This may be controversial, but for my money, the Nintendo Switch’s best game is Golf Story from Sidebar Games. The 2017 arcade golf game does something that Nintendo itself continually refuses to do with its Mario Golf series: merge simple golf mechanics with an in-depth, charming RPG. Considering that’s what made the Mario Golf series so popular back in the Game Boy days, it’s baffling that someone had to come along and replicate that magic when it seems so simple for a company the size of Nintendo to do.
That aside, Golf Story is a must-play title regardless of whether you like golf or not. When I heard about Soccer Story, I was beyond excited because, even though it’s from a different developer, it seemed poised to bring that Golf Story charm to a new sport. Unfortunately, developer Panic Barn isn’t able to capture that same excitement.
A lackluster on-pitch product
Soccer Story wears its influences on a blazing neon patch on its sleeve. It is trying to do exactly what Golf Story did, but with the world’s most popular sport. It seems like a simple formula — but game development isn’t that easy.
Let’s start with the actual soccer. It’s fast-paced, simplistic gameplay that mostly works. However, as someone who puts thousands of hours into FIFA each year, it feels like Soccer Story is missing something. That doesn’t mean it needs to have the complicated mechanics we see in EA Sports’ yearly effort. While I’d love to have the ability to use a Through Ball or more easily set up some tactics, what Soccer Story is begging for are some super-powered shots. In the basic arcade mode, those aren’t there, leading to boring games that quickly lost my interest.
Golf Story excels at this, because even if you’re only playing the most basic version of the game, there are many things to track and manage. You need to pay attention to the wind and different obstacles, for example. In Soccer Story, you just shoot at the goal until the goalie misses and slide tackle the opposition into oblivion. There’s some fun in that, but it got dull after just a few matches.
Technical issues trump all
Here’s the thing, though: Soccer Story might have those power-ups, but I’ll never see them. The gameplay is not only kind of boring, but Soccer Story is also riddled with technical issues. Like in Golf Story, there are all kinds of side activities that provide small twists on normal gameplay. In my experience, these are more like a minefield of potential problems than something you’ll actually want to do. More than half of the time after completing a side quest, my game soft-locked. I would just be staring at a blank screen, unable to move on until I manually closed the game from the Windows Taskbar and lost several minutes of progress. That’s an incredibly frustrating way to play any game, and it’s too bad because I really did have high hopes for Soccer Story.
There’s a fun story here about soccer being taken away from the people and your character trying to bring it back. Also, there are some solid, though simple, team-building elements with upgradeable characters and side quests that have a sense of mystery and inspire curiosity, as the game doesn’t really tell you how to do anything. Forcing me to figure things like that out is a positive in my book as long as it’s by design and not overly complicated.
In short, Soccer Story is a bummer. The soccer gameplay just isn’t fun enough to compensate for its technical shortcomings. While the story being told is engaging, I just don’t have unlimited time to waste, hoping that this time the game won’t break on me. Hopefully, Panic Barn can iron out those issues with a future patch and make Soccer Story a solid addition to the Xbox Game Pass lineup. However, as it stands, I think you’re much better off waiting to see what Sidebar Game does with Sports Story at the tail end of 2022.