Golfyssey 09 – Nintendo Entertainment System

The crash of 1983 made Video Game a bad word in North America.  Thanks to a deluge of cheap and shitty titles for the Atari 2600, and a glut of “me-too” consoles and games and knock-offs and peripherals and accessories, the home console market reached a saturation point and was no longer sustainable.  Quality suffered greatly and consumers noticed.  People were getting ripped off, and they stopped buying what producers were selling.

But over in Japan, things had never gotten this bad.  The development and success of Nintendo’s “Famicom” (Family Computer) proved that Japanese gamers were still willing to spend money on video games and video game consoles.  In 1985, Nintendo decided they wanted to try to enter the US market with their console.  They even approached Atari to handle the hardware sales, but Atari was upset that Nintendo had licensed Donkey Kong to Coleco, and there was no deal.

So Nintendo had to go it alone.  And in 1985, they had to go out of their way to avoid using the term video game.  Thus the Nintendo Entertainment System was born.  Usually just called the Nintendo and now commonly called the NES, it was designed to resemble a VCR more than its game-playing predecessors.

Nintendo also wisely decided to maintain control over which games could be published for the system.  Until their “lockout chip” was bypassed, nobody but Nintendo could certify a game to run on the NES.  So if you made a shitty or offensive or downright x-rated game, you were up shit creek without Nintendo’s paddle.  Nintendo also got downright nasty with restricting the work that publishers could do on other consoles, but I’ll expound on that when I talk about the Sega Master System.

It definitely looks like Nintendo had gone into this launch with all of their ducks in a row.  And the console sold huge numbers and was available in retail in one form or another until 2003.  Many people consider the NES to be the single greatest home video game console of all time.  Many golf games were released for it, so let’s sample a few.

“Golf”, 1984

NES Golf

Golf 01

This game was released originally for the Famicom, judging by the date.  It has that look common to most early Famicom/NES games.  The common NES font is present, for instance.  It’s also rather cartoony, and I swear that golfer is a long lost brother to Mario and Luigi.

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But since the NES was a powerful system compared to what had come before, the gameplay itself is quite nice.  The golfer is animated, and he even alters his stance before the tee depending on which club he is holding.  The woods look different than the irons do also, and the putter looks like a putter.  So far, it looks like the NES can give us the most detail yet in a golf game.

The direction pad works on what has settled into a convention for these games now: up and down to select club, left and right to aim.  The power meter operates with three button presses – once to start the swing, once at the top of the swing and once to strike the ball.  However, the slice and hook dynamics work backwards from the way I’ve seen them work in every other golf game I’ve played so far.

hook-slice-chart

In other games, if you strike the ball too early on the power meter, you will hook the shot and the ball will end up going to the left of where you wanted it to go.  Strike it too late, and you will slice it.  “Golf” on the NES works the opposite way, which can be a bit odd if you need to actually take advantage of this dynamic to avoid some obstacle or another and forget which way the game will work.

Golf 03

But the layout of the screen is good.  You get to see a full view of your course, and you get to see a full view of your plumber golfer.  The black backgrounds give the game a bit of an unfinished look I think, but at least the view isn’t overly cluttered.

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Once you’ve made it onto the green, you see a zoomed-in view and slope arrows.  Standard fare now.  Also standard is the operation of the power meter: two-button.

All in all, not a bad game.  But one thing I don’t like about it is the sound effects.  One of the things I like about my favourite golf video games is that the sound stays out of the way and only comes forward when it’s needed to add to the experience.  This game uses sound like a gimmick.  It gets old very fast, and it adds up with the cartoony graphics to give this game a “kids’ game” feel.

“The Golf ’92”, 1992

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The Golf '92 01

This game is from Japan, and it’s also from the end of the NES’s prime as the king of game consoles.  The graphics are stunning for the NES.  But being a Japanese game, it’s kind of hard to read the ingame menus:

The Golf '92 02

Luckily, this isn’t a full blown RPG or even a very complex game, so it’s not hard to get by.  The first thing you get to do is to choose your golfer.  As I understand it, these characters are all based on real pro golfers.

The Golf '92 03

I chose R. Maeda because he’s a kickass singer and he’s in Our Lady Peace.

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I didn’t know he was a pro golfer in Japan.

