A Cartoon Golf RPG Stands Out From The Pack
Over the years, I’ve become largely disillusioned by big budget “AAA” video games, despite their rapid and impressive advancements in recent years. Every time I see a shining example of how we can push modern consoles to their graphical and technological limits, I’ll try to give the game a shot, only to discover later that it largely lacks the creativity and cleverness that have defined the games I love the most. Sure, Forza Horizon 3 looks incredible, but it’s really just a larger and more tweaked version of the original Forza Horizon (which, by the way, is fantastic). NBA 2K17 features improved controls and a deeper story mode than previous entries, but the “NBA’s Greatest” mode from 2K12 was so novel that I still consider that game to be the pinnacle of the series.
While I appreciate and admire how far games have come (I remember being BLOWN AWAY by Super Mario 64), I yearn for content that provides the kind of ingenuity that made me love the medium in the first place. Enter the solution: Golf Story, a small but fun role playing game from indie studio Sidebar Games.
In Golf Story, you play a young man in a pixelated, cartoonish world with aspirations of being a professional golfer, so you decide one day to just follow your dreams and hit the links. In your efforts to achieve that goal, you have to perform some particularly strange quests, such as digging for treasure with a digging wedge, stopping an undead apocalypse by hitting walking skeletons with golf balls, and popping beach balls by hitting them into a large crab. Each course you play has a variety of bizarre hindrances, from moles that throw your balls into bunkers to birds that confuse golf balls for their own eggs. The vast majority of your actions involve golf in some manner, but the different kinds of course worlds, obstacles, and side quests separate this game from average golf simulation.
While the golf mechanics are fairly solid and straightforward, the big draw of the game is its RPG elements, which elevate the game from solid sports sim to well-rounded (if a bit simplistic) story mode. Every character teems with personality and charm, with each interaction full of silly jokes and exaggerated caricatures. While all of this would make for a remarkably average sitcom, they work fairly nicely with the bright and whimsical aesthetic presented by the game’s colorful, pixelated graphics.
The actual golf courses are more reminiscent of Mario Golf than Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour; each course comes with its own set of rules and challenges based on the terrain and attributes of the region where the course is set. For example, the nine holes in “Lurker Valley,” which sports a caveman/prehistoric backdrop, are orange and brown in color and contain multiple bones and sludge traps. Each course, apart from being challenging in their own way, has its own unique charm and character, and simply walking through every field and sand trap is its own delight.
Golf Story, though flawed (the putting is particularly frustrating and many of the side quests are fairly menial), is about as refreshing a game I could have imagined. It has surprisingly emerged as one of the best games I’ve played this year, which so far has been defined by a litany of high-budget, flashy, behemoth-sized games that increasingly seem less interesting by the minute. Sure, the Nemesis system of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is impressive, and the graphical fidelity of Assassin’s Creed: Origins certainly piques my curiosity, but I know exactly what I’m getting out of those games: beautiful, realistic graphics and excellent game mechanics that will seem out of place and archaic in a matter of years. Golf Story, on the other hand, eschews such technological prestige in favor of charming ingenuity, which will not only age better but will help it stand out in a year in which that’s very hard to do.
I’m not saying Golf Story is the best game of the year or one of the best games I’ve played over the past several years. It’s really not much more than a fun indie game that came out of left field. What’s special about it, though, is that it manages to feel like a deep, dynamic RPG without being overwrought, bloated, or overly complex. Everything feels streamlined, simple, and straightforward, yet also elegant, challenging, funny, and entertaining as hell. I have yet to finish Golf Story, and my opinion on the game could change when I do, but for now I am simply delighted by the experience. Time to hit the links!
Author: Sam Martinelli
Sam has been playing video games since his earliest years and has been writing about them for the last year and a half. He’s a big fan of Nintendo games and complaining about Bioshock Infinite. You probably think his opinions are bad and you only click on his articles to hate-read them.
A lifelong New Yorker, Sam views gaming as far more than a silly little pastime, and hopes though critical analysis and in-depth reviews to convince others of games’ artistic merit.