A Sports RPG isn’t the most common branch of the RPG genre, Golf Story is the first title developed by Sidebar Games and has already turned heads and captured the hearts of many. After being made known to the world in the Nintendo Nindie Direct and then showing up once again in the September Direct, Golf Story was released one week after the date was announced. Within that time, it still garnered much anticipation and hype, making it to the top of the Switch charts on the eShop.
You play as a man on the road to try and reclaim his passion for golfing, as a child he would train with his father, but ended up leaving the sport for 20 years. His father now deceased he looks to return to the course, club held high and become a professional golfer. It isn’t that simple however because nobody wishes to see the potential in you, instead ridiculing each shot you take. So along the way you must prove yourself to the other characters and even yourself.
The story sounds simple and it is, but the journey is where the game shines bright. It is both charming and humorous in execution. Blending the golfing aspect of the game and the well-written cutscenes together into an experience that feels akin to Mario Golf whilst also maintaining its uniqueness. The game combined comedy and almost serious subject matter into dialogue that made me feel empathy for my character and also had me laugh out loud.
In most RPG’s there is a levelling and stat system and this is no different. There are five stats in total and you receive five points with each level to spend on them. Power, Purity, Strike, Ability and Spin, as you increase power the other four statistics lower so it is important to find that right balance for how you play. Its these intricacies that can often go unnoticed but you can feel the difference in play with every few levels.
Combat comes in the form of golfing, either facing small challenges or testing your skill on a 9-hole course. The mechanics begin rather simplistic allowing for ease of entry and then expand later on with the different clubs and courses available. Choose the club best suited for the play, adjust the trajectory and hit point then use the meter to select your power and accuracy. The meter however is a reflex checker, you have to click the button at the right time otherwise you could seriously impede your shot.
You will have to take into account what type of terrain the ball will be landing in or is currently in, whether or not there is a slope and the direction and speed of the wind. These factors can completely change how a shot will perform and adds a skill level to the game that makes it feel rewarding when you can overcome these elements.
When not battling it out you can explore the course, talk to other characters and partake in side quests. Some of the world is inaccessible until certain points throughout and you unlock more areas through story progression. Each new area would bring a different aesthetic, introduce new mechanics and bring in more characters that want you to do stuff for them. Quests vary from one stop fetch quests to the more intricate mystery one’s and provide a deeper look into the lore of Golf Story, no matter how crazy it is.
The visuals hearken back to the RPG’s of old like Final Fantasy and Pokemon with its coloured pixel art style. This art style produces a beautiful looking game filled with vibrant colours and detailed shading. Each terrain looks different in both colour and detail, the deep rough is darker with more defined blades of grass compared to the rough. The water ripples along with the current and trees sway in the wind creating this living world.
There is a peaceful ambience about the soundtrack, a free-flowing melody that instils a sense of adventure and fun. From the upbeat trumpet to the light plucks of a string instrument it truly is a joy to listen to.
GAME DESIGN & INNOVATION: 8/10
Golf Story is perhaps the unlikely shining star on the Nintendo Switch catalogue of games, regardless of Indie, Third Party, First Party or AAA labels. A unique experience that blends seemingly opposite genre’s together, produces a stunning world and provides plenty of content to get stuck into. Real life golfing certainly isn’t for me, and the fact I became so enamoured with the title regardless, speaks volumes about its charm and its rewarding gameplay.
OVERALL: 8/10 – GREAT
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.