Once you get to the course you see a pseudo-3D view with some information about the course overlaid on it:

The Golf '92 04

Press the button and you get the course map view:

The Golf '92 05

Press the button again to bring up a club selection window.  Left and right scroll through clubs:

The Golf '92 06

Another button press brings you to a window where you choose the spot on the ball where your club will make contact:

The Golf '92 07

The next time you press the button you begin your swing.  Another window pops up that shows the power meter:

The Golf '92 08

After you have finished with that step, you get this window which will determine whether you hook or slice the ball:

The Golf '92 09

That red bar is constantly moving from left to right and back again.  You must press the button when it is centered to avoid messing up your shot too much.  After all of this, you make your shot and can sit back and watch the NES animate the golfer and the shot for you.

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The process then repeats for the next shot.  The entire process is very active and animated, and there is always something going on within the confines of the screen.  Something is always moving or flashing to indicate something.

Here is the view once you get to the putting green:

The Golf '92 16

The shot mechanics are altered once you get here.  You’ll note the power meter is attached to one spot on the screen now.  Since it’s just a basic putt, aiming is the only other option you have now, and once you have aimed and taken your shot, you get another animated scene:

The Golf '92 17

If you get the ball near the cup, you see a closeup of the cup.  I took this screenshot too late as my ball had already sank into the cup, but that is fully animated too:

The Golf '92 18

And there you have an extremely good looking golf game for a relatively underpowered 1980s game console.  But I can’t say that I enjoyed playing this game too much.  It does pack a lot of action into the NES’s modest hardware, but like I said before, golf isn’t about action.  Golf is about skill, relaxation and patience.  The single worst aspect of “The Golf ’92” is the music.  There is constant upbeat bouncy NES music playing throughout the game, and the only way to silence it is to mute your speakers.  This is the first golf game that I’ve reviewed that has constant music playing through it but sadly, it won’t be the last.  I played eight games in total for the NES today, and all but three had the same kind of bouncy music playing constantly throughout the entire game.  That kind of ruins a golf game for me.

But that criticism aside, this is indeed an extremely well-made game.  If the music thing doesn’t bother you, and you can track it down somewhere for the original hardware, by all means go ahead and get it.  If not, download it and give it a spin.

“Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf”, 1988

Jack_Nicklaus'_Greatest_18_Holes_of_Major_Championship_Golf_(USA)

I’m surprised I haven’t reviewed a game with Mr. Nicklaus’s name on it yet.  This game was made and sold for a variety of different computer systems, not just the NES.  But let’s take a look at the NES version.

Jack Nicklaus 01

That title sure is a mouthful.  But this game exudes professionalism, especially when it’s compared to the other golf games for the NES.  There’s even a digitized speech clip to be heard when you press the start button on this title screen.  I presume it’s Jack himself saying “Nice shot!”

And here he is. telling you a little about the course:

Jack Nicklaus 02

Hmm… I don’t remember Jack working for Dark Helmet…

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But anyway, after some initial setup, you get to see a course overview:

Jack Nicklaus 03

Once you get going, you’ll see that the game renders your view of the course in 3D.

Jack Nicklaus 04

This is one of the first games I’m reviewing where you need to seriously consider the wind speed and direction when you’re making your shot.  This says good things about the physics programmed into the game.  To get a name like Jack Nicklaus to sign off on the game, they can’t have put out a stinker.

I also like the fact that both current distance to the hole and club shooting distance are on screen at once, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of selecting a club and using the power meter.  And again, direction pad up & down select club, left & right aim.  This game’s interface is probably the best that I’ve reviewed so far for providing functionality in an easy to read and use way.

The game is a little slow at times however.  I think this is just because it is asking so much out of the NES’s hardware.  Realistic physics calculations and 3D course rendering take time, and you notice it when the game is being played.  But again, like “Leaderboard”, it’s not an excessive drag on the proceedings and it doesn’t ruin the experience.

Jack Nicklaus 05

Things still look a little blocky, except for the animated golfer.  Come to think of it, the trees look rather nice too.

Jack Nicklaus 06

There is no zoom-in for the putting view, but with the information and controls so expertly laid out, it’s not really necessary.

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Jack Nicklaus 08

Another first for these reviews: the first game to keep track of and show you stats for your round.

I found this to be a very fun game.  There is jaunty, bubbly music to be found, but mercifully it only plays during the game menus and setup and between rounds.  During actual gameplay, sound effects are kept to a minimum.  So I can highly recommend this game, and I do believe I’ll place it very high in my growing pantheon of favourite golf video games.  It’s within the top five for sure.

So that’s all the time I’ll spend with the venerable NES.  I’m sure there are dozens more golf games for the system.  There’s even one featuring Mario and Luigi, and not just their long lost brother.  But I’ll leave that to you to look into if you so desire.  I can’t stand the music.  Oy, the music.