The past year or so has been pretty stressful to say the least. In fact, quality video games are pretty much the only good things 2017 has going for it. And we need those video games because when it feels like the world could end at any moment on Twitter it’s so nice to have somewhere to escape to just to maintain your own sanity.
As a system you can play anywhere, on the go or at home, the new Nintendo Switch is the perfect video game machine for the Hell of 2017. It can provide emergency relief at a moment’s notice wherever you are, like at a protest. And recently I’ve been playing two games on my Switch that deliver all the chill you could ever want: Golf Story and Stardew Valley.
Why lump these games together? They just feel like perfect companions. They both draw inspiration from classic 16-bit JRPGS in their visual presentation, jaunty music, and overall gameplay structures. They both feature charming dialogue delivered by lovable characters. They both turn seemingly mundane activities (golfing and farming) into sweeping, joyful adventures. And they are both inexpensive games that provide exponentially more fun than some AAA competitors. But let’s drill down further.
Golf Story came out of nowhere from Australian developer Sidebar Games. Like the handheld Mario sports games of old, Golf Story features accessible sports gameplay as the “battle system” of a light role-playing game. You’re a grown man with a strained relationship but a love of golfing bestowed upon you by your father. So you’re on a quest to be the best golfer you can possibly be.
You’ll be playing a lot of golf in Golf Story and fortunately it’s pretty intuitive. This isn’t some hardcore sim. You collect and choose between different clubs with different stats and chart out where you want to hit. A timing minigame, the wind, and your own personal stats determine how close you get to your mark. It’s like Neo Turf Masters but with the added joy of very tactile HD Rumble. And if you don’t even want to bother with the story you can quickly play a few holes at anytime.
But the story in Golf Story really is delightful. The game is full of well-written, quirky, Earthbound-esque characters. There are shady club owners out of sports movie, pretentious disc golf practitioners, students who just can’t dial back the strength of their swings, reluctant coaches, and even a whole realm of caveman golfers.
The story also provides plenty of opportunities to golf in different, entertaining contexts. Most quest-lines end with a lengthy game of golf. But to get to that point you’ll have to complete specific challenges like bouncing balls off of turtles, only hitting into bunkers, racing around a course on foot, or using a wedge to dig for fossils. You can even tee up literally anywhere at any time. Some of these objectives are more tedious than fun, and some can even lead to game-breaking crashes, but overall they help make Golf Story one of the best surprises on Nintendo Switch.
Stardew Valley’s high quality, on the other hand, is no longer surprising. When the Harvest Moon homage was first released in 2016 by one dude(Eric Barone!) it certainly was a shock. But now we’ve all accepted Stardew Valley as one of the best indie games you can buy, and so we couldn’t wait to buy it on Nintendo Switch.
And now that I’ve played it I understand. Stardew Valley feels like a game you need to spend hours and hours and hours with to properly evaluate. I haven’t done that, yet. But even just based on the time I have invested I’ve been utterly charmed by its world and enthralled by its mechanical complexity that slowly reveals itself to you.
Chopping down trees, shattering rocks, and cutting talls grass to clear a field for planting crops sounds like the most boring and repetitive thing in the world, especially since your energy is limited and crops take days to grow. But it quickly becomes a relaxing ritual, one of many you’ll fall into. I went to the functioning arcade in the bar at 5PM every day to socialize with everyone and become a better member of the community. I earned cash selling my excess resources. I ventured into procedurally generated mines to slay monsters and find gems. I talked to a cowboy wizard and went fishing outside his tower.
There’s so much to do but no pressure to rush through any of it. Outside of some late-game story goals, Stardew Valley is an experience you approach entirely at your own pace. Whether it’s building a chicken coop or wooing a spouse, do it when you feel like doing it as the seasons pass. At first I felt compelled to make the most out of a day, working so hard I (virtually) passed out and lost money. But I soon realized the joy of going to bed at like 9PM, even if that meant triggering the fairly long saving process through a user interface still rooted in PC sensibilities.
That feeling also ties into the game’s larger themes of enjoying nature’s tranquility. The closest thing Stardew Valley has to a villain is an omnipresent corporation the player used to work for and that still exists within the town. But the best way to resist them is to just keep living your humble life off of the land and not get wrapped up in arbitrary rat races. It’s a great message to hear while playing the game on cramped New York City subways. In fact, the bite-sized nature of each day combined with the Switch’s portability makes it even easier to choose exactly how much or how little you’d to play every day.
There’s a sort of backhanded compliment you could give both Golf Story and Stardew Valley, that they’re merely fine indie imitations that can tide you over until the real Nintendo games you want are on Switch. And the sooner Nintendo releases its own follow-ups to Mario sports RPGs and Animal Crossing the better. But they wouldn’t diminish the quality of Golf Story and Stardew Valley, two games that put together cost less than individual big games but offer arguably as much if not more. They are must buys for Nintendo Switch owners who want to chill out in the most entertaining, engrossing ways possible.
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Golf Story is a surprise hit indie game for Nintendo Switch.
It’s basically a chill RPG where battles are replaced by rounds of golf.
Charming writing and characters make this a world you want to hit the links in.
Stardew Valley is one of the most acclaimed indie games of the past few years.
Along with tending a farm, you can do everything from socializing to exploring mines to fishing to learning from a wizard.
Stardew Valley is a game you approach entirely at your own pace, and that’s even more convenient on Nintendo Switch.
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