Game Review: Golf Story
You’ve gone and spilt golf all over my Earthbound…
Golf Story, from Australian developers Sidebar Games, is one of the most bizarre (yet oddly charming and self-aware) games I have played in a long time. If you ever played the isometric JRPG classic “Earthbound” on the SNES and thought
“This game is ok, but what would make it REALLY great is if it were set on a golf course”
Then I may have found just the game for you…
This game is absurd.
There is no other way to put it – It truly is absurd. However the way it fully commits to its own weirdness, and frequently pokes fun at both itself, the sport its depicting and the tropes of video games in general, is what lends it the charm that makes it all so endearing.
The story is simple; You are a regular guy who throws his life away in order to attempt to become a pro golfer and reclaim the fond memories he had of spending time golfing with his father as a child, which you play through in the beginning. From there you spiral into a world of pro-sports, corruption, political intrigue, ghosts, crocodiles, gardening and probably some golf… Probably.
The game is a top-down, 16-bit isometric JRPG. It mimics the look and feel of the SNES classic Earthbound almost to a fault. The game walks the line between loving homage and total rip-off very closely, but to be fair – You can do a lot worse than being accused of ripping off Earthbound. Much like the title I am comparing it to; You walk around the semi-open world interacting with characters, rummaging through garbage bins for change and doing quests – Most of which are bizarre or even mundane tasks that are all somehow solved with golf. The game wears its absurdity like a badge of honour and revels in keeping you guessing.
Links to the past
You can drop a golf ball anywhere you want in the world and tee up. This is just as hilarious as it sounds and you would be surprised just how many of the game’s problems are solved by belting a golf ball into something (or someone). You can also just throw golf balls at things, because why not?
The game of golf itself is ironically the weakest part of the whole package. Mechanically it is very simple, playing much like Mario golf on the classic Gameboy. You chose your club, and the direction you wish to hit, apply spin and angle and then hit the A button. A moving bar will appear which moves all the way to the left, then back again. The goal here is to press A to assign distance and then A again to assign accuracy. Simple enough, but it never feels consistent. Fine tuning shots it awkward and finicky and the view while playing is downright awful. You can only pan the camera a little bit, and zoom out a little bit, so you are unable to look ahead in the course to see what you are up against, making planning for shots on a long course pure guesswork.
Oh, and those annoying gophers who will steal your perfectly placed shots and move the golf balls to a random location can burn in the 7th layer of hell for all eternity.
Doesn’t reinvent the wheel… Or ball?…
Thankfully, as I mentioned before, golf is the least of your concerns.
The game’s overworld is full of previously touched upon side-quests and mini-challenges which give you XP and level you up, giving you upgrade points to spend on improving your golf game. You also earn money that you use on quests and to buy new clubs and each location is distinct from the last with various problems to solve, secrets to find and quests to embark upon – Which in turn allows you to earn enough XP and cash to buy upgrades and new gear so that you can take on progressively harder segments and repeat. Despite its Golfy exterior; this the typical 16-bit JRPG cycle that you have all come to know and love. I even came to think of the round of golf you play at the end of each area as the “dungeon” segment before the final boss, like in Zelda.
One thing unique to the game that I really like is that the speech bubbles themselves have personality. Text animates, changes size or font and the bubbles themselves even move – Like say, tilting the bubble to the side as someone trails off into silence. Also worth noting is that this game has excellent usage of the HD rumble. Almost everything has some kind of tactile feedback; From the click of a button to the smack of a club against a golf ball. It’s subtle but noticeable. Playing another game directly after Golf Story will feel unresponsive and lacking feedback somehow.
Oh – And the game has a 2 player local mode where you can just play some golf against your friends. It’s not special, but its really nice they threw it in there!
Rough around the edges
It is not all perfect. I found myself cringing more often than not at the dialogue, which is written in Aussie slang. For those of you who have not lived in Australia, you may find this lends the game a certain charm. To someone like me who has spent some years there, seeing everyone “talk” like a “bogan” really pulled me out of the situation. I compared this to if Americans played it and all the text was written to emulate a deep southern accent; “YEEHAW Pardner! Leets play us some uh that thar gawlf n sterff”.
The game is also surprisingly buggy. I had quite a few lockups as well as got stuck in the environment more than once. Nothing game breaking, but still irritating. Hopefully, the devs clean them up with a patch soon!
All in all, though, I do recommend you try this game. Even with its flaws, i was fully engaged with the world, smiling at its own in-jokes despite myself and just overall having a good time. You don’t need to know a thing about golf at all to enjoy this weird, quirky and original little Nintendo Switch exclusive, and for only 19€ it’s well worth your time and money.