Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: Golf Story


The moment Golf Story was announced there was a somewhat massive response to the idea of it. With its looks being reminiscent of the indie darling Stardew Valley, the appearance of it having some strange and quirky elements, and the potential promise of picking up where Mario Golf Advance Tour left off there was good reason for people to be excited. Now, having played the final product I’m happy to say that the spirit of the enthusiasm people had for the title is warranted, though it doesn’t always manage to stay on the fairways throughout and has times where it gets caught in the hazards.


You’ll start out the game as a child playing some golf with your dad and this does a fine job of setting the stage for an emotional core to the game, but it’s also one that mostly only gets passing mention as you progress, which is an opportunity missed perhaps. As you get into the formal game when you’re older you’ve apparently made the decision to go out and meet the promise your dad had seen in you so long ago and you begin by returning to the course you’d spent that time with him so long ago. Since that time it has gone into a state of general disrepair and this is where the RPG element of the game begins to kick in as you work with the course owner, a coach who is reluctant to work with you, and a cast of characters you’ll be bumping into throughout the rest of the game.

Golf Story is absolutely at its best when it lets its quirky nature take the reigns and helps you begin to lose track of the fact that you’re playing a golfing game. Whether that’s by throwing frisbee challenges at you, having you meet characters with unusual problems that somehow map to being solved by skills you possess, or by going completely bonkers to temporarily combat people trying to practice the dark arts to take control of a course’s mole rats it is these moments that are by far the most memorable. The good thing is that these types of events happen with some degree of regularity but that isn’t to say they’re often enough. The more the game stays grounded and strictly about using your golfing skills to complete golfing tasks the more quickly it feels repetitive. There are only so many times, no matter how you change the clubs you’re using or some other factor to complicate matters, that you can try to get the ball into a specific area on a course without it feeling more redundant. That said, as a long form tutorial for people who aren’t familiar with classic 3-click golfing it actually does an excellent job of walking you through the nuance of each skill you’d need. It’s just if the game had done a better job of keeping things a little strange more consistently I don’t think the repetition would set in quite as quickly when people are sort of laughing about how weird what they’re doing may be.


For people who are looking for a Mario Golf caliber sports experience while many of the elements are in place it isn’t quite to that level either in a few areas. The most notable place where the golfing isn’t as hardcore is on the green. The greens are uniformly the same angle in their entirety and there isn’t really any visual representation of the nuance of the lie so it just becomes about making tweaks to your angle and power but you won’t have any crazy green shots to make like in some of the classic games you may love. The other factor in the golfing is that overall if you’re a veteran of 3-click golf games the majority of what you’ll play is quite easy to win. Whether it’s a skins match-up against a rival or one of the tournaments I can’t say that I was typically feeling much pressure unless my game was just that bad at the time. There are mechanics Golf Story absolutely does right, like the precision shooting toggle that will allow you to get a ghosted representation of the power you want to get your ball to go a specific distance or many of the typical controls you’d expect in a game of this type like being able to target the spot on the ball you want to hit to control your spin and approach. In RPG terms you will have an opportunity to change your golfer’s stats as you level up and if you strictly choose to go for power you will pay the price with diminished accuracy, a built-in hook or slice, and other downsides so I’d advocate balanced upgrades as you go, though I also didn’t experiment to see how significant the influence of simply sticking to power would have either.

Spending a little time on some problems the game runs into, aside from the general items I already mentioned I think the most critical issues converge on the second course you’ll play, Lurker Valley. Since you go there very early in the game the issues that seemed common across many people I talked to make them a bit more painful. A combination of obtuse instructions, some items I encountered before they were necessary that I then sort of wrote off as being unimportant, and the game not doing a great job to be clear about enabling equipment or even that you can run converge in this course to create frustrations that really put people off. Once you get through that course I’d say things improve significantly and never really fall off the rails quite as badly as they do there but there definitely should have been far more care paid to that early course and being sure that either instructions are were more clearly shared or that random people you talk to would try to give some hints to help people stay on track. If you decide to take the plunge on Golf Story and you find this course aggravating just seek some help, you’re not alone, and there are a lot of threads with this course being discussed specifically.


Overall I’m not trying to be negative about Golf Story so much as trying to clearly point out for people where the stumbling blocks are so they can see them coming and not let their high expectations get the best of them. This is an excellent golfing RPG with much more working in its favor than against it. It is full of humor, strange and quirky missions, and a lot of above-average though not perfect golf. When it is at its best it is an absolute joy to play but unfortunately when those moments fade it can make you reflect a little more on the moments where it begins to feel more ordinary. I would gladly recommend it to anyone who enjoys great games, enthusiastically if they enjoy classic 3-click golf. Just it is also important not to come into the game expecting a revolution, perhaps we can hope for it to get to that level in a sequel.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Some brilliant and funny situations that are memorable
  • As a whole the story is a good one with characters that keep the story moving
  • The golfing, while not perfect, is generally very good though a bit on the easy side


Cons:
  • The second course has a convergence of issues that really hurt the game’s momentum early on
  • Too many times your tasks get dragged down by being “golfing tasks” without any theming or silliness, making them feel more ordinary and repetitive
  • For experienced 3-click golfers there won’t be much of a challenge to the tournaments, diminishing suspense


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