When you play certain games, the development issues are nearly palpable. You can feel how they struggled to implement certain ideas. It’s possible to see when they were rushed, due to bugs locking you out of completing certain quests. You might even realize how diversifying meant what felt good in past games doesn’t work as well the second time around. This is sadly true for Sports Story, a follow up to the game Golf Story. While the personality remains intact, it is incredibly broken. It feels like it isn’t ready for an audience yet.
Unlike the original Golf Story, Sports Story’s narrative is quite unfocused. It begins with a press conference with PureStrike regarding its investments and commitment to sports and its potential customers. You then show up at a beach with Uncle Coach, using his son Doug’s perks to carry out a plan. You end up getting into all sorts of sports-related and unrelated quests on this trip to see all the corporation has to offer.
But again, this is in the loosest way possible. There are few tutorials or introductions to explain what you are doing in Sports Story, which isn’t great when going through a game.. It can suddenly go from making it seem like golf could be a focus again to abruptly sending you into a volleyball match. Before you can get sports licenses or take part in games, you may find yourself doing a fetch quest like making orange juice, finding flags in a mall within a certain amount of time, getting a putter, or catching bees. This also means you might only have a general notion of what you should do next, even if the task ahead is a simple one. With how many sports there are and the way things are organized, it feels like there’s a sense of bloat that keeps it from bring a tight, concise, enjoyable adventure like the original. So even though you do see baseball batting cages, BMX racing, cricket-challenges, fishing, RC car racing, soccer-inspired challenges, tennis, and volleyball in addition to the original golf, many aren’t handled well.
This is due to two primary problems with the sports in Sports Story. One is that some seem to be tossed in for the sake of saying they are there. The three most well-developed and defined ones are golf, tennis, and fishing, all of which are largely tied to progression. BMX pulls double-time as a way of getting around some spaces or going through certain tracks. But for sports like baseball and soccer, there is barely any representation beyond doing things like shooting some goals for challenges or visiting a batting cage.
However, all of these sports also rely on response times and precision. Tennis is a good example. You need the game to respond appropriately to not only enjoy yourself, but actually play. There are frame rate issues, which is odd given the nature of this sprite-based game, which means occasional stuttering or lag can completely throw you off. It’s disappointing, because even if a sport is handled well, the response times can ruin the experience.
There are also many times when it feels like you can’t advance in the game not because the way forward is vague or there’s no tutorial to explain an element, but because Sports Story is blatantly broken. For example, the reason this review took so long is both due to crashes and because I needed to restart the game after being locked out of progressing in a quest. Most notably, when going through a mission at the Tennis Academy, I ended talking to the receptionist. When I couldn’t progress after that, I went online and discovered doing so triggered a bug that would keep me from advancing. Since I couldn’t move forward and didn’t know when a patch would appear, I restarted. During my second run, I started encountering more crashes. Sports Story crashed when my orange juice was being made. It crashed when I was catching bees. It crashed when I was going to visit the aforementioned Tennis Academy.
Which is a shame, because there are times when Sports Story can be fun. The script can be quite humorous. The sprite work is fantastic. The concept is generally sound. Golf Story, only more seems like a winning prospect. It’s that being overambitious undid any goodwill here. I wouldn’t be surprised too if there’s an element of it all being rushed, with the proper amount of time not being dedicated to eliminate issues and more cohesively tie everything together. With patches, there could be something here! While it wouldn’t hit the heights of Golf Story, I think Sports Story could still eventually be an enjoyable game. It will just take two or more months for that to happen.
Sports Story is available for the Nintendo Switch.