Ah, the Atari 2600. The video game system from 1977. Even though I have plenty of games for the Atari, I never play any of them regularly. The graphics and especially the sound are just too primitive for me to enjoy anything on this thing. In fact, some of the games that were released for the system are infamous for being very bad versions of their arcade counterparts. And there is of course the colossal fuck-up that was E.T. I’ve heard that there are some real gems for the 2600 (also known as the Atari VCS, or simply Atari) but I’ve never really gotten into them. Now on with the golf games!
The first up is a game from 1980 called simply “Golf”.
So far so good. Nothing that screams “abandon ship” just yet. And remembering that this is the Atari 2600 we’re talking about, we’re keeping the bar pretty low right now. Here’s what you see when you load the game:
Again, this is about what you’d expect. Par for the course (dur-hur-hur).
So let’s give the game a go and… OH DEAR GOD NO! MAKE IT STOP!!!
Okay, this game fucking stinks. The controls make it play more like baseball. Holding down the button (the Atari joystick had one button) makes the golf club swing. The longer you hold the button, the further back you swing, and the more distance your ball will madly fly away from the hole. That’s not much different from how modern golf video games operate, but this game is fucked because of the view. Look at it. It’s top down except for the player. The player is viewed from the side.
So as he swings his
baseball bat golf club, he doesn’t have much control over where that ball is going to end up. Most maddeningly, the player has to position this blocky orange half-wit between the ball and the hole to get the ball closer to the hole. And forget about swinging all the way. You have to make a great number of very small swings to move the blocky ball incrementally along a path that will move it closer to the hole and away from the edges of the “map” and away from obstacles.
And those trees are impenetrable. They can not be passed by this ball. I got 28 swings in before I realized that I would have to flip this fucking golfer upside fucking down to get him to swing that god damned
baseball bat golf club the right way to get it past the first fucking tree in my way.
And then I gave up. This game made me mad. And games are supposed to be fun, they’re not supposed to give you the angries.
So I can consider 1980’s “Golf” for the Atari 2600 to be a total, complete, unmitigated failure.
But wait… what’s this? Another golf game for the Atari 2600?
This game is called “My Golf” and it came out in 1990 – a full decade after the release of “Golf”. This was already when the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were duking it out for dominance of the video game console market, so I’m willing to bet that only about 200 people actually bought this game. My Atari emulator displays data on each game, and it lists “Golf” as common and “My Golf” as extremely rare.
Now this is a shame indeed. “My Golf” is not just a better game than “Golf”, it is one of the best games I have ever seen or played for the Atari 2600. It works extremely well within the severe limitations of the 2600’s hardware and is still challenging enough to return to again and again in a fun way. Here is a screenshot:
Now, I don’t know why the grass appears purple and the water appears green. Maybe this is some kind of golf course as it appears in a song by Jimi Hendrix, you know, on the shores of a dazzling beach on Jupiter.
Some notes about that screenshot – the putting green isn’t visible. The putting green (or is it a putting mauve?) appears once you drive the ball past the first and often the second screen up. The green appears like a wide oval with a hole in the middle, and once you get the ball onto the green, you get to see a zoomed-in view. But it’s still all purple.
But by 1990, lots and lots of golf games had come out for various arcade and video game console systems, so HES knew what features to copy and which to leave out when designing a good golf game for the Atari 2600. And this one is good. As much as people rag on the blocky graphics and shitty tuneless sound the system has, it can still be very fast when programmed right. “My Golf” uses a swing meter that requires 3 button presses, and you have to react fast. You also need to properly aim your shot and select your club, and you need to make sure you give your swing the right amount of power.
This game I can see myself playing again. It’s just a shame that more people haven’t ever heard of it.