Sports Story, the follow-up to the cult classic Golf Story, is one of my most anticipated titles from 2022. Developer Sidebar Games deliver a captivating and unique RPG experience within a golf game. So expanding to include more sports, adventures, and content seems like a no-brainer. Yet the sudden December 23rd release indicates a significant problem: this game is not ready for prime time.
Honestly, I should have seen the warning signs coming a mile away. But, alas, my blinders were on due to excitement for the game’s release. Despite several days due to Covid and an increasing scope, we finally got news about Sports Story in November. During an Indie World Nintendo Direct, a new trailer and gameplay details emerged. We also got a release window: December 2022. However, as the month of December rolled on, news of an actual release date didn’t come with it. Until one day, during Nintendo’s pre-Christmas Indie week, it was a surprise drop.
“Finally,” my wife and I proclaimed, “we get to play Sports Story!”
Or so we thought.
Sports Story Is a Buggy Mess
In the days since its release, playing Sports Story has been a constant slog of pacing issues, frame rate drops, and significant technical bugs and hiccups. Worst of all, they aren’t on the level of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, where you can almost always play through them. These bugs cause soft locks that prevent progressing through the game.
Worst of all, a patch has been in limbo for over a week. Finally, on December 24th, the Sidebar Games Twitter announced, “We have a patch under way [SIC] to fix some issues that have been reported. If you have any issues, please send to our email with Bug Report in the title. Should be ready soon, however the processing time for the patch could be a little longer with the holiday.” A week later, on New Year’s Eve, they added, “Our patch has not yet been approved, but I’m posting some patch notes now to show the main issues which will be addressed.”
Replies to these Tweets share the same issues and thoughts my wife and I have. Players cannot progress through soft locks in the game and are essentially stuck. They are at the mercy of the patch and hoping their issues will be addressed.
“Still stuck in Briney Depths with no way to progress. Outside the bugs the game is alot of fun, but this thing wasn’t done at launch,” says one Tweet.
“Any fix for the baby tennis soft lock,” says another. “I talked to the receptionist lady on accident and now can’t progress or reset to an earlier save.”
A common issue seems to be when players are looking to 100% the game return to an area after finishing up story objectives. For example, my wife completed an area and then realized she had solved a sidequest. She went to a different location in Sports Story, returned to where she was and is now unable to proceed further. Like many, she is soft-locked.
What Happened During Development
Games always have bugs; it’s an unfortunate part of the development cycle. Sometimes they are endearing, like Fallout: New Vegas of Bethesda games. Other times, like Sports Story, they make you want to pull your hair out.
So what’s the difference here? These aren’t endearing bugs or hideous technical glitches you can ignore. Instead, this is a game that feels incredibly unfinished. A hidden room early in the game may give us an inside look at a troubled development cycle.
On Twitter and YouTube, tendog discovered an easter egg of sorts. Early in the first chapter of Sports Story, you can find a secret room inside Len’s store. It leads to an office for Cold Cartridge, developers of GALF, the in-game golf game from Golf Story. However, all is not well in the office of Cold Cartridge. Despite assurances that the game will release “any day,” another developer chimes in, “you said that a year ago!”
This parallels the delays with Sports Story, a game with an originally targeted release in mid-2020. However, after dealing with ambitious aspirations, the game was delayed for several years before its eventual December 2022 release. So what happened? This hidden room reveals some possible details.
“You might say we’re experiencing a troubled development,” one dev says. “You might also say somebody kept requesting new features and my original vision no longer exists,” another developer chimes in. “One might even venture to say we should have made the game work instead of adding features,” contributes a third.
Talking to other developers in the room adds more fuel to the fire. Despite assurances they’ve been fixed, musings on how things are still broken and examples of poor communication between developers paint an ugly picture.
Sports Story Cannot Meet the Hype
Something went wrong during the development of Sports Story. Whether it’s burnout, frustration, or mismanagement, Sports Story cannot meet its expectations. A patch will hopefully iron out some of the game’s soft locks and other issues, but that may not be enough. Sometimes it’s best to focus on what is working and leave what isn’t on the cutting room floor. Unfortunately, that’s the biggest takeaway from Sports Story.