PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
January 20, 2022
Genre mash-up games, the type of game that fuses together contrasting mechanics and ideas, are gaining traction in indie spaces. If I had to pick one, I’d say my favourite genre mash-up is the Sports RPG. I adore the Sports RPG. It’s a beacon of the balance these mash-ups should strive for. Sports RPGs tend to follow a story of an athlete’s journey to be a champion in their field. The sports provide variety in gameplay ensuring things don’t feel like a grind and the RPG elements facilitate the progression from newbie to mastery, preventing the game from feeling stale. RPGolf Legends flips the Sports RPG concept on its head. I appreciate a few parts of the gameplay, but my charity has a threshold, and this game catches the rough with frustrating frequency.
Teeing it up – the premise
The RPGolf narrative is as follows. Once upon a time, there was a great land, and the people bonded over god’s gift of pitch ‘n’ putt. Alas, a demon jealous of the humans and their “golf”, sealed up the courses of the world. Without golf as an option, your character turns to fishing, that is until you meet Clubby, an eye-roll-inducing fairy who possesses the spirit of a golf club. You and your fairy companion, who’s basically the golf club version of Navi from The Legend of Zelda, must travel the world, unsealing the courses and doing golf.
“…this parody succeeds at imitation, but fails at landing the jokes.”
I feel as though the game is attempting parody here. I can’t see any other justification for this blatant imitation of Zelda. The stumbling block though is that this parody succeeds at imitation, but fails at landing the jokes. I see the contours of a joke, there’s the clear rhythm and syntax and tropes colliding with other tropes. But the game struggles to actually be funny, instead feeling more like it’s following a humour checklist. The premise of the narrative feels a little overdone too, although I’ll admit that the story has the classic RPG charm. Some characters may fall into tropes but they’re fun and cleverly play into the framework of RPG classes. Yet, the charm is no substitute for quality, and a thin story can only hold your attention for so long.
It’s clear that classic RPGs are the inspiration for RPGolf Legends, right down to aesthetics. The pixel art is an obvious comparison, but there are similarities that run deeper. Each course is set in a different world, with different enemies, and different golf course styles and obstacles. All these elements tap into a classic RPG trope of some kind—the purples of the poisoned swamp, or the arid water-hazard-less desert. This aligns with tropey characters to create a cosy and familiar vibe. That’s the flipside I suppose, this can all be endearing if you view it with nostalgia. I just personally don’t really have a lot of enthusiasm for something that feels this generic. Granted, the real innovation here is the gameplay, but even that’s not quite a hole in one.
Critical hits – the basics of gameplay
It must be said that RPGolf Legends is a unique take on the “Sports RPG” genre. The standard version is a sports game, but with EXP, levelling, and a story campaign. Yet, this title is taking strides to properly marry the mechanics of both genres. If anything, the game tilts in the opposite direction, feeling akin to a dungeon crawler with golf as mere garnish. Mechanics take the spotlight here, though they are often in conflict with each other, and lacking in polish.
Let’s start with the RPG gameplay since it is the main event. The game will see you walking around the overworld and hitting monsters with golf clubs. The RPG work is tied to the unlocking of holes. Clubby needs energy to break the crystal powering the anti-golf forcefields and you get energy from killing monsters. As someone who hates grinding in RPGs, it’s a harrowing prospect. It’s a system where playing through nine holes took me almost three hours. As I’ll talk about, there are ways around this system that I appreciate. However, the blatant use of grinding to pad out the gameplay is notable, to say the least.
I worry that the RPG mechanics in RPGolf Legends are outdated. The controls are retro, played in an isometric view. You attack and block, have a special class ability, and that’s it. The needle sits right in the middle, pointing to “competent”. I’m not thrilled but I feel no strong animosity, either. The RPG mechanics tend to trap you in boring, if inoffensive, loops.
Your reward for all the imp and bear clubbing is some of that god-given golf. Golf in this game is stripped back. Swings use the classic 3-click swing—start, set power, set accuracy. New clubs and balls, and the wind gauge, are the only other things that mess with a shot. There is no variety of terrain, everything is flat, including the greens. Yet various surfaces have an impact. For example, the ice world has massive ice sheets that have that classic RPG slippery quality to them. Even then, I’m curious as to why the rough, for example, seems to not affect your shot. Sand shots can have some serious accuracy considerations, but rough doesn’t? It’s odd.
This may explain the course design. Over the campaign, the difficulty of the courses trends upward. Over time they resemble the unfair holes of my childhood Sim Golf courses. Additionally, the progression system comes down to improving equipment. The gap between when the holes get longer, and the unlocking of a particular golf set, is one filled with impotent rage. I’m reminded of a particular par 4 that can be reached in two with the chosen set, but at best 3 shots with any other clubs. It demonstrates why levelling up is a better system. It places the responsibility on the player and removes the ability to gatekeep improvement. Whether it was easier to code, or just helped further extend the run time, I can’t be sure, but it doesn’t make the game more fun to play.
Killing or sport? – RPGolf Legends and the relationship between golf and RPG
“Did this game even need to be a sports RPG? To my tastes, RPGolf Legends is no ambassador to the genre.”
The intermingling of the RPG and sports genres has some positives and negatives. Of course, the system for grinding for energy to unlock more golf demonstrates the fundamental conflict. Granted, this system does have a back door. If you get par or under, you get a slot machine of bonuses that can grant you energy unlock holes. At a point, I abandoned the monsters to grind on the course. I’d have preferred if this was explained by the game. On the other end of the spectrum, the boss fights are a rare instance where the two gameplay ideas work in harmony. The usual routine involves fighting the boss and then speedrunning from tee to hole while it’s dazed. This idea is then advanced upon further into the game. It’s a rare instance where the two genre concepts are working co-operatively, rather than vying for screen time. The two ideas work at keeping you on your toes and complement each other well.
Yet, despite some of the crossover parts that I liked, I’m left with an important question. Did this game even need to be a sports RPG? To my tastes, RPGolf Legends is no ambassador to the genre. This game is not using two genres to get the strengths of both. Just as two wrongs don’t make a right, two half-baked things do not make for one well-baked dessert. Had the resources been concentrated on either the golf or the RPG, it would make for a less exciting premise, but ultimately one that would have likely been constructed better.
- Golf and RPG mechanics are solid, if basic
- Some alright characters
- The boss fights really demonstrate the two genres working well together
- Story is a bit cliche
- Elements of the gameplay loop (eg grinding to unlock holes) can make the campaign a slog
RPGolf Legends leans too much into its influences to be really entertaining in itself. As a fan of Sports RPGs, RPGolf Legends demonstrates there is some wiggle room to experiment with the formula. I’d be doing a disservice to not congratulate the developers on the boss fights that succeed at demonstrating how RPG mechanics and golf mechanics can integrate well to make some unique and special gameplay moments. However, it must be said that outside of those boss fights, the game is largely satisfactory, but not exciting. It’s not the worst game I have played in recent memory, and it’s not a bad game to kill time on. Yet, for the ambition on display, I find it hard to get particularly enthusiastic about RPGolf Legends.