Golf Story Review
An adorable RPG disguised as a surprisingly fun 2D golf game.
Despite getting eight under par on one of the world’s hardest courses, I suck at golf. At least, that’s what the comedically mean NPCs in Golf Story keep telling me. This adorable RPG disguised as a golf game continually surprised me with the odd situations I was thrown into, whether it was fighting skeletons, stealing from snow bandits, and, every once in awhile, actually playing golf.
Golf Story tells an odd but enjoyable story full of clever and funny writing. You meet expressive and lively characters on your journey for golfing glory, all of which talk to you through emotive dialogue bubbles that tilt, grow, or change pace with their attitude. That quest takes you across eight varied pixel art worlds, which range from regular grass courses to prehistoric valleys to island beaches, and even a spooky haunted graveyard.
The story itself is amusing, if extremely thin. You, some random dude, decide to leave your old life behind and become a professional golfer, but no matter how well you do, just about every single character either hates you, thinks you’re terrible, or both. That joke got a bit old by the end of the roughly 16-hour campaign, but thankfully the dialogue is amusing enough that it held me all the way through.
Fly Like an Eagle
The golfing itself is similarly simple, but a whole lot of fun even with its 2D perspective. Much like other golf games, hitting the ball involves timed button presses for power and accuracy. You line up your shot, adjusting spin and arc height to account for wind or tough terrain, then lock it in and hope you can execute the button presses to make your shot fly true.
The pixelated art style is lovely, but showing subtle hills in 2D is next to impossible.
It’s just complex enough that it allows for an immense amount of finesse and control. Fairways are often small and hard to land on in Golf Story, dotted with sand bunkers, rough grass, and puddles. That gets more complex when the wind starts blowing harder, which has a very real impact on the ball. But tweaking where on the ball I hit, what spin to put on, and how much power to use can be extremely rewarding when a drive lands right where I want it.
The weakest aspect of its golfing is how Golf Story handles slopes on the putting green. The pixelated art style is lovely, but effectively communicating subtle hills in isometric 2D is next to impossible. Golf Story opts to give you an arrow indicator similar to the one for wind, pointing in the direction of the slope and telling how steep the grade is: flat, light, medium, or heavy. I managed to learn to read that slope indicator well enough on shorter putts, but it becomes extremely hard at distance, and downright infuriating when a lofted ball lands on a seemingly flat green only to bounce unexpectedly due to the slope. I would have really liked an overlay on the green itself to give me a better indication of how the ball will behave.
When you aren’t golfing, you’re completing tasks for people that often have very golf-like solutions. There’s a linear questline to follow, with optional objectives and little challenges to complete along the way that earn you money and experience. Money is used to buy new golf clubs with unique effects that don’t always mean the newest club is the best, like an awesome putter that let me curve my hits. Experience is used to level up and boost stats like drive distance and accuracy, but these improvements felt much more invisible and didn’t affect my character in interesting ways like the clubs.
People might ask you to collect certain items hidden in the level or go on odd foot races around the map, but more often than not they want you to hit a ball to a specific a certain number of times. Frankly, you do a lot more of those little accuracy challenges than actual golfing, and it gets a bit repetitive. The actual matches and tournaments against AI opponents are a lot more fun, giving me someone to pit my practiced skills against, but weirdly there are only about a dozen of them in the entire campaign.
You can drop a ball and take a shot at literally anytime and anywhere.
Even if they eventually get old, these odd jobs do add a bit of variety, and I like that they take place around the clubs rather than on proper courses. In fact, you can drop a ball and take a shot at literally anytime and anywhere. This let me set my own personal goals, like trying to ricochet the ball off a clubhouse roof and onto a nearby green. There’s even an NPC who creates guerilla courses for you to complete, setting the paths over people’s heads and diagonally across other fairways.
I also really enjoyed hunting for all the little secrets hidden around each map, like rainbow holes that provide bonus experience if you can sink a ball. The first level had switches hidden around it, and hitting all them them unlocked a special mini golf course for me to play on. It was one of the cooler secrets to find, and earned me a special new club once I beat the course. But the idea isn’t really followed up on, as no other world has anything as extensive as that.
Another idea that never really paid off was introduced in the tutorial: Geese run across your shot path and force you to time your hit well to not hit them, and your dad warns you that worse distractions will be there in real tournaments. But there never are, and I was disappointed that this clever idea of dynamic hazards wasn’t a real mechanic. On a few courses, Gophers and birds will grab the ball if you hit it too close to them, but those feel more like cute bunkers rather than interesting twists.
I still want to return to the multiplayer even after such a long single-player campaign.
Golf Story has a very welcome multiplayer mode that heartily scratches the competitive itch I was craving more of during the campaign. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s limited to two players and local only, but it lets you pick the type of clubs you’ll be using, adjust the wind and slope settings, and play on any of the courses you’ve already unlocked during the campaign. It’s a testament to just how enjoyable the golfing is that I’ll still be looking to return to its multiplayer after such a long single-player campaign.
It’s also worth mentioning that you’re likely to encounter a few bugs. At one point I had to reload the game because I couldn’t move after a cutscene, forcing me to replay one of the disc golf segments – which are an okay way to add variety, but nowhere near as fun as the real golf. Another time I hit a ball onto an uneven surface and watched it twitch around unable to settle for a full minute, preventing me from moving or even opening the menu until it did. Thankfully glitches like this aren’t too common and definitely don’t spoil Golf Story, but they are a noticeable blemish.