I have always had an unusual attraction to arcade golf games. Titles like Hot Shots Golf (PSP), Wii Sports: Golf (Wii) and Super Swing Golf (Wii) saw a disproportionate amount of my playtime over other sport games. More recently, the go to “quick game” on my phone has become Golf Clash (iOS). Then, there is also my long standing love for Role-Playing Games(RPG’s), from Final Fantasy to more western Dragon Age. So, when rumors and announcements about an upcoming “golfing RPG” started to make the rounds, my interest was immediately piqued. However, I was a little apprehensive of the 16-bit style top-down graphics, especially when trying to wrap my head around playing golf within that context. Regardless, Golf Story was a game I felt I had to try and, upon release, went ahead and downloaded.
The game follows the tale of a man that is seemingly not happy with his life so far and decides to finally go after his dream of becoming a pro golfer.
The game’s introduction sees the protagonist as a child practicing different golf skills with his father; all of it presented in a very “the good old days of golf” kind of way. The streamlined controls and ease of pickup were immediately apparent during this segment. Once all the basic skills are covered, the young protagonist, and the players, are faced with playing their first hole from start to finish.
After completing the first hole, focus shifts to the present; twenty years later. The… (can we call him a “hero”?) … hero is just now arriving back at the same golf course where he used to practice with his father. Having recently gone through a breakup and no father in sight, there is an atmosphere of loneliness about the character that made me immediately curious to know more about his past and where the story will lead him.
What follows is an endearing and extremely quirky journey through differently themed golf courses, each with their own characters and side quests, as the hero becomes a better golfer; striving to make it into the pro tour. And the journey is lengthy, especially if all the side quests are done throughout it. After more than fifteen hours it still feels like I am only about sixty percent through the game’s story.
Not enough can be said about the dialogue and humor in Golf Story. Where some games shoot high and land flat, this golfing RPG keeps the humor cynical with just enough of that anime sprinkle to successfully stick joke after joke after joke. It also brings all the quirky characters to life in a very endearing way. Even the obnoxious or “bad” characters are too lovable to hate, like the female rival that initially treats the player like scum but obviously likes him or the shady club owner that constantly involves the player in deals far more lucrative for himself than the player. Oh, and let us not skip over the past-his-prime coach that has the hots for another trainer and almost burns down his house trying to cook dinner for her!
We simply cannot get enough of this game! Even the golfing portions that usually lack dialogue are funny by just how ridiculous some of the golfing courses are. It all ties together so well.
Like I said, top-down 16-bit golf did not rank high on my interest scale. However, Golf Story has done a great job of making it work. The controls for aiming and adding spin are straight forward, and the user interface shows you guides for the estimated ball trajectory. The power and accuracy controls are the same as most other golfing games: press button to start swing, press again at the desired power level, then press right at the center of the “club face” for accuracy.
One cool detail that Golf Story adds is the ability to aim at spots that would require not swinging the club at max power. The power required to make it close to the new intended target is then marked on the swing gauge. This means that players no longer need to “eyeball” where to stop on the power gauge when they want to shoot shorter than the club they are using. The picture below should help make this more clear:
With the top-down 16-bit perspective, there is one noticeable drawback: there is no way to discern differences in height and slope across the golf course. The user interface tries to help by including a slope gauge right under the wind gauge. But, this only works to a certain degree since the gauge only displays the slope of the current spot reachable by the selected club. The only way for players to get a good feel for the entire fairway or green at any one time is to move the targeting reticle all around and watch how the gauge changes. It is certainly not game breaking, but a nuisance on some of the more complex holes.
At the same time, this approach of rendering everything flat and providing a slope gauge gives the game a surprising edge over 3D rendered golf games: the same golf course can have an almost indefinite amount of slope variations from play to play. This is used to make holes more challenging or force them to be done in severely different ways, and allows the game more options to dictate difficulty beyond just the three different tee-off distances and wind speed.
Littered throughout each golf club are a plethora of NPC’s with speech bubbles hovering above their heads. These signal that the NPC has a challenge or side quest for the player. These side activities range from simple fetch quests to doing entirely alternate versions of a golf course (i.e. tee off from tee 3 to sink in hole 8). The charm of it is how all these quests somehow relate to golf and utilize many of the game’s mechanics to be completed.
One good example is when the player is tasked with fixing some skeletons that have lost their sight. This is done by first collecting eyeballs spread out on the grass across one of the courses and then proceeding to tee off the eyeballs at the different skeletons’ faces. It was mostly just standard golf aiming and swinging, but the odd context made the whole experience unforgettable.
Another less severe example is scavenger quests, where players either follow a hot-and-cold mechanic or a clue to a specific spot and then have to dig treasure chests out of the ground using the special “Digging” sand wedge.
Beyond the single-player story mode, players can access Quick Play. This mode lets them play any course by themselves or with a friend locally, granted it has already been unlocked in single player. Quick Play also offers several settings to fine tune the experience and difficulty, including average wind strength and course slopes.
For those interested in two-player, Golf Story allows the use of one JoyCon per player so no additional controllers are needed to try it out. I played a couple of rounds with a friend and we both enjoyed it. Considering this was my friend’s first time playing a golf game should say a lot about how accessible the game is. Although, the “up and down to change club” and “left and right to aim” directional controls were not intuitive at first and this caused them some frustration.
After playing those couple of rounds and really enjoying it, I was left wishing the game was setup for online play as I could definitely see myself coming back to the game constantly in the future for Quick Play matches against randoms or far away friends. But, I understand Golf Story is very much a single player game and online play was probably out of scope. Not to say that the developer, Sidebar Games, could not add the feature through a patch in the future.
Is Golf Story worth a try? Yes! Anyone who even remotely tolerates golf game mechanics and likes RPG’s should give this game a shot. Even though the story is somewhat simple, its progression, characters, dialogue and general humor are spot on and will keep players coming back to continue their golfing journey. There are also plenty of side quests and a few mini-games that keep the gameplay from becoming monotonous. It truly surprised us at home and there is a chance it might surprise you too.
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