Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 9/5/2019 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Golf Story is a unique sort of game, especially in today’s gaming landscape. It’s a sports game – golf, specifically, as the name suggests – but it’s a story drive sports RPG. That’s what’s relatively unusual about it. That sounds to may like a bit of a tough thing to pull off, but I gotta admit, Golf Story did it superbly. I never thought I’d find a sports game with a compelling story let alone one that also has well-done RPG mechanics, but lo and behold, here it is, and it’s a Switch exclusive, no less.
You play as some dude who decides to be a professional golfer to make his presumably dead dad proud of him…or something. The “why” of his little quest wasn’t explained as thoroughly as I might have liked, but regardless of why, he heads back to his old childhood golf course to work on his game and start working his way up to the pro tour. His first step on this road to golfing betterment is to convince the old man serving as the course’s official coach to give him lessons.
So the actual gameplay is pretty reminiscent of Earthbound to me if you swap out the JRPG combat with golf matches and challenges. Some characters will have you hit a ball into a certain area X number of times, some folks will have you sink a series of challenge holes, some will flat out challenge you to a best-5-out-of-9 match, but it’s all about golf. When you finish a challenge or play a round of golf on your own, you’re rewarded with experience and money. When you level up, you can upgrade stats like your power, accuracy, etc. With the money, you can buy better clubs from the various courses’ pro shops to get bonuses like a higher loft, a lower loft, a farther drive, etc.
As far as golf mechanics go, it’s not as intensely simulator-esque as some of the more realistic golf games are. You still have to take wind and slope into account, but it’s not nearly as brutal as some of the Tiger Woods PGA games can be with wind and slope. There are a handful of different golf courses in the game most of which culminate in a tournament. To win the tournament, you have place first; second or third-place finishes don’t cut it, and not even tieing for first is good enough. For most of them, this isn’t too tough. That changes when you get to the professional tournament at the end of the game. That one is BRUTAL. You have to average par at the MINIMUM on each hole, and these holes don’t play around. Narrow fairways surrounded by water, high winds, obnoxious slopes, and merciless AI opponents all make it so that you have ZERO margin for error in this tournament. At this point in the game, it honestly started feeling more frustrating than fun which is a total 180 to how the game had felt to me up until this point.
Visually, the game takes a retro aesthetic with an even-more-retro looking mini-game called “Galf.” I know a lot of folks really seemed to enjoy that minigame, but it just felt like a mediocre NES game to me. Like, why would I want to play a bad golf game within a good golf game? I’d rather just keep playing the good golf game. But hey, it’s there if subpar minigames are your cup of tea. The music is a really nice touch, though. It’s lively and cheerful in the bright courses, foreboding on the haunted themed course, and intense when you’re trying to sink a putt on the green. The whole soundtrack sounds great and perfectly fits the action and atmosphere of the game. The game has a couple of bugs, most noticeably an issue I encountered a couple of times (mainly on the last course) where my ball would land on what was clearly a bridge or fairway but splash as if it had hit water and count as if I had landed in a water hazard. Super annoying on a course that’s already REALLY tough, but it wasn’t a common issue, so it’s workable.
Golf Story was a definite surprise hit for me. From the reviews, I knew it would be good, but since I’m not a sports person in general and ESPECIALLY not a golf person, I really wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it going in. I found myself unable to put down the controller, though, as I had to see what the next course would be like, who the next opponent would be, how difficult the next challenge would be. If you’re into golf games or a Switch enthusiast, you NEED to check this game out given that it’s exclusive to Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid juggernaut, but even if you’re just somewhat curious about a story-driven sports game like I was, it’s totally worth checking out. I promise that you won’t regret it.