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Golf Story review
Meh
by JustCozzie

An impressive first title from a new indie studio. Pretty artstyle and the novel concept of an RPG with golf replacing battles is a welcome mix-up of the genre that could've easily felt like a gimmick if it hadn't gone all-in on every possible application of the golf theme. There's disc golf, mini golf, long-range golf, virtual golf, and tens of other more unusual (and occasionally hilarious) puzzles that can be solved by whacking a ball with a stick. The core golf gameplay is as solid as you could hope, with fun course hazards and absurdly satisfying feedback when you hit that perfect shot, but it also leans fully into RPG tropes with golf club upgrades and a LoZ style items screen that fills as you unlock new abilities.

With the game hitting so many different beats however comes the problem that some fun ones go under-used. My personal favourite was disc golf and you only seem to be able to play it three times at preset points in the story, and can't come back to replay it when you feel like a round. The long-range driving mechanic is only ever used ONCE and then never mentioned again. I would've also appreciated a way to zoom out and see the whole course as you only get a quick glimpse of it at the start of the hole and then your camera movement is very limited, but the biggest complaint I have is how (despite the game doing well at running you through the basics) some of the more confusing systems go completely un-introduced. The game starts you off with a limited use super-move that can be used to make trickier shots easier until a stamina bar is depleted, and more of them gradually unlock through the story, but you're never told they're there and they only work in certain matches so even if you try all the controls it's easy to go "oh, that doesn't do anything," and never touch it again. It's very possible to go through the whole game without knowing they're there (a fact I know for sure based on the amount of people posting on reddit who did just that).

Another issue is the upgrade screen which does present a cool idea but needs a lot more explanation to stop it being so damn un-user friendly. There are 5 stats you can distribute points into, each affecting a different aspect of your shot, and each (aside from the self-explanatory "Power") have a bit of a vague description for what they actually do. Of the 5 identical bars 3 follow traditional game-logic that the fuller they are the better, but one of the bars drains all the others when you put points in it, and one needs to be perfectly balanced in the middle of the bar - actually becoming worse if you put too many points into it. You can also refund points, but only from one of the five bars, the other four lock them in immediately after spending, and if all that sounds as obtuse to you as it did to me you'd probably do well to look up an online explanation the first time you level up.

Golf Story has a tonne of personality, mostly conveyed through its painstakingly animated text boxes which all dynamically grow/shrink, speed up, and slow down to better convey the rhythm of its character's dialogue. The writing itself is often funny and very well done over-all but I did personally have a problem with just how much of a dick everybody is to your character. That might seem like an odd complaint at first but I found it genuinely frustrating that you can be demolishing your rivals while they're still learning not to hit into the water, then beating famous pro-golfers on your first try,and EVERYBODY will still be acting like your character's shit. It's like playing a game where every single character is Gary Oak.

Technically the game works alright, but does have a strange problem with scenes and sprites not being updated quite in time for the game's pace. This can be minor: like your character spawning with his club out only to quickly put it away and get it out again, or major: like a cutscene ending, flashing back to the final frame of the previous cutscene, cutting to a "the following day..." intertitle, going back to the end of the first cutscene before gameplay loads in, then your character standing next to their bed quickly snaps into their "asleep" animation so they can wake up and go back to where they were standing again. More harmful to the actual gameplay is how the game sometimes detects your shot as hitting the water when it landed squarely on land (not even close to the edge, I'm talking right in the middle of the fairway), putting you down two strokes through no fault of your own. Thankfully it's as rare as it is frustrating but, combined with the inexplicable quality of life shortfall of not being able to restart or back out of tournaments, your options if you get that water glitch on the first hole are either to carry on playing for 15 minutes - knowing fullwell you've probably already lost - or to completely exit and reboot the game.