Growing up as a kid, I never owned my own gaming console. Despite numerous pleas to my parents, letters to Santa Claus, and prayers to every deity under the sun – they always eluded my grasp. My gaming exposure was limited to handhelds. While I envied friends who had constant access to the latest and greatest, I cherished the games I could get in the palm of my hands.
In some ways, I feel this childhood limitation stunted my growth. I can’t relate to the nostalgia my contemporaries feel for the games of the PS2 and GameCube. But in its’ place is a love for smaller games, ones that pull off remarkable things in a minuscule package. Games like Golf Story, which recently released for the Nintendo Switch.
Home On The Range
As you might expect, Golf Story is a game about golf. Many games are about golf. It’s a sport that translates well into the medium – from the high simulation of The Golf Club to the arcade hustle of Golden Tee. But while most golf games are content to recreate a day out on the links, Golf Story is a full RPG that encapsulates the life and times of a rising golf superstar.
Players take on the role of a young unknown, coming back to his hometown to chase his pro tour dreams. He’s left behind his girlfriend, job, and most of his possessions to take up the tee. On a ratchet, corrupt course he fights the doubters at every step. Through the fine art of golf (and various favors), this rookie fights up the ladder to become a true master.
It’s a story-heavy RPG in the style of Earthbound and Undertale, dense with dialogue and charming characters. Golf is your primary means of interacting with the world, from discovering secrets to earning XP. The actual golf mechanics are blissfully simple, requiring just a bit of aim and good timing on the swing. As courses get more complex, new mechanics to twist and manipulate the ball emerge. But Golf Story never strays too far from a simplistic, one-button approach to the links. Just pick a club, aim, and hit.
Golf Story is the perfect kind of game for the Switch, a robust experience that can be digested in countless short sessions.
The Back Nine
While I’ve poured dozens of hours into Golf Story, I can’t imagine I’d take to it in the same way if it were on any other platform. Everything in Golf Story is easy to finish in short bursts. Even if you’re deep in a course stretch, it’s possible to set it aside and escape to the outside world. Upon coming back, the simple controls present no learning curve. This upends one of the most innate challenges with golf as a sport, in both digital and physical form.
It is very boring and very long.
The first hole of a course is always exciting. Measuring out a drive, feeling the tension of a close call, sinking a distant putt – it’s fresh and exciting. But a few holes deep, and the repetition sinks in. For the difficulty of any given course, the base actions never really change. The goal never shifts. Not to mention, an entire game can be devastated by one unfortunate swing. A bad hole means lost progress, another trip through the links.
In most golf games, the length is what breaks me. The feeling of being nine holes deep into a full 18, and making a mistake that guarantees my failure. Taking three extra swings on the green, missing the hole by centimeters each time. Feeling glued to a course, knowing that any sort of pause in the action will rust my delicately honed ‘flow’. With Golf Story, that pressure is gone. Courses are limited to nine holes, meaning a game-ruining mistake only comes at the cost of a couple minutes. Best of all, those minutes can be put in at any time of day,
The fact that Golf Story can be taken on the go seems miniscule, but it does so much to the pace of the experience. Every course can be experienced one hole at a time, or one shot at a time. Whether you’ve got an hour or only a few minutes to kill, Golf Story has progress to be made. Sitting down at a console for a round of Rory McIlroy 2017 is an hour-long commitment bound to end in failure. This difference is everything, and adds a true sense of peace to the golf experience. Even when a round ends in a second place finish, getting back to the links is quick and easy.
As games get more cinematic, they demand more of the player to get the full experience. Massive 4K TV sets, lengthy play sessions, and isolating headsets are becoming the norm. With Golf Story, developer Sidebar Games has illustrated a beautiful alternative. A game that is deep in mechanics and development, but light enough to take in at any time – or any place.