Developer Sidebar Games' sophomore effort, Sports Story, builds off the successes of its golf-focused RPG predecessor by adding more sports to participate in and additional considerations to the golfing experience. However, these efforts veer too far off course from what made Golf Story as special as it is, creating an experience that oftentimes suffocates under the bloat of too many unwanted fetch quests and unpolished mechanics. A weak story and numerous technical issues also hamper the experience, making Sports Story a disappointment overall.
Sports Story picks up a bit after the events of Golf Story. After proving to be a capable golfer, the unnamed protagonist now finds himself on the cusp of signing a contract and going pro. After going through the motions of checking into your hotel, finding new golf clubs, and acquiring a license, you head off to the countryside for a little practice. Upon reaching your destination, you find the area under the abusive thumb of the bat-wielding Iron Dragons and decide to take on the role of a detective to figure out what's going on and stop this gang from ruining people's lives.
The story abruptly shifts around this early point. No longer are you an aspiring golfer doing his best to solve other people's problems through your golfing skills; instead, you start hopping from one location to the next as a freelance investigator, aiding people in the struggles they're facing and collecting clues related to the ongoing threat of the Iron Dragons. It's not all that compelling a tale to watch unfold, especially with many of the funny and memorable characters from Golf Story either only showing up in a limited capacity or being entirely removed from the plot in favor of focusing on the bland and annoyingly simple-minded protagonist.
Early on, the plot hints that every problem you're encountering is somehow connected to a bigger conspiracy, but even that narrative thread isn't all that interesting, largely because there isn't enough of a reason to care about the protagonist and what might happen to him. The few characters who do make the transition from Golf Story to Sports Story--like Coach and Lara--are written to be either completely useless or aggressively annoying. While they had these traits back in Golf Story, the storyline cleverly subverted these archetypes to both humanize and humorize their roles in the story and transform them into people you wanted to get to know over time. No such transformation happens here, leaving the cast filled with annoying people you don't really want to help.
This narrative shift also feeds into Sports Story's main gameplay loop, which is a series of fetch quests for the incompetent people around you. To progress in the story, you're regularly pressed to find items for someone. Sometimes that's finding a series of fishermen in order to learn how to catch different kinds of fish so that you can prove yourself capable enough to aid someone in need, or finding a bunch of keys to unlock a series of cages and free the birds inside so that they open a gate for you. It's not always immediately clear where you're supposed to go or what you have to do in order to progress, so a great deal of Sports Story is spent running around trying to see who you can interact with and what they want, akin to a point-and-click adventure.
It's all rather dull, though. Sports Story lacks much of the charm and quick-witted jokes of its predecessor, so there's not much in the way of 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 structure of the overall gameplay loop is quite rigid, so the experience begins to feel rote and boring fairly quickly into its runtime.
At the end of each chapter, you get to play a round of golf and it's here where the game shines. Like its predecessor, Sports Story uses a three-click system for golf, meaning that after you select which club you're using, you click once to line up the shot, a second time to set the shot's power, and a third time to determine how straight you hit the ball. This system is mechanically approachable and simple to pick up, and yet still manages to curate enjoyable complexity and a sense of strategy for the sport by adding in factors like sand traps and wind speed.
On top of this already-winning formula, Sports Story adds an assortment of ball types for you to switch between, creating even more opportunities to pull off complex shots and clutch a victory over your opponent. The skipper ball can be propelled across bodies of water, for example, while the vector 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--meaning there's a sense of strategy both in what you use and when you decide to use it. Using them willy-nilly isn't in your best interest, meaning you'll still be taking most shots with the standard golf ball.
The variety of locations is also used to great effect, creating a diverse assortment of golf courses that each present different types of challenges. The mountains and tunnels of Britannia Station are surprisingly windy, for example, forcing you to take the strong winds into account with every shot. Meanwhile, PureStrike Links has numerous slopes and divots, meaning that it's oftentimes tricky to roll the ball along the green with your putter. I like that each location has a theme tied to it, encouraging you to continue to evolve over the course of the game and develop skills beyond hitting the ball as best you can.
When you're not fetching an item for someone or playing golf, Sports Story attempts to break up the tedium of its repetitive structure with a slew of new sports to play and activities to participate in like volleyball, tennis, bike riding, and fishing. None are as enjoyable as golfing, however, and a few--especially volleyball and bike riding--are downright frustrating given how they're activities that are made to reward nimbleness and positioning, and Sports Story's movement mechanics aren't designed for anything more physically strenuous than swinging a golf club at a stationary ball.
You'd think, with the titular shift of Golf Story to Sports Story, that the new sports would play a huge role in the sequel, but they're largely an afterthought to the fetch quests. Within the scope of the main story, you play most of the non-golf sports only once or twice with optional opportunities to play them again, which allows you to earn extra cash to buy new golf clubs as well as experience points that improve aspects of your golf swing. The monetary benefits and experience points you gain playing these activities again aren't necessary though, as you earn plenty of money and experience through the main questlines to keep progressing at a steady pace. Given how broken or frustrating each of the new sports is and how little you engage with them, most of them feel tacked on and unfinished, especially in comparison to playing golf. The one exception is fishing, which plays a substantial role in one of the areas and works as intended. However, fishing is boring and repetitive, as it requires very little skill--all you need to know is which bait a fish likes in order to catch it.
Sports Story also suffers from technical issues, resulting in the game regularly crashing, the protagonist getting stuck in the environment, or the game not allowing you to open the menu and save the game. I've had to restart missions half a dozen times and replay whole sections of the game after a crash caused me to lose nearly a half hour's worth of progress. These issues make the already-annoying cycle of repeated fetch quests all the more frustrating, as it's possible all your effort might be dashed at any given moment. Making sure to constantly manually save alleviates the issue, of course, but it's still annoying that you even have to do that given how often these issues pop up. Several updates since the game's launch have helped reduce the regularity of these problems, but they still persist.
Every so often, a hint of something special glints through in Sports Story's bloated design. A joke or two manages to hit the mark and make me smile, for instance, or a surge of triumph flows through me after a dash of inspiration forms the basis of a strategy that turns a seemingly impossible shot into something possible. But these moments are too rare to adequately alleviate the game's numerous shortcomings, all of which are exasperated by regular technical issues. Golf Story deserved a better sequel than this.