Maybe you've already heard about a Nintendo Switch game called Golf Story, but you saw the retro pixel graphics and sports-y focus and decided to give it a miss. If that describes you, I want you to listen to me very carefully: you are making a grave mistake. Yeah, I felt like I was taking a little bit of a chance dropping $15 on this eShop game from an unknown developer, but I can assure you that it's worth it. Golf Story is one of the best Nintendo Switch games in a library that's already remarkably strong for its age. Here are three of the biggest reasons why.
It's golf for people who don't like golf
The basic premise of golf has innate appeal. You hit a small round thing with a long heavy thing until it goes in a hole and makes a nice rolly-sinky sound, all while accounting for external factors like terrain and wind. Satisfying. Unfortunately, I don't like most of the things around golf. The expensive clubs; the dress code; the ecological impact of sprawling, carefully maintained golf courses; the sun burns from spending hours outside on said courses; the fact that golf balls are tiny and hard to see (though that last point only really becomes an issue if you ever manage to hit a ball further than a few yards, which was never a concern for me). I could go on - but Golf Story lets me bypass all that nonsense and focus on the ball-hitting part.
Granted, you could say that about most golf video games. And it's true - as a golfing simulator, Golf Story is unremarkable: it uses the good old three-button-press system for determining your distance and accuracy. External concerns like wind and slope are represented via standard HUD indicators. The best thing a true virtual golf enthusiast could probably find to say about this particular attempt at virtual links would be that "it's competent". But that's where the other part of Golf Story comes in.
It's a JRPG for people who don't like JRPGs
Listen: I've started Earthbound at least a half-dozen times. The sprite art, the quirky characters, the psychedelic battle backgrounds - I love them all. But actually moving through a world where every 12 feet, some bastard rat comes running up to bite me and steal my cookies via an extended turn-based combat system? I just can't do it. I would rather watch grass grow than pick "Fight" or occasionally "Psi" or "Magic" or whatever until somebody's life bar runs out again. And at least Earthbound steers well clear of the heavy-handed world building and anime character tropes that so many other JRPGs enthusiastically bury themselves in.
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It's a shame, because I like the basic premise. Wandering around a big world, talking to people, finding valuable items in trash cans and strangers' desks is great. Golf Story lets me do all that while replacing JRPG battles with "now we golf" and JRPG end-of-the-world scenarios with "get better at golf." So much more fun than waiting for a goblin to punch me in the face so I can punch it back. Instead of lore-filled text dumps, Golf Story uses dialogue economically and presents it in novel ways that are often just as funny as the text itself; a word balloon tilting askew and falling off the screen can do so much more to convey "tired and bemused" than text-based dialogue ever could on its own. Little techniques like that turn characters who could have easily been one-note stereotypes, like a rival golfer who resents your hero for stealing the attention of her trainer, into funny, flawed people who you love crossing paths with.
It's the ideal Nintendo Switch game
No, I'm not saying Golf Story is a better game than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I'm saying Golf Story is the best-suited game to the Nintendo Switch console that I've ever played. The chilled-out tempo of golf perfectly suits playing on the go: you can do an entire course at once or just take a couple strokes, put it down, then finish up later when you get home. The vibrant and lively pixel art looks great on a TV and it's chunky enough that you don't miss any details by playing on the Switch's built-in screen.
But let me tell you about the one thing that Golf Story does so well on Switch that it physically could not replicate anywhere else: rumble. I'd honestly forgotten that HD rumble was one of Nintendo's selling points for Switch, because so few games actually make use of it. Golf Story made me remember. It puts those little servos and gyros to work by giving you a little jolt when you make contact with the ball, yes, but that's just the beginning. Switch's HD rumble gives you an otherworldly connection to the ball itself. Bounce into the rough, and you'll feel a few dull whumps. Scramble over a cement pathway and you'll be reprimanded with a series of sharp plinks. Land the ball on the green and you'll be rewarded with a soft, satisfying thud.
Have I convinced you yet? If you end up giving Golf Story a try, do me a favor and play with the Joy-Cons detached, sans grip or Pro Controller. Then hit a ball off the map and hold the Joy-Cons up on either side of your head, next to your ears. You'll hear an odd little noise, like a cartoon coyote falling off a cliff. But the Joy-Cons don't have speakers… it's using HD rumble to make that weird little slide whistle sound! Like those floppy disk drives that people rig up to play music! I love it so much. I love Golf Story so much.