Words About Video Games

Golf + Story = Golf Story?

Golf Story on Nintendo Switch is a delightful game. It made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me read a freestyle rap battle about golf out loud.

(Some of its non-golf mini-games also infuriated me, but the worst offenders are thankfully optional.)

The golfing is solid--built on fundamental play with a sprinkling of gimmicks that add needed difficulty and interest without dominating the courses. Wind speed and direction, green slopes, heck, even ricochets off of rocks and trees, are all modelled well enough to present a challenge, but none of them would stand up to comparison with more in-depth simulations. My main gripe is how easy it is to hit impossible shots out of bunkers and rough.

It's the writing, believe it or not, that makes Golf Story special. The world of Golf Story is a world where (nearly) everyone is consumed by the same passion: golf. But they express that passion (and indeed define "golf") in myriad ways. From the old men who advise you to "aim for the bunker. You can get a safe bogey from there" to the disc golfers who insist that their sport is the true golf.

There's no narrative arc to speak of, but in its place is a love for the sport that is not so proud or idolatrous that it can't also poke fun at its traditions and foibles, at the obsession it inspires. I'm rarely one to praise a narrative for being merely knowing, but this is knowing without being cynical or mean. And it's genuinely funny.

Woven into this storytelling is a smart design that remixes the mechanics of golf into bite-sized challenges that grant XP, solve problems for NPCs, and teach you how to play. Whether you're hitting flaming golf balls at frozen blocks of ice to thaw the people within, or solving a "murder mystery" at a black tie clubhouse event, this is a golf game where playing actual rounds of golf accounts for only about half of what you do.

And it works. Rounds are big events, akin to the boss battles of RPGs with more traditional systems. Most everything else is helping you increase your skill or your stats in some way, but the courses stay fresh.

I think it's my favorite golf game ever.