One would not think that an RPG centered around golf would really make a whole lot of sense, but Camelot managed to nail the idea back in the '90s when it released Mario Golf on the Game Boy Color. Though it’s a rather niche release in the plumber’s past, it clearly inspired the developers of Golf Story to expand on the concept, and honestly, there’s a whole lot to love here.
Golf Story picks up with your main character being taught how to golf by his dad, with an audience of geese to watch his performance, and this works as a nice way of introducing the main mechanics to you. The story then jumps ahead twenty years and sees your character looking to achieve his dream of becoming a professional golfer. The story then takes you on a journey through an increasingly ridiculous array of golf courses in a quest to be the best and to prove yourself to everyone.
One thing that Golf Story absolutely gets right is the charming and witty writing of the characters. Not only does everyone appreciate a good underdog story like this, but there’s a very dry tongue-in-cheek kind of humour that runs through the whole thing that calls to mind the style of EarthBound. Whether it be one of your rivals early on who refuses to actually golf in favor of the “simulator”, or a caveman that repeatedly mistakes your character for a small child, the narrative has a wry, lighthearted style that’ll keep you playing just for the characters, not to mention the great gameplay.
Though golf is central to the whole experience, gameplay is not simply a matter of hitting the green; that’s only a fraction of the experience. The overworld is riddled with things like secret buttons and holes that you can hit with your golf ball which can award you experience points or money, or unlock a secret area. Along with this, NPCs with sidequests are everywhere, and they have a vast array of requests. One might see you trying to land a certain number of balls inside a ring by bouncing the ball at least once off of a turtle, while another might ask you to run around the course under a certain time limit. You never know what’s coming next, and it’s rather impressive how creative the developers can get with quest objectives.
Experience earned from doing activities can be spent on improving various facets of your character’s swing, such as the length or how drastically you can shape the shot. In addition to this, money earned from winning games can be spent on new equipment pieces that add to your stats or bestow special abilities, like increased proficiency in bunkers. It all feeds into a rewarding gameplay loop that keeps you hooked and always wanting more. You explore and do quests so you can improve your character, which then allows you to do more exploration and questing.
Aside from all the RPG trappings, there’s a great golf game in here, too. The mechanics of the golfing itself are simple to pick up and quite arcade-like in nature. You play a little minigame every time you take a shot where you need to stop a slider on a bar in the right place. It gets more nuanced, however, when you use mechanics that allow you to specifically place the ball. You can choose how much power you want to put into the shot on the same trajectory and can also decide where the club connects with the ball, allowing you to add spin. Take into account the slope of terrain and wind, and you’ve got a golfing experience that’s got plenty of depth, but boasts easy-to-pick-up mechanics.
Presentation is nearly as stellar as the gameplay. Sprite work is exactly what you’d expect out of a 16-bit game and there are plenty of colours used in the environments, but there’s little here that will wow you in terms of visuals. Much the same could be said of the soundtrack, which goes for a low-key, jazzy vibe. It goes well with the general atmosphere of Golf Story and is unobtrusive, but there’s not much on offer in the way of catchy or memorable tunes.
Multiplayer also gets some representation here, and its utilized to great effect. Though there isn’t online, you can play with a friend locally in Quick Play — a mode which strips away the story and RPG elements and has you play on the game’s main courses, which are unlocked by progressing the story. Fortunately, split JoyCon multiplayer is supported, and the control scheme translates perfectly to the decreased real estate. Sure, it’s a much less feature-rich mode than the main story, but it’s fun for some quick rounds of golf with a friend and goes well with the broader idea of the Switch. It also illustrates perfectly the depth of the game's golfing mechanics; even with the RPG side removed, Golf Story is a lot of fun.
All told, Golf Story is a surprisingly gripping game, hooking you with fantastic gameplay, loads of content, and a well-written script. This is one that’ll have you coming back for many hours in the story mode alone, and the multiplayer does a good job of expanding on this with even more replayability. We would highly recommend Golf Story to anyone looking for something a little different. There’s a whole lot to love here, and if you’re a fan of RPGs or golf games, this is a must buy.