There are games out there like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2 that bring with them a certain level of expectation on the Nintendo Switch. We anticipate them to be these amazing experiences and, more often than not, that tends to come to fruition. Then, there are those titles that eventually catch our eye and show an increasing amount of promise the more we see of them. And then you have games like Golf Story, that seemingly come out of nowhere to catch you off guard and surprise you in the best ways possible.
Golf Story begins with a neat little introduction that sees your young character so full of ambition and hope, playing some golf with his dad as a child (along with a few feathery spectators) before leaping ahead in time to a very different scene. You’re not the professional golfer you dreamed you would be, far from it in fact. What follows is your journey across eight unique golf courses taking you from prehistoric valleys to snowy mountains to a haunted cemetery where you’ll meet a whole host of other characters that will constantly scold your golfing ability no matter how many times you defeat them or accomplish a task. It’s a funny bit for sure, and one that urges you to keep performing at the very least to show up these rude observers. In fact, the story in Golf Story while simple is smartly written with every character getting their moment to shine and conversation full of golfing puns or remarks that are sure to raise a smile.
The game takes on a retro top-down view not too dissimilar to the older RPG focused Mario Golf titles or Pokémon series. Running around you’ll travel course to course, each one packed with new faces and many of which offering tasks that shockingly can be completed by simply playing golf. Whether its hitting targets at the driving range, researching bird behaviour or feeding fish the answer is never more than a swing away. Peppered throughout you’ll also come across a handful of tournaments, items to collect and some disc based golf too. It sounds like an odd mix for a golf game but strangely enough it all gels together well enough into one nicely paced adventure.
The actual golfing side of the game is best described as simple but satisfying. The game opts for the tried and true three-button press system the genre has seen for many years where timing is vital. Along with power and accuracy, you’re also able to choose where on the ball your strike for added height or a nice curve in trajectory. Just like other golf games, there’s importance in choosing the right club for the right occasion whilst accounting for wind and obstacles – of which there are many. You’ll find your usual bunkers and water hazards but the game often throws the unexpected your way too like mischievous birds who will snatch your ball up and fly it to another area or turtles who pop out of the water to give you an extra bounce. Much like a certain famous plumber’s golfing efforts these silly hazards add character to each course and more importantly a little variety from the usual green, perfectly trim environments we’re used to seeing from the sport. If there’s one area that’s a bit of a let-down though, it’s the putting. Here it feels more like guesswork than truly reading the green thanks to a lack of information or clarity on the lie of the ground.
The game also features some disc golf, which unlike regular golf offers you some control over the projectile once it’s thrown. It takes some getting used to but offers a nice alternative to the usual club and ball combo.
It wouldn’t be an RPG without some form of experience and levelling system and Golf Story features its own somewhat simplistic take. Complete tasks and you earn experience. Earn enough experience and you level up granting you five points to bank into your character’s abilities that can affect your accuracy, power or spin among others. Other than that there’s little in the way of customisation with no option to even alter your appearance – a staple of the RPG genre.
Unfortunately Golf Story’s fifteen plus hour adventure can show signs of repetition in the final third or so. The quests’ lacking variation gradually becomes more evident the further you progress with a majority of missions coming down to aiming your shots at targets or running laps around a course. What was once fun doesn’t feel so fresh and exciting the twentieth or thirtieth time around. You could argue part of blame sits with the genre itself and the fact there’s only so much you can do within a golfing game. Fortunately, the story and its characters are enough to carry you on through to the end credits.
After finishing my adventure I was pleasantly surprised to find the game also had a neat two-player option tucked away in the menu too. Here you can battle it out on any of the eight unlocked courses setting specifics like wind speed, match or stroke play and the gear available to you. Thanks to the simplicity of the game’s controls the Switch’s Joy-Con work perfectly too making for an ideal experience on the go.
The game’s visual style oozes charm, its 16-bit style both bright and colourful. Every course you visit has its own unique look and feel with plenty of characters to interact with. Speech meanwhile is handled through clear, crisp speech bubbles that oddly don’t feel too out of place against its pixelated backdrop. The audio, however, is a mishmash of mostly forgettable tunes with the odd decent one sprinkled here and there.
Who would have thought that an RPG adventure based around the slow-paced sport of golf would end up being such a fun one? While Golf Story may not be the best in class in neither the sport nor role-playing genre, the game manages to combine the two into a delightfully unique and charming experience. Another winner for the Switch.