Developer/publisher Sidebar Games Format Switch Release Out now
Golf Story, in contrast to the traditional rags-toriches tale, is never better than it is at the very start of the game. A young lad, under tutelage from his father and under pressure from an increasingly numerous gaggle of geese, steels his nerve and sinks a tricky putt. “When you compete in real tournaments,” his father warns him, “there will be even more geese.”
That hints at a surrealist riff on the underexplored golf-RPG genre, a concept mined by Camelot’s Mario
Golf games and ignored by, well, everyone else. Soon enough, you’ll understand why: for all its whimsy, Golf
Story struggles to break free from, or do enough with, the central mechanic of hitting a ball at a target.
Yes, there will be holes on greens, with pins in them. But you might be challenged to finish a hole landing only in the rough, or bunkers. This gentle subversion of the good walk spoiled is everywhere: you’re repeatedly asked to hit the ball straight into a body of water, where a friendly sea turtle will pop up and propel it back to dry land. The rest of the animal kingdom isn’t so helpful, mind; if a drive lands too close to a mole it’ll pick the ball up and drop it in a bunker.
The narrative that surrounds all this is wry, sharply written and frequently very funny. It takes you from a traditional leafy golf course to a desert, an ice world, a graveyard and so on. Each is mined for its comic potential, yet wherever you go, and whatever you’re asked to do, the result will involve hitting a ball at a target, or into a zone.
This is, after all, golf, but the occasional stretches where the game briefly threatens to become something else hint at what might have been. Gaining access to a particularly haughty golf club involves a lengthy, varied quest, for instance, but such moments are exceptions when they really ought to have been the rule. You’re often left with no idea of your next objective, and can only find out through trial and error. And when you do finally get a game of golf, you’ll play on courses that seem to have been designed to annoy, rather than enthral. A green might be ten feet across and sat in the middle of a lake; you might have levelled up your swing power a dozen times, but you’ll tee off with a three iron because it’s the only way you could find a safe spot in amongst all the creatures that are up to no good.
There’s plenty here to like – the script almost justifies a playthrough by itself – but it’s a little overlong, a little padded out, its obvious charms soon obscured by busywork, repetition and irritation. It’s far from a good walk ruined, but Golf Story shows precisely why games in this subgenre have such little competition.
The excellent dialogue is accompanied by bursts of vibration thanks to HD Rumble. When Sidebar gets it right, the effect is an amusing punctuation mark at the end of a well-delivered line. It’s horribly overused, however