Developer Sidebar Games’ sophomore effort, Sports Story, builds on previous golf-focused RPG successes by adding more sports to take part in and additional considerations for the golf experience. However, these efforts veer away from the path that made Golf Story as special as it is, creating an experience that often suffocates under the weight of too many unwanted fetch missions and unpolished mechanics. The weak story and several technical issues also hamper the experience, making Sports Story an overall disappointment.
Sports Story picks up a bit after the events of Golf Story. Having proven himself to be a capable golfer, the unnamed protagonist now finds himself on the cusp of signing a contract and joining a professional team. After going through the motions of checking into your hotel, finding new golf clubs, and getting a license, you head out into the countryside for a little practice. Upon reaching your destination, you find the territory under the abusive thumb of the bat-wielding iron dragon and decide to take on the role of detective to find out what is happening and stop this gang from destroying people’s lives.
The story changes abruptly around this early point. You are no longer an aspiring golfer who tries his best to solve other people’s problems with your golf skills; Instead, you begin moving from location to location as a freelance detective, helping people with the struggles they face and gathering evidence regarding the constant threat of Iron Dragons. It’s not all that compelling to watch a story unfold, especially with many of the funny and memorable characters from Golf Story either appearing only in a limited capacity or being removed entirely from the plot in favor of focusing on the bland and annoyingly simple-minded. the hero of the story.
Early on, the plot hints that every problem you encounter is somehow connected to a larger plot, but even that narrative thread isn’t interesting, largely because there isn’t enough reason to care about the hero and what might happen to him. The few characters that make the transition from Golf Story to Sports Story – like Coach and Lara – were written to be either completely useless or deeply annoying. While they had these traits again in Golf Story, the story has cleverly destroyed these archetypes to humanize and humor their roles in the story and turn them into people you’ll want to get to know over time. No such shifting takes place here, leaving the cast full of annoying people you really don’t want to help.
This narrative shift also feeds into Sports Story’s main gameplay loop, a series of fetch quests for the misfits around you. To advance in the story, you are regularly pressed to find items for someone. Sometimes a series of fishermen are found in order to learn how to catch different types of fish so you can prove you are capable enough to help someone in need, or find a set of keys to open a series of cages and free the birds inside. They open a portal for you. It’s not always immediately obvious where you’re supposed to go or what you need to do in order to progress, so a good deal of Sports Story is spent trying to figure out who you can interact with and what they want, similar to a point-and-click adventure.
It’s all rather boring, though. Sports Story lacks much of the charm and quick-witted jokes of its predecessor, so there isn’t much fun to dress up the tedium of accomplishing different flavors of the same task. Sports Story ostensibly adds variety with the addition of more sports beyond golf, but the overall play ring structure is quite rigid, so the experience starts to get boring fairly quickly in its runtime.
At the end of each chapter, you’ll play a round of golf and that’s where the game really shines. Like its predecessor, Sports Story uses a three-click golf system, which means that after selecting the club you’re using, you tap once to line up your shot, a second time to set the power of the shot, and a third time to set how straight to hit the ball. This system is mechanically accessible and easy to pick up, yet still manages to orchestrate the fun complexity and sense of strategy of the sport by adding factors like sand traps and wind speed.
On top of this already winning formula, Sports Story adds a variety of ball types for you to switch between, creating more opportunities to pull off complex shots and win over your opponent. A captain’s ball can be propelled across bodies of water, for example, while a captain’s ball automatically redirects toward the hole on its first bounce regardless of where or how it lands. These balls are limited – you find them in chests scattered across the map – which means there’s a sense of strategy in what you use and when you decide to use it. Using it security is not in your best interest, which means you’ll still take most shots with a standard golf ball.
The variety of locations is also put to great use, creating a wide variety of golf courses that each present different types of challenges. The mountains and tunnels at Britannia Station are surprisingly windy, for example, forcing you to keep strong winds in mind with every shot. Meanwhile, PureStrike Links have many slopes and interruptions, which means that it is often difficult to roll the ball along the green with your paddle. I like that each location has a theme associated with it, which encourages you to keep evolving over the course of the game and developing skills beyond hitting the ball as best you can.
When you’re not bringing someone an item or playing golf, Sports Story attempts to break the boredom out of its repetitive structure with a plethora of new sports to play and activities to engage in such as volleyball, tennis, cycling, and fishing. There’s nothing quite as fun as golf, however, and few of them – especially volleyball and cycling – are downright frustrating given their activities are designed to reward agility and positioning, and Sports Story’s movement mechanics aren’t designed for anything more physically demanding than swinging a golf club at a ball. stationary.
You’d think, with the titular transformation of Golf Story into Sports Story, that the new sport would play a big part in the sequel, but it’s largely an afterthought for fetch quests. Within the scope of the main story, most non-golf sports are only played once or twice with optional opportunities to play them again, allowing you to earn extra cash to buy new golf clubs as well as experience points that improve aspects of your golf swing. Despite this, the financial benefits and experience points you gain by taking on these activities again are not necessary, as you earn plenty of money and experience through the main quest missions to keep progressing at a steady pace. Given how broken or frustrated each of the new sports are and how little you interact with them, most feel tired and unfinished, especially compared to playing golf. The only exception is hunting, which plays an intrinsic role in an area and works as intended. However, fishing is tedious and repetitive, as it requires very little skill – all you need to know is what bait the fish likes in order to catch it.
Sports Story also suffers from technical issues, causing the game to crash regularly, the protagonist to get stuck in the environment, or the game not allowing you to open the menu and save the game. I had to restart missions six times and restart entire sections of the game after a crash caused me to lose nearly half an hour of progress. These issues make the already annoying cycle of repetitive fetching tasks even more frustrating, as all your efforts can get stuck at any moment. Making sure to manually save consistently mitigates the problem, of course, but it’s still annoying that you have to do this given how often these issues come up. Numerous updates since the game’s launch have helped reduce the regularity of these issues, but they remain.
Often, a hint of something special shines through in Sports Story’s oversized design. A joke or two that hit the mark and made me smile, for example, or triumph flowed through me after a burst of inspiration form the basis for a strategy that turns a seemingly impossible shot into something possible. But these moments are too rare to adequately mitigate the game’s many shortcomings, all of which are infuriated by regular technical issues. Golf Story deserves a better sequel than this.