugs that crop up every now and then. I got out of bed once and was unable to move. This may be eerily similar to how I actually feel some mornings, but it is an annoying bug in the game. Another annoyance was text bubbles simply not appearing in some scenes. Both of these issues meant I had to quit and relaunch the game and continue from a checkpoint. Playing a game with technical faults such as these is never great fun, but for me it always happened close to an autosave – so not much progress was ever lost. Less bugs are always welcome so hopefully most of these can be ironed out with a post release patch
As the name implies there are two main draws here – experiencing the joys of golf alongside a good story. Going in I was expecting both to be tackled separately. I thought I would play ‘the RPG part’ then ‘the golf part,’ and so on. Almost instantly it was clear this was an incorrect assumption. Golf Story succeeds as it expertly intermingles the two – tieing them together with a unique brand of zany, offbeat humour. This is a game that begs to be played more and more, and his hard to put down, especially in handheld form. My Switch rarely left my side as I worked my way through the story over the course of a handful of days.
Just like Stardew Valley filled a void in the hearts of those missing Harvest Moon, Golf Story does what Nintendon’t by delivering a highly competent take on the Mario Golf RPG formula – an offshoot of a franchise that has gone missing for well over a decade. Golf Story likely wouldn’t have existed without looking to gaming’s past for inspiration but that hardly makes it a knockoff. It excels in every way you’d hope a game in this niche but fascinating genre would.