Golf Story

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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

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