Golf Story was, for many, a required buy for their Nintendo Switch in 2017. Nice pixel art, paired with the merge of RPG and golf mechanics, made better by wacky, absurdist humor? Golf Story received tons of acclaim. As of this writing, Sidebar Games is enjoying a second surprise release, this time on the Japan eShop.
For me, after I finally left the world of Super Mario Odyssey behind, I downloaded Golf Story. And yes, while I am having a great time driving down fairways and chipping out of bunkers, my joy is in spite the rest of the game.
The actual golf mechanics themselves are wonderful. Check the layout of the hole. Select the corresponding club. Aim around obstacles. Account for wind. Tap a button according to the slider bar to determine power and accuracy. Move on to the next hole. I’ve enjoyed every single time I’ve teed up in Golf Story, whether it was to win a tournament or to thaw out a frozen caddie.
What hasn’t been as enjoyable, I’ll admit, is the rest of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks wonderful from a visual standpoint. The pixel art is lovely, and it’s use of the Joy-Con’s rumble is very welcome. (More games should use the HD Rumble.) Everything is explained well and I’m never confused about what to do. The part if the game that I’m finding to be the weakest is actually the part that we spend the most time with: the story.
I’m finding it very hard to enjoy anything relating to the plot, characters, dialogue, or humor the game offers. It’s as if there’s too much absurdity, and no straight man to balance everything out. There’s not enough room for the game to breathe. The only time we get a break from the constant dialogue and silliness is when we’re out on the course, silently trying to win a round.
Golf Story begins to feel like it’s choking on its bits. As it rattles off joke after one-off after cutaway, things get too cloudy to stay engaged. I consistently find myself waiting for my next chance to swing, ignoring the text boxes bouncing around the screen.
Tim Rogers of Kotaku once described Golf Story as a “Seinfeld of video games”. But unlike Tim, I don’t wish to hang out in this world. I don’t need the possibility of a bird hiding my balls in a bunker in the middle of a tournament. In fact, if Seinfeld was a show about nothing, I say the same for the plot Golf Story.
The game’s claim of being an RPG does hold true, in the vein of Earthbound or Mega Man Battle Network. And yes, the different side quests you can come across can be entertaining. The problem is they do little but to provide a way to get cash. Eventually, every character is a set piece to guide you to the next story beat.
There are some characters that get too little screen time, and are the right amount of bonkers. Sometimes, a joke lands quite well. But Golf Story can’t seem to decide if its own protagonist is a golf prodigy or just as inept as the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, instead of coming across as a flawed person with technical strengths and social weaknesses, the outlook of him ping-pongs back and forth from conversation to conversation. Jokes that should be quick asides hang for too long, losing the moment they had to be funny, moving into the realm of try-hard.
I’m not saying that everything in Golf Story that isn’t a power slider is bad. But the fact is, the meat of the game is the golf, and that’s where I choose to feast.