“Years of watching golf has finally paid off,” my sister mused. Then with a pause, a snicker and a hand-waving gesture, “Though I still don’t quite understand some of the golfing terms.”
On Friday night, before our television family night was set to commence with The Exorcist’s Season 2 premiere, we were bored. It had been a stressful week for a variety of reasons and Friday brought a rare chance for us to unwind. I have a backlog a mile long but my sister often finds herself without anything to play, although it’s rare she wants anything. Usually, she relies on my recommendations. With a week out before the newest Layton game in the series hits the 3DS, I pondered what could fill a void before then.
For the past couple of weeks the Nintendo eShop has been churning out game after game. I scrolled through in search of some light-hearted fare. I tentatively hovered over my secret desire to play SteamWorld Dig 2 but unsure if I would enjoy it despite its positive reviews and successful sales. It definitely wasn’t a game for her, and I knew that, so I moved on to Picross S, tantalizingly priced at $7.99. Flashbacks of mild-frustration and pure joy playing 2016's Picross 3D Round 2 filled my head. But I wanted us all to try something new.
Scrolling through social media in the days prior showed me that Sidebar Games’ Golf Story had been getting some relatively small but excited buzz. A little bit of an Earthbound vibe seemed to be the predominant view of the Nintendo Switch exclusive title, and the screenshot of the quaint Overworld map my sister and I saw appealed to us. “It looks so cute!” she exclaimed in a sing-song way that is a language all our own. One quick question later to a friend who I saw was playing it in my Switch friend list, asking for a “yea or nay” edged me to a purchase.
And now here we are. In the three days since, Golf Story has dominated our conversations. This silly sports game, blended with an RPG adventure, has taken firm hold of what little time we’ve carved out in a busy weekend of household chores and fulfilling social obligations.
To trot out an overused word, Golf Story is quirky. But there’s no better descriptor for its special brand of presentation and delivery. It’s been a trying journey for my sister’s character as the kid who is repeatedly told he sucks at golf and would amount to nothing. But it has not been trying due to the game suffering from unplayable mechanics. On the contrary: golfing in this game is fun. Not surprising—and it’s at the very least, something you’d hope for in a game with the word “golf” in its title.
It’s steeped in golf terms (‘double bogey,’ huh?? Though I get it now and had to learn what it meant), and the different types of clubs (your drivers, and 9-irons vs your 8-irons etc.). There are technical attributes which your character will need to level up in order to improve performance—from his power to accuracy in swings to...spins and other golf-related things. It can be a lot to process but in spite of taking into account wind speeds and directions, and all the terms Golf Story throws at you, it’s relatively easy to pick up, understand, and play.
A bar pops up whenever your character needs to hit a ball to a designated area. A few presses of the “A” button lets you set power and accuracy on that distance bar. The game teaches you what you need to know every step of the way, even if it may not hold your hand to do so. Learning by doing is how we’ve managed all the 9 holes challenges thus far, and everything else the game has asked us to do. Sometimes, it really has been challenging.
The sports part of the game is fun but without its RPG adventure elements, it wouldn’t have that uniqueness to it and I think it’d be largely overlooked.
Golf Story is full of NPCs who challenge you to meet golf objectives, but they may also send you on tasks and hint at personal puzzles to solve—like that girl who can only sell the meat pies and partake in eating them only when they’re cold leftovers at the end of the day. They all want stuff, like any good RPG NPC does, and it takes some brainpower figuring out how to get things accomplished. It’s fun and often reveal hilarious events in the process, while netting your character money to buy new equipment (or that initial golf lesson) and EXP.
While I’m not totally sold on the looks of the characters, there’s charm in its world and its sprites. It’s thanks to the real snappiness to its NPCs’ and protagonist’s interactions. The dialogue here is sassy, with text boxes shifting diagonally to add an extra “oomph” to inflect how ridiculous these conversations can be. They sometimes come as admissions of guilt to crap behaviour a character may display. It’s amazing how much personality is infused in this simple action, and it’s one of many things Golf Story interjects into its very comical world.
The conversations themselves are at the heart of the game. They often unveil bizarre scenarios that are so endearing and natural to its world and its selection of eight golf courses and towns. Each has a theme and it’s been a joy discovering the weirdness of its NPCs. Thus far my sister, who has taken main control of playing through the game, is at her third area “in a town full of dumbs.” I’m curious as to why and although I haven’t seen it first hand just yet, I’m certain there’s quite a spectacle in each conversation to back up her statement.
In the 10 hours or so since we began, she’s already uncovered a nefarious plot involving certain critters’ actions and the undead. Crocodile infested water and a harrowing escape involving a child and his beanie was a thing that happened. All problems caused by and solutions resolved with golf balls. Who knew a golf ball and golfing was so dangerous and versatile?
She also met the curious Neanderthals of the second world. I inquired as to whether the cavemen were real or modern humans who were playing a part and I’m unsure of the answer. But given the encounter with geese we had in the very first half an hour with the game, I think I don’t need to know the specifics nor does it matter. It is exactly as it is and that’s all the explanation we need.
This game so far is everything we were looking for: weird, fun, and surprisingly addictive. When we’re not proclaiming that our “golf game is strong,” it’s causing us some grief too. From the ungrateful jerks we’re running around for and doing their errands to some seemingly impossible golf shots; the game is full of challenges built to amuse and sometimes frustrate—but in the sort of way that makes you determined to press on, and that’s a good thing. Though we will say that the frisbee game isn’t one we’ve mastered just yet. Curse that thing!
To sum up my adoration of this game, I’d like to share a feeling I get, and subsequent conversation that follows, whenever I wander around for too long in the game’s first area called Wellworn Grove.
An extremely cacophonous tune plays in this golf course. At various golf holes and places on the green, spectators and golfers, punks with boom boxes and rude folk wait to bash your skills. It’s a hodgepodge of terribly irritable NPCs who are completely defined by this rough and tumble blaring of jazz horns that’s present throughout this world’s theme music. It’s shady, and if it wasn’t so bright outdoors, you could imagine being in a dark, smoky bar where seedy, cut-throat thugs are at the ready to side-eye and beat you down.
“There’s that stupid-ass music. It’s so frigging bad,” I often comment.
“I love it! The music is ridiculous,” my sister would reply. This is noteworthy because she’s one who plays most games on mute, and is rarely interested in soundtracks, even to scores in movies.
“Yeah...it’s really quite fitting,” I always reply with an acknowledging laugh. “It’s so damned stupid.”
And unlike the snarky comments that erupt from Golf Story’s many characters’ mouths, that declaration—and my sentiments about this charming little game as a whole—is uttered without malice and with absolute honesty and love.
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