More of a Story than a Golf
Golf Story presents itself as an unassuming, charming, 2-D golf RPG. Harkening back to the days of Mario Golf on the GameBoy Color, this game places you into a world full of silly NPCs and challenges around the world, giving you opportunities to play golf, complete quests, sharpen your skills, and enjoy a laugh or two. While it delivers plentifully on a colorful world and silly interactions, Golf Story is a bit too shallow on the "Golf" half to really hook anyone seeking a good golf game.
The majority of the discussion around the game has revolved around the atmosphere of the game. You begin your story as a child with a knack for golf, getting a chance to show off in front of your dad and a flock of geese. Twenty-some years later, you're separated from your wife and chasing that dream of becoming a pro golfer, despite never having played in a tournament. From there, the game introduces you to a begrudging coach, some fellow golfers, and plenty of absurd NPCs who will ask you to perform a hundred inane tangentially-golf-related tasks. The story itself is straightforward; you follow your goal to becoming a professional golfer while facing small roadblocks along the way. Where Golf Story sets itself apart from any other game in the last decade is the world you play in.
Your stomping-grounds course is overrun by kids and punks who have barely ever touched a driver. You explore courses that have tar pits and turtles, birds and cliffs, beaches, ghosts, and more. You play disc golf (not Frisbee) on occasion. You smash pumpkins with your irons. You find a secret mini-golf testing facility. You play Galf, a purposely frustrating parody of 8-bit golf games. You get involved in a murder mystery. Basically, Golf Story uses its retro style to create a fantastical world that happens to weave golf into every aspect of itself.
Various NPCs will have challenges for you. Hit the ball from point A to point B. Do it x times with y opportunities. Do it again with silly restrictions. While the act itself is fairly straightforward, the situations that are presented to you are often weird enough to earn a chuckle, and completing it will earn you cash (to buy new clubs and equipment) as well as experience (to level up and upgrade your power, fix your draw/fade, improve your aim and control, and ramp up your spin). This is the part that harkens back to the GBC Mario Golf, where your character was a piece of unshaped clay who you could level up and mold into your ideal golfer. The fun thing that Golf Story adds on is the ability to just drop a ball wherever and hit it. This lends itself to getting interesting practice shots and interacting with the goofy world in unique ways, which only lends to the charm.
While the world is vibrant and fun to be in, the golfing in Golf Story is more drab and straightforward. Once you tee up, the amount of nonsense in the world is largely cut back, although sometimes your partners and opponents in match games will make things interesting. The act of golf is nothing revolutionary: you pick a club, find your angle, adjust your swing, spin, and impact, and then push the A button three times to imitate the backswing, the swing, and the impact. You'll end up accounting for wind, for slope, for the inaccuracy in power that is given by having a bad lie, but even then the golfing is pretty bare-bones and frankly very easy. Most of the time, you can make birdie by just lining up the dot with where you want the ball to go, adjusting a few yards for wind and roll. Similar to a few other Mario Golf games, you have access to special shots (that are limited by a meter) that allow you to slow down the swing speed, hit farther, or pretend like you're on an invisible tee, ignoring whatever your ball is sitting in. But these additions never make it feel like you're making difficult golf decisions or that your outcomes are truly a result of hard work and skill.
In the end, Golf Story is a mediocre golf game set in a well-crafted quirky world that gave me a couple of laughs, but very few moments of true challenge or triumph.