I Like Golf Story in Spite of Itself


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.


Pokemon Go: Kick-Off

My toddler and I are walking down a hill, and I’m shifting my weight to maintain my balance as he doesn’t want to walk. I adjust my Ash Ketchum replica hat I ordered from China and switch him to my left hip. He’s excitedly describing a squirrel to me.

L: Dada! Squirrel! Tree! Squirrel!
G: That’s great, buddy. I just caught a Pidgey. Is that cool?
L: Yeah! Bird!

I’m feeling his weight wear out my arm strength but I continue to hold him while waiting for my phone to chirp. Every time it does, we step off to the side and eagerly turn our attention towards the screen to see who’s come out of the grass.

G: See that, bud? That’s a Clefairy! Some say they come from the Moon.
L: Wow!

We’re playing Pokemon Go, the latest game from Niantic which takes our world and virtually overlays it with Pokemon, allowing players to traverse their cities and catch their own Pokemon based on geographical location.

He tries to imitate the chirps of the Pokemon as we continue on towards the next street over from our house, as I’ve just learned that a nature preserve doubles as a PokeStop (a landmark in-game that gives items), and I’m excited. I didn’t even know there was a nature preserve nearby.

We live in a farm town in Connecticut, so when I first booted up the app (and finally was able to connect, due to heavy server load), I expected to see low-level bug Pokemon and not much else. Instead, I was able to identify two PokeStops in my neighborhood (the aforementioned preserve and a local Baptist church), and the initial walk with my son showed me that PokeStops aren’t even all that important.

Simply walking down the street results in Pokemon appearing, giving players the option to throw a PokeBall and catch a new companion. This action is pretty quick, so I’ll usually show my son the screen once I’ve captured the Pokemon. He loves it, because he loves learning the names and listening to their cries, which are usually growls or chirps.

We imitate the cries of the different Pokemon we encounter, and after being cooped up inside during a (thus far) hot month, we’re enjoying walking outside again. This feels like something that will help push us outside and gameify the experience (for me, anyway). So far, every Pokemon we’ve seen has been from the original games, and it’s great teaching my son what I remember about them from 20 years ago.

We come upon the entrance to the nature preserve and I check out the map while my son looks at a Bellsprout on my screen. The preserve is bigger than I expected, and is filled with walking trails. As I look at the intertwining lines of the map it feels like we’re on the edge of a journey. It’s too late tonight, but I make a note to come back again to explore.

My phone suddenly vibrates, and my son laughs. A Weedle showed up, and he’s trying to tap it to start a battle.

G: Hey, little man. Do you like going on adventures with me?
L: Yeah, Dada. Cool.