Golf Story does something I didn’t think was possible: it takes the most mundane sport known to our universe and turns it into something fun… when it actually gets around to letting you golf. You play as an average dude with floppy hair that wants nothing more than to be a golf champion. Make no mistake: there is far more story than actual golf in this indie title from Sidebar Games.
The game starts with a short flashback sequence that acts as a miniature tutorial for the game’s basic mechanics: line up shots and hit the ball in the hole. It is golf, after all. Where Golf Story stands out is in the presentation of its wacky characters.
During that flashback sequence, you’ll come across a young kleptomaniac named Lucky. When the game fast-forwards to the present day, Lucky has become the owner of Wellworn Grove, a dilapidated golf course that the main character represents in future tournaments. You’ll meet a couple other main characters at Wellworn Grove: the Coach and Lara. The Coach occasionally offers up some helpful tidbits, but mostly spends his time ripping the main character for how bad he is at golf. Lara is essentially your rival and tries to best you at everything — from hitting targets to mowing the grass.
That’s not to say all the characters in Golf Story are charming, however. Overall, I found the portrayal of female characters in Golf Story to be troubling. For example, the player tries to get away from their wife to pursue golf (the old “ball and chain” trope) and she later appears when there’s a chance that the player may win some money from a tournament. Lara, the player’s rival that I mentioned earlier, has her moments, but her whole world only seems to revolve around what the player character is doing. Similarly, Lara’s female coach is entranced by Coach for no particular reason. It seems that every main female character in Golf Story is not only obsessed with, but exists only to impress their male counterparts.
My favorite character, though, is the Wellworn Grove greenskeeper. Lucky asks you to help him get rid of the park’s mole rat problem, and it quickly turns into a quest involving hitting golf balls at the undead. It’s moments like these where Golf Story truly excels; unfortunately, these moments are padded by a little bit too much busy work.
There are eight different courses in Golf Story, and true to the RPG genre, each course has a myriad of unique problems. You have to solve these problems for the golfers before you can actually play a round. These problems, at their core, are all fundamentally the same: hit the ball to a specified zone. It may be thematically different — for example, a bird snatches your ball instead of a fish jumping up to eat it — but they are mechanically the same.
These little tasks are fun early on because they give you a handle on the game’s golfing mechanics, which are very solid. It’s after the third course at a little over five hours into the game where it begins to get tedious, and that doesn’t really change as you continue on. A great example of this is the Oak Manor sequence where you have to smash pumpkins, mine minerals, hit balls to gators, and activate lawn mowers before you can finally golf on the course.
Each of these you clear will award you with experience points, and each level you obtain allows you to adjust five statistics that affect your golfing ability: power, purity, strike, ability, and spin. Increasing power will let you drive the ball further, but it’ll drop the other stats. What I tend to do is increase power only after spending a couple level’s worth of points on the other stats, mainly focusing on strike, which impacts accuracy. I would love to see a Golf Story 2 with deeper character customization and progression options, because it’s really light in Golf Story.
I wish that Golf Story had more actual golf in it. That’s a really weird thing to type, but the golfing mechanics in Golf Story are just so well done that I found myself savoring every chance I got to play a round versus the game’s wacky characters.
It’s all about timing — after you’ve lined up your shot, you have to hit the A button to match up your power mark and your accuracy mark as best you can while also accounting for wind and grass slope. The courses are about as colorful as the characters, too. Wellworn Grove is relatively tame, but the second course you visit is prehistoric-themed and one later in the game is a frigid tundra.
These themed courses have their own hazards to avoid, too. The prehistoric course, Lurker Valley, contains a lot of sand and tar that your ball will get stuck in. It also has turtles that’ll hit your ball further after completing a quest on their behalf (which is required as part of a lengthy sequence in order to actually play a round there). Some of the hazards are essentially clones, though. Birds at Cheekybeak Peak and mole rats at Wellworn Grove both take your ball and place it elsewhere, for example. Even then, I think there’s enough variety between the courses. The main problem, in my view, is that Golf Story spends too much time on busy work and not enough time letting you play.
Online competitive play, whether in the form of head-to-head matches or tournaments, would have been a great addition. Online leaderboards at the very least would have been neat, although I’m not sure how realistic that is for a small indie like Sidebar Games. There is a quick-play mode that lets you tee up against your friends in local multiplayer. You can’t play against AI in this mode, which is odd.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of the game for this review.