"The blend of sports gameplay and RPG mechanics makes for a wonderfully fun adventure, and the game has cemented itself as a must-own Switch title."
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about RPGs is that the genre is rigid, and only games with classic turn-based battles can be classified as an RPG, which couldn't be further from the truth. The genre is extremely flexible; from the buttery action-based combat of Ys to the FPS gameplay of the Deus Ex series, RPGs can exist in many forms. Really, it's only natural that sports RPGs exist. We've previously seen this sub-genre being explored with soccer mechanics in Inazuma Eleven. More recently, Pyre incorporated baseball into an RPG. However, while these titles are great, there's a new reigning champ of sports RPGs: Golf Story.
Golf Story utilizes its golfing gameplay in interesting ways, ensuring that players know this is much more than your standard sports game. It's through my golfing skills that I was able to lob tracking balls at suspicious moles, return eggs to some pesky birds, and even thwart an invasion of the undead — to say that Golf Story is original would be an understatement. You find yourself doing more than just golfing, too. Side activities include the extremely fun disc golf and even flying drones, and one particularly interesting story segment involves hunting down clues to solve a werewolf victim's apparent murder. Golf Story had the potential to slowly become stale, but Sidebar Games clearly knew their vision well, and instead, it ends up feeling fresh, varied, and one of a kind.
One of the best things about the game is its unique look. I never got bored of looking at the screen for too long, both because of great animation on the sprites and the sheer variety in the courses that you slowly unlock. The side characters that inhabit these unique courses — which range anywhere from a beach paradise to the grounds of a haunted mansion — really come to life, along with the main cast. Music also helps to bring about the wacky environments. Golf Story has an absolutely superb soundtrack that really sets the mood of each course. The catchy music, vibrant color schemes, and gorgeous sprites all make for a really terrific combination, and the result is a game that's more than confident in its incredible sense of identity.
The main problem with Golf Story is its difficult tournaments. While I found myself having no trouble defeating the AI in one-on-one matches, my skills were truly put to the test in these contests, which saw me having to compete with a handful of opponents all at once. One wrong swing means getting a poor score and being booted back to the title screen, but it's immensely satisfying when you finally beat your opponent.
While I appreciate having a challenge, I couldn't help but feel that there was a difficulty spike in the final event. After hours of trying, I've still yet to beat it, and whether this is the fault of the course being so hard or me not being good enough, I can't say. Even taking my golfing skills into account, the final course still ends up feeling like it's designed to make the player frustrated rather than giving them a difficult challenge. It's hardly Golf Souls, but having to be completely
precise on this course still stinks. By all means, make the final event be an accumulation of everything I've learned in the game — just don't make it feel like the course is designed to work against me.
There are also a couple of annoying instances where you take turns golfing with an AI companion. This is supposed to test your skills, requiring you to get out of poor positions that your companion has put you in. Again, this difficulty ends up feeling very artificial. The game is at its best when the difficulty seems natural and at its worst when it doesn't. Finding the right balance is tricky, and I hope that the difficulty in the next project from Sidebar Games ends up being more fair.
Golf Story is a unique game, a breath of fresh air in the genre that successfully showcases its flexibility. The blend of sports gameplay and RPG mechanics makes for a wonderfully fun adventure, and the game has cemented itself as a must-own Switch title. It's obvious that a lot of heart went into this game, and I feel that's the reason it succeeds as well as it does. It's hilarious, it's quirky, it's charming, and it's one of my favorite games in recent memory, despite my complaints.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.