The Nintendo Switch has been coming out swinging with a deluge of delightful Indies and AAA games, with even more coming on the horizon. One of it’s most recent successes is a golf-themed RPG called Golf Story, an offbeat mix of Mario Golf for Game Boy Color with the aesthetic of a 16-bit RPG that proves strangely addicting, ultimately making for one of the most endearing games of the year.
Golf Story places you in the shoes of a young man who ditches his life to become a pro golfer. After your girlfriend leaves you, you set out to find a coach, win some tournaments, and do whatever needed to make it to the pros.
It’s a fairly basic ‘plucky outsider comes out on top’ story, but the characters, plot twists, and dialogue are anything but basic. Golf Story’s narrative is where the game shines brightest, delivering hilarious one liners, goofy characters, and campy plot twists that never seem to get old over the game’s 20 hour campaign. Whether you’re squashing an undead uprising with golf balls, rescuing a kid from an alligator infested lake, or even watching a bunch of old timers free style battle the local ruffians, the plot points are equally amusing and always serve to take you down an new and unexpected path.
As far as gameplay goes, Golf Story ’s golf game is solid. Like most golf games, you hit a button to start your hit meter then time your presses to control the strength and angle of your hit. The system is simple and easy to understand on the surface, but as you delve in to the ball angle, stroke length, wind strength and other factors, the gameplay shows an amount of depth that keeps you easily engaged and makes rounds of quick play continually enjoyable. Each course is populated with its own obstacles and pitfalls, adding to the fun and variety you’ll encounter from hole to hole. The game also gives you the option to drop a ball and tee up anywhere on the course, which allows you to search for secrets, take aim at NPCs, or just create your own version of the course.
If you’re looking for something extra, there are a handful of mini games you’ll encounter throughout the Golf Story, ranging from RC Car racing to disc golf and stealth missions. The mini games are short but make for some of the most enjoyable moments of the game and really help to add a layer of surprise and earnestness to Golf Story that is absent in most games.
Golf Meets Skill Trees
Golf Story’s other big selling point is its RPG backbone. While it’s definitely not a dungeon crawler or a grind fest, Golf Story does have most of the genre mainstays like leveling up, skill points, side quests, and battles (if you consider a nine hole competition a battle). Calling it an RPG-lite is probably a more accurate statement as the role playing serves more to assist the narrative than anything else. For example, side quests allow for a channel to further explore the world, develop your character, and encounter mini narratives within the larger story. Side quests in Golf Story are plentiful and generally fun, as NPCs pepper themselves across each course, ready to send you off on all sorts of errands in return for money and some experience points. Leveling up in Golf Story, on the other hand, adds a sense of progress but not much else. Your trait improvements don’t seem to actually affect your golf skills very much, and it’s not 100% clear exactly what the traits do.
Earning new gear, on the other hand, allows you to improve and tweak your arsenal with clubs that allow you to hit out of puddles better or curve your puts, for example. This casual approach fits the game well, pairing nicely with its casual sports nature to create a product that doesn’t take itself too seriously while urging you to delve further into it.
The game is also a delight visually. Character sprites run around a bright and beautiful world, with each zone characterized by the course’s theme. There are eight courses in total, each with a different terrain and core obstacle type that you’ll need to overcome, ranging anywhere from the trailer park course to a haunted course constructed by a ghost.
Everything about the game is highly stylized too. The dialogue pops up in dynamic text boxes with finely tuned vibrations, both of which do a lot to enhance the experience. It seems like a simple thing, but the vibration in this game is one of the only times since getting a rumble pack for N64 or shooting guns in Destiny that I’ve actively thought about vibration and its role as an actual factor of the game. Make sure to leave the vibration on when the game prompts you at the beginning. It’s well worth it.
With really no downsides, Golf Story is exactly what the Switch needs right now—a smart, lovable, and addicting game that fits the console mission perfectly. It works beautifully at home, but truly shines as a portable experience, especially when you can do VS. golf games against your friends on the go. The story is enjoyable and the sports core of the game is novel, and while the RPG elements may not do it for hardcore genre devotees, they work to create a laidback and heartwarming gaming experience that I’d love to see played out in a football, soccer, or any other sporting game.
And maybe most importantly, you don’t need to like golf to enjoy this game. I personally couldn’t dislike the sport more yet I found myself constantly thinking about getting back on the virtual green and beating the next NPC dumb enough to take me on.