Sidebar Games' Golf Story came out of the blue for many. Sure, the game was featured by Nintendo itself at a couple of indie showcases in the past, but it got a bit lost in traffic as we moved steadily into the busy autumn release schedule, where AAA releases hold most of our attention. Indeed, we have seen and will continue to see one big release after the other, a few of Nintendo's own making, but despite this, a new trailer revealed Golf Story's imminent release date, and suddenly this tiny gem was on many a Switch owner's radar.
The long and short of it, if you choose to consider a review a glorified buyer's guide, is that you should purchase and experience Golf Story for Nintendo Switch, and we'll tell you why.
This tiny and utterly charming game is partially inspired by the classic isometric RPGs from ancient times, where you experience the adventure from a bird's eye view, with quests to complete, characters to meet and interact with, equipment to replace and upgrade, and weird, offbeat stories to experience. The game carries its old-school sensibilities on its sleeve, both in terms of the visual style and also the tone. It's a nostalgic trip down memory lane to a time where games were less serious but, as the name thoroughly implies, that's not all, because while Golf Story may use the general structure of an RPG, it has a little but noticeable twist.
Even though you may end up spending a considerable amount of your time on those aforementioned role-playing game tropes in Golf Story, this is only half of the story. Instead of these ideas, structures, and mechanics feeding into an inevitable battle with monsters, skeletons, ghouls, and other miscellaneous evil, the main problem solver here is golf, or rather arcade golf. It sounds like a bizarre combination, one that's surprisingly unique, and it doesn't only help Golf Story stand out in a cluttered gaming landscape - it's also a set of systems that fit perfectly within the classic RPG framework. It constantly makes you wonder as to why this hasn't been tried before.
Golf is used as your primary interaction with the game world. You'll earn levels by completing quests discovered in the open world, and you can earn money that you then spend on better clubs. It's all here, those certain aspects you're inherently used to and expect, and they all work within the context of the sport, of course, depicted in a retro-inspired satirical light. Golf is even used to complete the aforementioned quests found in the world, and even though this may sound monotonous, it's such a novel concept you quickly find yourself in a forgiving mood. As you rise through the ranks of each of the few golf clubs in the game, you may be challenged to tee off against a random, envious opponent, or asked to hit a certain spot in one go. Furthermore, there are inaccessible areas that you need membership cards for, and people you may want to return to see further into the experience. The long and short of it is that there's a lot to do in Golf Story, and even though a good portion of the problems presented to you are solved by placing your ball and sinking it in a hole, it simply never gets old.
Therefore it's pretty lucky that teeing off and playing golf in Golf Story feels absolutely fantastic. It's certainly arcade-inspired, and you'll find no serious simulation here. You may switch freely between the clubs in your trunk, decide where to hit the ball for an either longer, higher or curved shot, and then a meter will decide how close to your desired landing spot you'll get, and how accurate the shot will be. There are just enough parameters to choose from and look at for it to feel deep, and the game doesn't necessarily feel like it dumbs down the experience. However, it's all seen through a deeply satirical lens, and because of this, Golf Story is an utterly relaxing experience - one may even be tempted to call it soothing. Closing off each world is a long, arduous nine-hole tournament, and despite the player feeling the stakes being raised, you're never tense, remaining calm. Golf Story finds its charm within its own limited scope, and it knows exactly what it needs to do to succeed.
But, just because Golf Story may charm you with its lack of seriousness, don't think that the game won't attempt to marry a proper narrative to the sporty proceedings. Surprisingly, the story is quite mature. You return to a golf club many years after you and your now deceased father attempted to go for all nine holes when you were a child. You've just survived a terrible divorce, and so completing the course, convincing a coach to take you under his wing and ultimately defeat the course becomes a matter of personal importance for the nameless main character. It sounds gloomy, and it's surprising, but quickly the game diverts your attention by having the player exploring, upgrading, and playing golf, so it never puts a damper on the satire and on the entertainment it provides.
Perhaps the only small issue you could have with Golf Story is that one could've wished that a greater portion of the tasks available to the player would've involved activities other than golf. Sure, there are mini-games to enjoy here and there, but none of them are intricately tied to your progression or the narrative. It's certainly enjoyable, but for the sake of variation, having other quests with different objectives would've been preferable.
A slight lack of variation doesn't alter the fact that every Switch owner should take a look at Golf Story. Like Snipperclips: Cut it out, together! before it, this is a little gem of a game that could easily get overlooked, but hopefully that won't happen, because it's one of the best experiences that the platform has to offer.