The indie game scene never ceases to find novel ways to approach a subject, and Sidebar Games’ Golf Story is yet another potent example of the creative approaches developers are taking to long-established genres. Coming exclusively to Switch, the unusual game melds the familiar trappings of arcade golf with the drama, characters, and upgrade systems of the role-playing world.
“We call it a golf drama,” says Golf Story designer Andrew Newey. “It combines the fun and excitement that everybody associates with golf with a serious story that plays out over eight different courses.” Each of the environments is more than just greens and fairways, featuring distinct towns, characters, and hidden secrets. “One of the main features is the ability to drop the ball at any time and hit it,” Newey says. “The towns turn into a sort of golfing wonderland, with various practice greens and challenges crossing over each other and secrets being hidden near and far. But you will also get to play traditional games of golf on full courses and compete in tournaments.”
Your golfer is on a quest to go pro, and he needs to level up and improve both his stats and his equipment along the way. In this case his equipment is his golf clubs; different clubs offer distinct advantages and disadvantages. “Blades will make your distances more consistent but are also more punishing of inaccurate hits,” Newey says. “And then there are clubs such as the digging wedge, which can be used to dig up all manner of things from treasures to old golf clubs.”
Sidebar integrates the storytelling and challenges you undertake off the course into your success on the links. For instance, you might have to rescue some turtles in one story thread, but then they show up during a match, letting you skim the ball across their backs to cross a tough water hazard. Players can also expect a broad array of additional features that further flesh out the progression and gameplay, including puzzle solving, drone flights, geocaching, mini golf, and even mowing. “The lawn mowing is one part of fixing up an old course to get it tournament ready,” Newey says. “This is what the first chapter of the game revolves around, and includes other tasks like researching course maintenance, dealing with vermin which might be possessed, and attracting interest by convincing a celebrity golfer to compete.”
Golf Story clearly isn’t going for a realistic setting. One sequence is all about specters haunting the greens. “You strike up a deal with the ghost that sees you trying to complete his golf course,” Newey says. “It plays as a free roaming section where you have to find each tee to be able to play the hole. Meanwhile, malevolent spirits on the course try to use your golfing abilities to do their bidding.” In other situations, alligators may snatch your ball on a wayward drive, or you might need to light your golf ball on fire to melt ice blocks concealing the hole.
We haven’t seen many indie games heading exclusively to Switch, but Sidebar seems excited by the console’s potential. “It was our first choice for the game,” Newey says. “Something about having TV and handheld mode makes every game on it seem more exciting.” Newey also cites the console’s HD rumble functionality, which the team uses to accentuate elements of the game both on and off the course.
Golf Story looks like it taps into some of the same quirky fun that makes games like Stardew Valley so entertaining, relying on a whimsical tone and fun characters to deepen the experience. If Sidebar’s new Switch game sounds like it might be for you, there won’t be a long wait. Barring any changes to its roll-out plan, Golf Story is headed for release before the end of September.
A variation of this article originally appeared in Game Informer issue 294, with reporting help from Andrew Reiner.