Golf Story is a refreshing and unique role-playing experience that succeeds as a golf game and story. Spending quality time with dear old dad on the links as a child ends up being a passion that consumes your character 20 years later, so much so that he parts ways with his wife for one last shot at becoming a golf star. This surprisingly heavy narrative moment is the only part of Golf Story that isn’t wacky, fun, or flat-out insane. Everything that happens next is upbeat and strange – even the sinister doings of a money-hungry golf course owner made me smile. This is where Golf Story hits a hole-in-one; it doesn’t take itself seriously, yet still delivers a meaningful story that is a joy to watch unfold.
With a golf bag fastened to his back, your nameless character travels to Wellworn Grove, the place where dad taught him how to play. Time has not been kind to this course. Weeds are sprouting up, giant molerats infest each hole, and the golfers in training are more likely to hit the parking lot than a green. Despite the Caddyshack-like atmosphere that hangs over Wellworn, your golfer intends to turn heads with his skills, and hopefully draw the attention of a coach. This “mission” immediately shows how much variety Golf Story offers, as you are tasked to complete smaller activities to earn enough cash for one lesson.
The entire area is open for exploration. As you move from hole to hole, you find people in need of help, or who are cocky enough to challenge you to a competition. These tasks range from seeing who can tee off the furthest to chipping out of the rough – brief golf exercises that bring you up to speed on the Golf Story’s excellent (and surprisingly deep) mechanics.
Much like Mario Golf, all shots are handled with a simple three-click swing meter. It’s so easy to use that you are likely to hit perfect shots most of the time. As empowering as it is to continually feel like you’re a great golfer, perfection doesn’t always lead to success; the course often fights back against you. Hit it in the vicinity of a cheekybeak bird, and it moves your ball to the nearest sand trap. Skill comes into play by threading the needle or making miraculous shots past the hazards. Wind becomes an issue as you progress through the game, forcing you to change the strike point on the ball to have it fly higher or wrap around an obstacle. Putting is a weak point in Golf Story, offering no real read on the terrain – and most greens are so small that you don’t need much skill at all.
Two-player skirmishes are offered outside of the story mode.
The meat of the Golf Story experience is divided into story missions and actual nine-hole golf competitions across eight different courses. The missions range from helping an archeologist dig up lost treasures (a feat of digging performed using a sand wedge) to waging war against the molerats, only to find these vermin are a part of an undead uprising. Most of the activities are fun and odd, tapping the basic golf gameplay in a variety of ways, such as driving to hit chicken wings into a lake where blood gators lie in wait. You also veer outside of stroke play to compete in disc golf and foot races. I enjoyed most of the activities, which deftly blend challenge with charm.
The only section of the game that is a little long in the tooth is the extensive trading quest in Bermuda Isles. This content has some humor to it, but is mainly busywork divorced from golfing: You just fetch an item and find out who needs it. Thankfully, the game rights itself after this, and once again dazzles by blending weird things (like using open graves as holes) with legitimate, skill-based tournaments.
Everything you do rewards you with money and experience points. Money buys new clubs, whereas experience improves your skills, such as driving and striking. These perks give you incentives to venture off of the critical path to take on amusing side activities. This is time well spent too, as the side stories and bonus objectives are just as engaging as the main story arc. I don’t want to spoil where this narrative goes, but you get to know the key characters well as they become your friends and enemies. The writing is good, and emotions are accented nicely through animated word bubbles and changing font sizes. Lara, a pink-haired rival who is jealous of your skills, is almost always funny, and is one of the more enjoyable characters I’ve encountered in a game this year.
Yes, this is just a golf game at its core, but Golf Story makes you care about the characters and their world just as much as sinking a do-or-die putt. Part of its charm is keeping you off kilter, forcing you to hit a 300-yard drive with pinpoint precision one second, then solve a murder mystery the next. A continual delight to play, Golf Story is a breath of fresh air for sports, and another fun story to follow for role-playing fanatics.
Lives up to its name, succeeding both as a riveting golf experience and a narrative that sinks its hooks into you.