Right off the bat, Golf Story had me sold on its concept. If you missed the RPG modes in Mario Tennis and Mario Golf games from last decade, this title is here to pick that role-playing charisma back up. In a day and age where indie developers expand on ideas that were once active selling points in games gone by, Golf Story continues this movement of love by building on a concept that’s already ripe for revisiting. The result is perhaps one of my favorite indie titles to appear on the Nintendo Switch so far.
The story reminds me a little of the older Paper Mario games; you have the basic overarching objective. Yet there are a lot of smaller, quirky parts in it that serve as their own individualized stories in a way. In this case, you play as a guy who strives to be the best golfer he can be. He wishes to become one of the pros. Along the road, he would train with a coach, make deals with club owners, tee off against rivals, and join forces with the undead. You know. Typical golfer goals.
What makes Golf Story‘s narrative engaging is that it personifies its characters and locations nicely. Sometimes, even the slimmest premise can shine with great character interactions, and Golf Story delivers on that front. It sometimes even demonstrates character development through the actual gameplay – notably when one of the rivals goes from being pretty bad at golf to having trained enough to possibly give your own skills a run for your money. I also love the goofier characters, like the scientists that run the indoor mini golf course. This game got a lot of genuine laughs out of me; the dialogue is witty and well-written all around. There are even a good amount of successful visual gags.
And boy, how about those visuals! Golf Story is a pixelated paradise. The landscapes are wildly rich with life, which is amazing given how large they can be. It makes me think a lot of Wayforward’s pixel art. The quality of the details implemented everywhere gives the locales a clear identity as well. This can also apply to the many NPCs scattered around the game. Although there are obviously reuses of sprites for various characters (Tends to be a given for an RPG), they are diverse enough for you to know which is in, say, the area by a certain bridge and so on.
Interestingly, Golf Story also makes use of a lot of hand-drawn graphics. They don’t directly co-exist with the sprite-based visuals in-game, but they do make up the game’s dialogue box, HUD, and menu graphics. I think they work well enough in which they don’t clash with the sprites. The presentation as a whole is generally very polished.
Contrary to the sprite-based style, the sound effects are more realistic sounding and aren’t held back by any limitations to imitate the 16-Bit era. It’s probably for the best; I love hearing the golf ball get struck by my driver. It’s always fun to hear the ball go straight into the hole. Other sounds have a click-y feel to them as well, such as when you’re progressing in a smaller challenge.
I also like the music variety in the game. Each major location in the game has its own audible flavor (complementing their visual flavors, I may add). The soundtrack is atmospheric, but features melodies that can stick with you after a while. My favorite has to be the jazzy piece from Wellworn Grove. If anything, I feel like Tidy Park could tone its bagpipes down a little.
Golf Story is kind of what the title implies. It’s a golfing game that happens to have a story centered around it. In the RPG portions, the player can walk or run around the lush environments. There are NPCs to talk to, side-quests and missions to take on, and one can even decide to tee off anywhere he or she wishes! There’s a neat sense of freedom to the basic mechanics at the player’s disposal. For no reason at all, pressing X allows you to throw golf balls. You can hit people with them for some funny reactions. The developers didn’t have to program that, but they did. The fact they did goes to show how much effort they put into crafting this experience. The only nitpick I have is that – in a similar fashion to Sonic Mania – there are some super-small bugs that show up every now and then. Minor things that could easily be fixed, but nevertheless I thought I’d address it since the folks at SideBar Games could probably go in to patch them out.
Not only do the locales stand out by aesthetics, but there are some gameplay elements that are specific to each one. In Oak Manor, for example, there’s a golf course where you can only strike the ball from the tee every hole. There may also be NPCs in other places that ask for fetching an amount of objects, or obstacles on courses that affect the golf play in unique ways. For example, turtles in the water can be bounced on by the ball for extra yards. There are even a couple instances where the player would get to play mini golf and frisbee-I mean disc golf. Only a couple, though; I personally wish there were at least some more mini/disc golf courses to play. The potential for elaborate courses involving them is bigger than their presence in the game.
So how is the golfing in Golf Story? Excellent stuff! It takes cues from oldschool golf video games by having a simple layout to learn, but with enough depth for players to try to master. You aim, analyze the wind and slope, select a club to use, and time your shot using a meter for determination. The basic result is a fun throwback to the days of playing Golf on the Game Boy. What surprised me about Golf Story, however, is just how much of it there is. There are a lot of courses, and they have their own subtle challenges in the mix. Once they are played in the main Story Mode, you can select them individually via Quick Play (They even have adjustable settings, including an option for a two-player V.S. mode) and play this as you would any golf game.
In fact, Golf Story as a whole is a huge bang for your buck; my Story Mode time clocked in at 15 and a half hours, and that’s not counting all the missions. That much content for a $14.99 game is a freaking steal! It could have been less than half its size and I would still praise it for being a great game. As is, it’s perhaps the best golf video game I’ve ever played as well as my favorite indie on the Switch.