Ahhh sports. Mind and body become one, and years of dedication and finesse are put to the test in a variety of events. The event is golf, a test of patience, precision, and persistence. You are Tiger Woo…whoops, wrong game. This is Golf Story, a goofy game that takes the sport to new heights with its highly impressive writing, fun and casual gameplay, and well-constructed story line. This is without a doubt the sports adventure game you never knew you needed, and a must have on the Switch. After 20 hours of swinging my way to the top, Golf Story is cemented as one of the best games on the Switch to date.
If I learned anything from Happy Gilmore, it’s that the road to trophies and hilariously oversized checks is paved with blood, sweat, and tears. If you are a fan of that classic comedy, you will surely appreciate Golf Story’s premise, as you take control of a young up and comer who everyone doubts. From humble beginnings, your player finally decides to buckle down and chase his dreams, against his estranged wife’s wishes. He heads back to Wellworn Groves, the place where it all started, and the place where his dad first taught him how to swing a club. Now years later, it is under new management and looking a bit scrappy to say the least. Looking to make a name for himself, he sets out to find a coach willing to train him. This is just the start to a surprisingly long adventure, one filled with oddities and birdies alike.
The basics of the game are very much inspired by GOLF on the NES, and it follows a similar camera angle. The game is played from a top down perspective, looking visually similar to a classic Pokémon or Legend of Zelda title. The gameplay follows the bar-style power/accuracy measurement system that is seen in many golfing games, which I prefer to any other style. It’s a start-stop-stop again method that tests your quick fingers and timing alike. It works well, and though a retro game in appearance, it has all the details and finesse of a modern golf game. There are a variety of clubs, textures, and weather elements that all play into your game, and you will have to pay attention to these details if you want to be up to par. Everything you would want in a golf game is here, from wind elements, well-structured courses (eight unique ones at that!), to backspins and more! It is every bit as professional as the real life game and plays as such, but it is the not so serious and not so professional aspects that really separate Golf Story from the crowd.
Going into this game, I had no idea that throughout my career I’d be tasked with fighting the undead, flying drones, stealing from bandits, witnessing generational rap battles, solving potential murders, finding fossils or any of the other non-related golf stuff that occurred. IT WAS GREAT. The team at Sidebar has a great sense of humor, and really knows how to run a story using their comedic abilities and out-there notions to make the concept of golf not so cut and dry. Their integration of the imaginative made the game extra special. Ball stealing birds and moles littered some courses, while giant turtles and killer crocs waded the waters of others. The use of these specialty hazards made sure that the player could not approach every course the same while integrating that special uniqueness that Golf Story carries throughout.
The spectacular writing also attributes to that uniqueness and clear sense of comedy. Like I mentioned, I witnessed a rap battle between old and young, and the battle was over who deserved to play on a course and who could play it better. It was freaking brilliant! There are plenty of great snippets of dialog throughout. At one point, while trying to show me up, a character proclaims to read an audiobook per week. A duo of TV sports personalities constantly undermine you pre and post tournaments, with lines like “Can you believe what we have just witnessed here Mike?” being followed up with “Not at all!” following you winning the tournament. The cast of colorful and fittingly stereotypical characters keeps the momentum rolling. Your coach is old news and does not think you are actually talented, a fellow student is openly jealous of you but secretly one of your only real friends, your wife wants you to win so she can snag half your earnings in the divorce and support her new beau who runs a cellphone shop, and the owner of your home course is a cheating, no-good, sleaze-ball. There is also a pro named Max Yards who serves as your rival, and if that name does not speak for itself, I do not know what does. The characters never grow old, and you could expect to get to know them quite well across your 15-20 historic career.
While I may have mentioned that the game has a retro aesthetic, I did not want to leave you undersold. The attention to detail and variety of areas present is nothing short of impressive. Sandy dunes, grassy fields, snow-capped peaks and even graveyards are all here for you to explore. Each has its own shops with new gear, secret collectibles, and plenty of side missions that earn you cash and experience while also training you. Again, it looks like a classic Pokemon title, but that is an entirely good thing, as it has a varied landscape just like you would expect from a title of that nature. The attention to detail in these individual areas is superb, especially in the sound structure. I played a lot with the different textures of the game, walking in snow, sand, paved areas, and grass just to hear all the different effects present from hitting the ball on these surfaces. Each surface had a unique noise which helped keep me further engaged. Golf Story is also home to some of the best usage of the Joycons dynamic vibrations to date. The joycons make vibrations that almost make you feel what is happening to the ball, and you can pretty much hear its effects too. From bouncing thumps, to holes in one, you can literally feel the motions. There is a vibration effect for when the ball goes off a cliff, and it makes this highly distinct falling noise. This is by far the most impressive use of the Joycons to date that I have had the pleasure of coming across. It is damn brilliant.
Golf Story also has some light RPG elements that make playing more rewarding. Each task or event completed earns you experience points, which in turn helps level you up. Upon leveling up, you are granted 5 points to allocate to five stats: Power, Purity, Strike, Ability, and Spin. One issue to be aware of is that the more you raise your power, the more all four other stats decrease, so it’s all about balance. There is also different gear to equip, though admittedly not as much as I would like to see. I wish there was more gear as well as some personal customization options like new clothes and such. Not a necessity, but it would have been nice to put some of these funds to good use.
As near perfect as this game is, it does has some flaws, most of which are technical. I had several bugs hinder my travels at different points. The earliest was a bed bug in a very literal sense. Upon waking up, your player would be stuck in-between his bed and night stand, causing you to have to back out to the main menu for a resolution. Another frequently occurring one is a black line that will randomly grace your screen. While not performance hindering, it is a bug none-the-less. I also had others, like random crashes back to the main menu as well as chat bubbles randomly popping up on people who had no tasks left. Most of these are known, and if they haven’t been patched, they are sure to be soon.
Golf Story is one of the best Switch games available, hands down. In an increasingly growing market, you cannot afford to let this one get lost in the bunker. If you are a fan of non-traditional or traditional sports games, adventures, and all around great writing, there is something here for you that begs to be played. It is one of the most impressive outings I have seen on the hybrid handheld yet, and is currently my most played game on the Switch, with me having poured in 20 hours before reviewing. I absolutely loved Golf Story, from start to finish, and if you are eager enough, I implore you to head out to the green and give it a shot for yourself.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10
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