SideBar Releases Realistic New Take on Golf Games

Sports video games typically function as emulations: players run and pass in football games or throw and hit in baseball games. However, some gaming developers have reconsidered sports games platforms, gearing them toward storytelling in some cases.

That’s where Golf Story comes in. Golf Story is independent pixel-art golf game from Sidebar Games released at the end of September for the Nintendo Switch. In the game you play as a person who, after not playing golf since childhood, returns to the sport. The story is simple; the golfer aspires to play professionally, despite never playing seriously before. The journey that follows is an elegant romp through a small world of golf courses.

Golf Story is split between golf and the rest of the storyline. Golfing is rewarding, if somewhat realistically difficult. Gameplay offers options to adjust the distance of the ball, the spin you put on it, and change clubs. Furthermore, the heads-up display informs you of the slope of the course and the direction the wind is blowing. Despite these details, Golf Story is a relatively bare-bones system that allows you to play golf without the frills usually associated with more complex sports games.

The aesthetic of 2D pixel art allows each golf course to looking visually distinct, but at times fails to convey necessary information. Even though the HUD displays showcase the degree of the slope, for instance, different parts of a hole occasionally have different slopes, causing errors in judgement by the player. The ball spin mechanism is also a slightly frustrating feature. Upon trial, on many occasions it rarely seemed to affect the ball beyond knocking it past a barrier. For the most part, these aspects did less to frustrate me and more to impede my fully immersive gaming experience. The system itself is good, but it never feels like it was meant to give a feeling of mastery.

Completing golf courses, as well as small side missions like learning to putt or chasing off some frisbee golfers, gives you experience and levels allowing you to customize the golfer’s stats as you see fit. However, unlike games that make you specialize, Golf Story actively discourages specialization. Every time you gain a point or two in strength, your other stats suffer and you’ll need to raise them up again. This is an interesting system that supports the ethos of golf as a sport being presented: It’s not about a single aspect of greatness, but about skill balance.

But golfing, as previously mentioned, is only half the game. The other half is the story of you, the player, and your improvement. The game follows your character from beginning as an absolute amateur to winning your very own pro tour.

Another beautiful aspect of the game is that it never takes itself too seriously. The occasional flashbacks of the coach who takes you under his wing are juxtaposed with the player knocking golf balls at a resurrected skeleton horde. Moments like the latter are what pushed me through; seeing what wackiness the game could come up with outside of its main premise of golf.

The characters, although engaging, never really grow. They feel less like real people and more like tools used by developers to create plot momentum or comedic elements. No character seems to get their own arc. Devoting attention to the supporting characters would have been a welcome addition to making the world feel less like a game and more like a real inhabited place.

Overall, I enjoyed Golf Story’s original take on sports games. The golfing was fun, while also a frustrating challenge due to design decisions. The story, although not remarkable in where it culminates, was an entertaining journey that had some standout moments that invoked genuine laughter. Still, the two halves of the games felt like they needed more. It was a competent game, and certainly there isn’t an experience quite like it except for old Mario Golf games. Most of Golf Story’s flaws don’t lie in what is there, rather in what isn’t. However, for $15, it’s still a really good time.