If you’ve been paying attention then you’ll know that I’ve been looking for games where it doesn’t necessarily matter if you suddenly have to putt the controller down and you can absorb just as easily in tiny slices as well as a great big drive for completion. A little birdie told me that, being essentially turn-based affairs, golf games are a pretty on-par choice that ticks these boxes. Having said that, I’m a fair-way off being considered a golf fan, to the point that I would be considered pretty green when it comes to the rules and nuance of the game. It just so happens that Golf Story had been on my radar for a while; the hook (or draw) here being that it’s all framed in the context of a 16-bit RPG – stroke of genius if you ask me – with the protagonist being introduced as a child cultivating dreams of reaching the top.-Spin on a few years and he’s a young man returning to the game, so determined to chip away at his once boyhood goal that he’s moved house and has been forced to bunk -er… ‘sleep’ close to the golf course whilst those ideas of fame he has to Mull… I … Gan…
…no… no, it’s no use, I can’t do it anymore! Your entire helping of golf puns is in that first paragraph… enjoy…
*Phew!*… it’s nice to be able to type normally again, right, where was I?
So, most of what I said in that first paragraph was true. Golf Story really has been a game on my watchlist for a while, and in real life I’m not a follower of the sport although I have swung a club a few times in my life, and I do enjoy mini-golf which I figure is the same, right? Golf games however I have a bit more experience of with golf on the ZX Spectrum and Greg Norman’s Ultimate Golf (SHARK ATTACK!) on Atari ST occupying some of my earliest gaming memories… heck, I even enjoyed late night sessions of golf on Super Monkey Ball 2 for GameCube with my housemate some years ago. I think my wife was entirely baffled that I’ve been happily enjoying strolling the various fairways and greens of Golf Story, but something about the precision and intricacy of each hole seems to light up a special part of my brain as I consider how best to approach each puzzle, weighing up the merits of each approach and daring to take challenging lines for an elusive stroke gained or lost.
… but of course Golf Story isn’t just a golf game. Presented in a delightful 16-bit RPG style the player steps in to the spiked shoes of our protagonist, a budding amateur desperate to get noticed and make it to the pro-tour. Along the way he meets a varied cast with each, in true RPG form, having their own motives and neat backstory. The light plot is a fun and quirky way to drive the game forward from challenge to challenge as our hero encounters greedy promoters, side-quest laden grounds keepers, and of course the pro tour prejudice against an unproven amateur. The game lets the player loose across eight different courses that are gradually unlocked throughout the story connected by an overworld map. Each course has a distinct theme including mountain top, beach, and snowy wonderland with their own characteristic quirks and hazards.
Although not massive, the open-world approach makes it a great pick-up and play option. Each course has the normal selection of side-quest laden bystanders ready with a challenge or quest. Most of these involve some specific golfing prowess, however there’s just enough variety with treasure hunting, disc golf, and the odd race to keep it interesting. On top of this there are plenty of secrets to unlock usually, because the player can tee up a ball anywhere, by hitting a golf ball at things.
… oh, and of course you can play golf…
Story mode provides a variety of solo, matchplay, and tournaments to work through, but there is also a multiplayer mode (that I’ve yet to convince my wife to play) and once unlocked you can go back and replay each course at your leisure just to improve your best score card. Now, I’ve probably already convinced you that I’m no golfing-er-expert-pro?.. whatever… but despite its retro-stylings, Golf Story packs some quite involved golfing gameplay to keep things interesting. Hitting the ball is a standard power/accuracy timing skill test but the different unlockable club sets tweak the speed and accuracy needed to land that sweet shot. On top of the usual club selection, the player can also pick the shot type, vary the hit point on the ball to shape the flight, add topspin or backspin, enter a precision power mode, and even unlock a few sneaky ‘special’ shots. Environmentally there are the usual smattering of terrains, hazards, wind, and slope on the greens. And you know what? It plays really well! Nailing a chip on to a green with backspin so that it rolls back in to the hole, shaping a shot to make the best use of the wind, or playing tactically in to a bunker are just some of the things that give me that warm fuzzy feeling of satisfaction and it’s clear that the game has been thoughtfully designed to give the player enough options with each hole to create those moments. Throughout it all are some light fantasy elements that serve to keep things interesting from bouncing balls off the backs of turtles to troublesome moles that will reposition your ball (usually from fairway to bunker!).
So if all of that sounds like your cup-of-tee (sorry) that it’s a pretty solid recommendations from me especially considering the lower than premium price-point. I guess my only word of warning is that it is a golf game with lite RPG elements… rather than an RPG with golf elements. Anyone hoping for an epic RPG plot, character progression and in depth skill-tree progression is going to be disappointed… I guess, likewise anyone who is looking for hyper-realistic golf simulation with genuine putting behaviour influenced by each blade of grass is also going to be disappointed.
… for the rest of us who want something casual and cute, but engaging, Golf Story is available now on Nintendo Switch!