Golf Story is zany, unexpectedly funny, and mechanically sound. Those descriptors aren’t overly exciting on their own, but then again, the same could be said of what constitutes contemporary RPGs; you fetch things, hit other things, and generally do the bidding of others while your heroism goes ignored. Golf Story is essentially an RPG based on mundane, real-world concerns dialed up to the nth degree, and it’s that relatability that makes it much more charming than it sounds on paper.
It’s a not-so-sneaky homage to titles like Mario Golf considering its central conceit: absolutely everything can be solved with a combination of golf clubs, golf balls, and dogged persistence. That’s where the player-character enters–a man who’s lost half his life to a soul-sucking wife and the general indifference of others–and the fun begins. This is your typical redemption story, but instead of saving the world, you’re trying to simply restore order to your otherwise bleak existence in memory of your father. It’s a small-scale situation, but the the stakes feel enormous.
It’s immediately clear that while golf is (quite literally) the name of the game, it’s not the be-all and end-all of this affair. Just like any RPG, you’ll encounter towns of people who need your help, which usually gets old pretty fast. However, Sidebar Games has managed to keep the pall of boredom away by injecting some local humour into the proceedings. For those lucky enough to be putting their feet up in Australia or New Zealand as they read this, good on ya. The jokes, sly nudges, and the meat pies that are prevalent throughout Golf Story are definitely charming signifiers that people Down Under will be familiar with. While you don’t necessarily need to have watched Kangaroo Jack to get a laugh out of “mate” being used as an insult, those comedic touches will mean that little bit more to those already familiar with the vernacular.
Every quest-giver is, in some timeline or other, a verifiable idiot. It feels just like helping out the usual flood of gormless peasants, but there’s a lot more to it than bringing hungry villagers some cheese. Ever wanted to be a single mother’s hero by hitting her son in the face with a golf ball? You’re in luck. Ever wanted to command an entire legion of turtles who exist solely to help you get a hole-in-one? What about raising an army of the dead to defeat a grand wizard? Golf Story takes the traditional plausibility rulebook and throws it entirely out the window, and it’s better for doing so. Golf is unlikely to be considered a high-adrenaline sport by the general public, but throwing in quests that are equal parts mid-life crisis and downright diabolical certainly gets you more mileage out of your drive.
Speaking of driving, there’s a lot of it. Most golf games make you play through courses of increasing difficulty as part of your journey to being the very best, and this is no exception. You’ll spend a lot of time on the golf course, doing some combination of driving, chipping, putting, and internally screaming. It’d be a lie to say that there weren’t some holes that had the potential to try the very limits of human patience, but luckily, those were generally spaced out well enough to not be a deterrent. Swings work on a three-click system: pick your club, pick your power, and pick your precision level. It’s a no brainer as to what the best way to play is: toggle your precision indicator until it shows the distance pay-off that you’re looking for, and make sure that you hit it.
There are other factors to consider too like wind speed, slope, and roaming wildlife who will take any opportunity to get their grubby little hands on your balls. Hitting an elusive albatross (three shots under par, not the giant bird) is really only possible if you manage all the above factors successfully, but you won’t be punished for muddling your way through the nine-hole courses and enjoying the scenery if that’s your cup of tea. Putting seems to be an exercise in futility, since it’s difficult to decipher the slope of the green, but nothing’s stopping you from swapping clubs and chipping your ball straight into the hole once it’s on there, so go hard or go home. If you feel like the story isn’t to your liking, then Quick Play mode allows you to subject yourself to round after round of golf on your favourite course, cutting out the middleman. You can change the default conditions of various courses to make things more challenging, and the best part of it is, you can do all of this with a mate for some local friendly competition.
However, there’s a lot of other things to do in Golf Story, and once you master the basics of hitting a ball, you’ll be free to focus on the other things that make it so charming. The game has an arsenal of gaming and pop culture references that it relies on, and recognising each is rewarding in its own way. Without giving too much away, the fact that you’re tasked with solving a supernatural murder mystery in one breath and launched into a Pacman-esque gathering quest the next would keep most on their toes. It’s a credit that the pacing doesn’t suffer from the inclusion of these in-jokes, often taking the form of mini-games, and if you ever get sick of playing golf, you always have these side quests and bad puns to fall back on.
There are some glitches and bugs that make their presence known every now and again, but encountering something of the game-breaking variety is rare. You may find yourself interacting with new areas and being stuck in a background music loop as the player character becomes unresponsive, or more interestingly, you could find yourself in the dark space between one room and the next, unable to leave until you path through the same doorway multiple times. However, Golf Story’s little issues don’t make it a write-off.
It can take a little while for the narrative to ramp up in Golf Story and for you to feel like you’ve really cultivated the skills of a champion, but based on the sheer scope of what the game delivers, there’s likely something for everyone to enjoy whether their shtick is mini-golfing or terrorising delinquents with frisbees. It has successfully captured the trappings of yesteryear’s RPGs, and the witticisms and idiosyncrasies of the characters you encounter are a great palate cleanser between rounds. Switch has had a swathe of indies hit its eShop recently, but if you’re looking for something that’ll give you satisfaction in terms of an interesting story and a rewarding mechanic, then Golf Story is certainly par for the course.