Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A few thoughts on Golf Story for Switch now that I've put about eight hours into it

I don't know about you, but I think it's almost comical that the first game I played on my new Switch was Golf Story.

(Yes, a digital copy of Splatoon 2 came with the system, but I quickly sold it. Don't worry, I'll likely buy a physical copy of it down the road.)

As for why it's so funny this was my first pick-up for Nintendo's latest console, I sort of have a reputation for liking old and quirky games, right? Well, Golf Story has quirk to spare, and there's no doubt it looks like something that could've come out of the 8-bit or 16-bit eras.

So, I guess what I'm saying here is: I doubt there could be a better game to ease me into Switch ownership.

It's certainly done its job in that regard. After all, like this post's header makes clear, I've already spent more than eight hours playing Golf Story--and at the expense of the recently released Project Octopath Traveler demo, no less. (It wouldn't be an overstatement to say Square Enix adding this bite-sized version of its upcoming, Romancing SaGa-esque RPG to the Switch eShop is what pushed me to buy the system now rather than early next year.)

Would anybody become as engrossed as I have with this game if they were given a chance to play it? I think a good percentage of folks would, but not everyone.

To figure out if you're more likely to be in the yay or the nay camp, read my impressions of Golf Story's first eight or so hours.

Warning: this is not a golf simulator--Do you love serious golf games? The kind that mimic the club-and-ball sport down to a T (or, you know, a "tee")? If so, you might want to avoid Golf Story for the time being. To begin with, it's a fairly silly take on the Scotland-born pastime. Also, it would be a stretch to say it forces you to play gobs of golf. Yes, the eons-old sport is Golf Story's focus, and nearly every inch of its overworld (for lack of a better word) is a fairway or green or bunker, but you spend a lot less time making your way through multi-hole courses than you might think. In other words, if you're looking for something that's more like Electronic Arts' PGA Tour series and less like Sony's Hot Shots Golf efforts, this isn't the download for you.

That said, if you've enjoyed any of the early Mario Golf games, you should enjoy Golf Story, too--I say that mainly because Golf Story's gameplay feels a lot like that of the original Mario Golf and Mario Golf: Advance Tour. For those of you who've never experienced those titles, that means Golf Story's controls are arcade-y and accessible and, for the most part, intuitive--assuming you've played at least one other video game version of the sport before you picked up this one.

A little clarity would be greatly appreciated--Notice how I said "for the most part" at the end of my last sentence? I did that because, as fun as Golf Story is, it doesn't always provide the player with all the information he or she needs to enjoy it to its fullest. On more than one occasion, I've found myself in a situation where I wasn't completely sure what I was supposed to do or how I was supposed to do it. At first, I thought I was to blame, but eventually it dawned on me that Golf Story's sometimes-vague text was the real culprit. Thankfully, I've always gotten myself out of those jams, but I obviously would've preferred not getting into them in the first place.

I don't really agree with people who say this game is "EarthBound-esque"--Sure, Golf Story is goofy. And weird. But is it as weird and goofy as everybody's favorite cult-classic RPG, EarthBound? Not in my mind. Plus, the vibe here is completely different. Shigesato Itoi's seminal work often feels like a dream--or a nightmare. Golf Story is far more mundane and down to earth. It's odd in parts, no question, but don't expect it to display the kind of amusing, head-scratching edginess that's front and center in all three of Nintendo's Mother titles.

I'm not a huge fan of Golf Story's soundtrack--It almost kills me to say this, but I don't much like the music that accompanies your trip around the pixelated Australia that serves as this title's setting. At best, the tunes are forgettably ho-hum; at worst, they recall something you'd hear at a low-rent Renaissance fair. That's hardly the end of the world, of course, and the music here isn't exactly keeping me from enjoying my playthrough, but I also wouldn't have minded a more compelling and ear-pleasing soundtrack.

Don't be surprised if you encounter a few bugs or glitches here and there--On the fence about whether or not you should buy Golf Story? You may want to stay there a little while longer. Why? If you play it now, you'll likely run into one or more bugs or glitches--some of which could cause you to replay a chunk of the game (or worse). For example, I've regularly gotten the pompadour-sporting protagonist stuck while trying to run across a bridge. Jiggling the Switch's left analog stick a few times always frees him, but it's annoying all the same. Another bug I've experienced a couple of times: the camera getting screwed up if I try to scope out a hole before taking a shot. The worst glitch I've encountered, though, has been when I've hit a ball, or thrown a disc (you play disc golf in this title, too), and it's become jammed in a tree or behind a non-player character. On these occasions--yes, it's happened more than once--the only option has been to reset the game.

The good news here: developer and publisher Sidebar Games is prepping a patch as we speak, so hopefully it will take care of all of the bugs and glitches I just mentioned, as well as the many others discussed in this Reddit thread.

Given all of the above, you might think I'm less than enamored with Golf Story at the moment. On the contrary, I'm thrilled with it. Sure, it's got its flaws, but it's such a blast overall that I'm finding them easy to overlook. I especially like the game's relaxed attitude and almost languid pace. Although there's a point to all of its swinging and putting and chipping, it never really puts any pressure on you. You're free to explore its evocative environments in whatever manner and at whatever pace you prefer, and I'm finding that particularly refreshing.  

Are any of you playing Golf Story? If so, what do you think of it? Do its positive attributes outweigh its negative ones for you, too, or is the opposite true for you?

See also: 'OK, who's got some Switch game recommendations for me?'

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