Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Great Gaymathon Review #76: Golf Story (Switch)

Game: Golf Story
Genre: Sports/RPG
Developer: Sidebar Games
Publisher: Sidebar Games
System: Switch
Release date: 2017

Is Golf Story really the second coming of Nintendo's Mario Golf series? Or does it really blend Scotland's national sport with the kooky, quirky, cult classic, EarthBound? My answer to both of those questions is a fairly resounding "no."

That's not to suggest Sidebar Games' maiden release never delights. It does. I wouldn't go so far as to say it delights as much as either of the aforementioned efforts, though--in large part because it lacks the kind of polish associated with most games made by Nintendo and its development partners.

Nowhere is this more clear than when a bug or glitch pops up and interrupts play. Thankfully, most of these are simply aggravating, but a few are game-breaking. Regardless, you won't find either variety in the games that supposedly inspired this one.

There are other aspects of Golf Story that keep it from reaching the heady heights of EarthBound and the Mario Golf GameBoy Color and Advance titles, too. One is its lack of direction or clarity--as in, the game frequently fails to be clear about what you're supposed to do or where you're supposed to go next. Another is its soundtrack, which is far from terrible but also isn't what I'd call enjoyable.

Still, despite these shortcomings, and despite the fact that I don't consider it to exist in the same space as the best Mario Golf titles and EarthBound, Golf Story is an entrancing game.

Its story and protagonist aren't anything special, to tell you the truth. At the starter, you're plopped into the shoes of an "average Joe" kind of guy (you can't choose a gal instead, unfortunately) and then tasked with helping him live out his childhood dream of becoming a pro.

Thankfully, once you get the ball rolling on that journey, the clichés that support it tend to fade into the background. That's a testament to its accessible and appealingly breezy gameplay, which does, in fact, recall Nintendo's first two portable Mario Golf titles--to a point. Granted, most arcade-y golf games control similarly these days; you know, hit a button to get a cursor moving along a linear gauge, hit it again when the cursor nears the gauge's peak (this determines the power of your swing), and then hit it one last time as the cursor approaches its starting point (this determines your timing).

Beyond that basic gameplay element, though, Golf Story feels pretty unique among casual golf titles. You're occasionally asked to play nine holes against another of the game's characters (once per course, to be more specific), but that cornerstone of the sport often takes a backseat to the less traditional--not to mention less time consuming--challenges nearby NPCs offer up as you stroll around each locale.

Some are merely intriguing--like, "I'll bet you can't hit the green from the bunker five times"--while others are downright silly. (A couple of noteworthy examples: using your clubs to feed hungry fish and to hit eyeballs into skeleton skulls.)

On top of all that, Golf Story also allows you to "tee up anywhere." As in, you can drop a ball and take a crack at a hole whenever and wherever you'd like. Or you can simply smack balls in random directions, if that's what you prefer. Regardless, I personally think that press release bullet point is more interesting in theory than in practice.

So, what about the rest of this indie darling? It certainly looks the part, with graphics that evoke the better (cartoonish) sports games of the late 1980s or early 1990s. As for its story, it may not be as brilliant or as "out there" as EarthBound's, but it's well crafted and stuffed with text that elicits a chuckle. In other words, it's deserving of the attention and praise that've been heaped upon it to date.

The same can be said of Golf Story as a whole. Sure, it's not quite the blend of EarthBound and Mario Golf many claim it to be, but it's still charming and addictive and an overall joy to play--even with its bugs, glitches, and other rough edges.

See also: previous Golf Story impressions and previous 'Great Gaymathon' reviews

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