“Goofy Pants Encouraged, But Not Required” Golf Story Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - October 08, 2017
“Goofy Pants Encouraged, But Not Required” Golf Story Review

My biggest complaint about Golf Story is that it forces me to find a new way to describe classic sports games like the Game Boy Mario Golf and Mario Tennis titles. Thanks to Golf Story, a new 16-bit adventure from SideBar Games, traditional sports games with a heavy focus on player stats, attributes, and progression are no longer the best description of the genre of a “sports RPG.” Golf Story, on the other hand, is a game that is based mostly around the idea of playing golf, both in terms of narrative and actual gameplay, but doesn’t actually rack up very much of its play time through the actual act of golfing. As a result, it’s very much a “sports RPG,” that is, an RPG framed and heavily based upon a sport, rather than something like Everybody’s Golf, a sports game with an RPG-like sense of progression.

At a glance, Golf Story looks very much like the simple-but-tricky overhead 2D golf titles of yesteryear, such as Mario Golf on Game Boy Color, SNK’s Neo Turf Masters, or HAL’s Hole-in-One Golf for the Super Nintendo. At the same time, it also looks like the most popular, contemporary-styled RPGs of the same era, such as Earthbound and Pokemon. Of these two things, it is much more of the latter, in the sense that the majority of the game involves walking around, talking to NPCs, accepting quests and completing them, sometimes through the act of playing golf. Although this may disappoint the select few who would buy the game hoping for the chance to revisit the classic games that Golf Story gets the meat of its gameplay from, the balance that emerges out of the coexistence of quirky, almost self-aware RPG tropes and old-school three-click golf is much better off by leaning towards the charm and humor allowed by the RPG story and mechanics.

Looking at the golf mechanics first, there really isn’t anything wrong with how Golf Story prepares you to go out on the course. A familiar three-click swing system is as simple as it gets and very easy to pick up even if you’ve never played a game with one before, and it’s extremely forgiving and easy to read the whole way through. The only tough part of the system is that it’s just not very precise, although that can benefit players both ways at mostly any point in the game — it’s as easy to luck your way into sinking an approach shot as it is tough to read the vaguely depicted green undulations that may come later on in the game, so like Happy Gilmore, you should just try to get the ball in one shot every time. This would seem really frustrating if it ever felt like you had to be great at the game to progress. Instead, outside of a few shot challenges here and there (which are usually the most fun part of the game, and make up the majority of the side quests as well), moving the story along has much more to do with knowing where to go and who to talk to than it does winning tournaments or setting course records like it would in a proper sports game. This isn’t to say that there aren’t improvements to be made in the game or techniques to learn, as there are both nuances you’ll start to learn that separate Golf Story’s feel from similar games, as well as stats to boost by completing challenges, it’s just that being bad at golf is something that Golf Story doesn’t always hold against you.

On the other hand, Golf Story really grooves along as a fun little pseudo-epic tale inspired by great and funny classic RPG adventures like the Mario RPGs and, of course, Earthbound. The premise of the game itself, a young, plucky amateur looking to do his dad proud by becoming great at the activity they used to share, is the foundation of countless classics, and while simply adding golf to the mix doesn’t automatically garner it bonus points, the way in which the characters, the locales, and the game of golf itself is presented is so incredibly charming that just about anybody can pick up Golf Story and have a tough time putting it down. Characters like the Coach, who is your player’s only pathway to the pros despite being exhausted and uninvested in training young golfers, and the greenskeeper who brings you along on espionage missions to study the grass at better courses produce plenty of chuckles and sly grins along the way and keep the game moving while being only a small part of the cast of characters.

On top of meeting new characters and traveling to new courses, Golf Story also keeps players interested with loads of fun side-attractions that spin the otherwise standard golf formula of the gameplay and help it blend better with the interesting characters and courses, including disc golf, foot races, and mini golf in addition to different style of each course’s terrain and wildlife. For example, the prehistoric-styled Lurker Valley course has tar pits in addition to bunkers to add to the amount of hazards, as well as friendly turtles that hang out in designated areas of the water hazards that you can bank your shots off of. It’s a similar course design to something you might see in Mario Golf, and works its way into your play style through an effective pattern of learning their effects through side quests and challenges, and utilizing them at your leisure during the more straightforward rounds of golf to liven things up.

Even with its unique combo of golf and role-playing adventures, Golf Story doesn’t break any molds of gaming or create a new genre — it merely clarifies the language that we might use to describe the style of sports games or RPGs that are similar to it. It’s almost deceptive in a way, hardly managing to appear, at face value, to be anything more than a golf game with a story slapped over it to link courses together, and turning out to be just the opposite: an RPG that links different towns together under the guise of courses, and attempts to solve the majority of its inhabitants problems not with a sword, but a golf ball. It packs all this in at a fairly short length, coming in at about 15 hours — about half of what many RPGs usually shoot for — but at only a $15 price tag, making it well worth it, even for those still embroiled in Splatoon or Mario+Rabbids instead of waiting on the holiday releases to get going. At this point, it’s probably one of the best games on the eShop, simply for packing everything great downloadable titles often do into a single game. A cheap price point, addictive gameplay, and a short, sweet campaign that can be completed once and feel like a great investment of your money and time… even if you’re not a golf fan.



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He is a video game staff writer and dreamed of being a video game as a young boy. Then somebody told him that you can't really do that, so he compromised by doing a bunch of stuff related to that, playing video games, reading about video games, writing about video games, working at a video game store, and all those good nerdy things. Aside from video games, he's also a dork of all trades, with an interest in heavy metal music, wrestling, sports, and Magic the Gathering.
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