Golfyssey 10 — Sega Master System

How is it that the Sega Master System – which was technically a better game console than the NES in many ways – failed to make much of a dent in Nintendo’s sales, and failed to even have a fraction of the amount of decent games made for it?  Why are there just a handful of bona fide classics for the SMS while the NES library is just bursting with classic titles?

Nintendo’s infamous licensing contracts that it made publishers sign are the main reason.  The NES hardware had a head start on the SMS in all markets, and Nintendo had been watching Atari’s lead in the previous console generation and the concomitant industry crash.  And Nintendo had taken away some valuable lessons.  That Wikipedia article explains what went on in great detail, but this is the main point: Publishers who made games for the NES could not make any games for any other system for two years.  At all.  No exceptions.

Why did publishers agree to this?  By the time they did agree to these contracts, Nintendo had all but resurrected the once dead video game market in North America by themselves, and they were virtually a monopoly in that region.  Game publishers looked around and just didn’t see anybody else in the game, I guess.

These contracts were later ruled to be anticompetitive and the US’s Federal Trade Commission made Nintendo play nice.  But the damage to the competition had been done.

It was into this corrosive climate that Sega brought out the successor to the SG-1000, the Master System.  With better hardware than Nintendo’s console, they still had a devil of a time finding publishers willing to sacrifice the ready money of NES titles for the untested waters of a newer console.  The SMS did however sell well in Europe, Oceania and Brazil.

It is because of this general lack of games that it is rather hard to find artistically made games that push the systems hardware and take full advantage of its capabilities.  As a consequence, a lot of SMS games look pretty bad and certainly don’t run any faster or better than similar games for the NES.

Peering into the tiny corner of this game world that houses the golf games was pleasantly surprising.  I found four golf games, and I will talk about three of them.  The first one was just bad, so I won’t review it.  It’s called Golf Mania and it’s one of those constant music action-fests that might be good for the kids. The next up is called “Great Golf” and it’s from 1986.

Great Golf

Great Golf 01

Kind of cartoony.  The early NES games suffered from this same problem.  It’s hard when you have such a limited colour palette and deadlines to meet.  But what I like about this game is that there is no stupid music playing constantly.  That’s a plus.

Before you get into the actual game, you see a panning shot of the entire course so that you can get a feel for the layout.  I much prefer a map or a top-down view for this, but it is what it is.  The actual game play is pretty standard, though the controls are relatively simple.  Again, up & down for clubs, left & right for aiming.  The power meter only requires two button presses.

Great Golf 02

Once you’ve made the shot, you get to see your rather oversize ball go sailing through the rather oversize trees.

Great Golf 03

And of course, information about where you’ve just landed the ball.

Great Golf 04

Making it onto the putting green zooms in slightly:

Great Golf 05

Can you tell I had hit the water before?

Great Golf 06

And that’s that.  All in all, a decent game, but nothing very special.  Nothing exceedingly challenging either.  Let’s try another one.

“World Class Leader Board”, 1991

World Class Leaderboard

World Class Leaderboard 01

This game is a port and a sequel to the famous “Leaderboard Golf” game that I reviewed in the Commodore 64 section.  One would think that coming five years later on much improved hardware, the game would be revamped and greatly improved.  But since this is the Sega Master System we’re talking about, we should get used to letdowns.

World Class Leaderboard 02

World Class Leaderboard 03

World Class Leaderboard 04

The only aspect of this game that I can say really got better is that they attempted to add voice clips in the form of heavily digitized sound clips.  They really shouldn’t have bothered, because they sound so terrible that they’re almost incomprehensible.  Other than that, somehow this version is just not as good and not as polished as the Commodore 64 version.  I wish I were joking.  Seeing as how “Leaderboard Golf” is such a great, awesome, fun, outstanding game, you owe it to yourself to play a version of it.  So go download the Commodore 64 version and a Commodore 64 emulator.  Forget about the SMS version.

Last but definitely not least we have “PGA Tour Golf” from 1993.

PGA Tour Golf

PGA Tour Golf 01

Well, I gotta say, this looks mighty familiar to me…

PGA Tour Golf 02

PGA Tour Golf 03

I’ll be damned!  What a nice surprise.  This is a direct port to the SMS of a Sega Genesis game.  And that Sega Genesis game just happens to hold the #1 spot on my list of favourite golf video games of all time.

The SMS had several ports like this.  There’s a decent “Ecco the Dolphin” port and a “Sonic the Hedgehog” port to name two.  These came out in the 90s while the SMS was still pretty popular and cheap in some countries.  The fact that an awesome game like “PGA Tour Golf” could be pulled off on the hardware at all proves that this console really was a better computer than the NES.

You get to see a “flyby” of the hole before you begin your round:

PGA Tour Golf 04

Then as you begin, you are shown the full top-down view, with the position of your ball highlighted:

PGA Tour Golf 05

The layout of the screen is different from the Sega Genesis version, but most of the functionality is still there.

PGA Tour Golf 06

Up & down for clubs, left & right for aim.  Wind speed and direction will affect your shot, so watch for it.  The power meter takes 3-button presses, and in this version it’s rather easy.  When you make your swing, the golfer is fully animated and so is the ball.  The physics are quite realistic.  This is a quality port of a quality game.

PGA Tour Golf 07

Approaching the green.

Once you’re on the green, you get to see the slope information displayed in a novel way:

PGA Tour Golf 08

This feature is better and more refined in the Sega Genesis version, but it’s nice to have here.  It’s very handy to be able to plan the path your ball will take this way.  As you see, I dun good:

PGA Tour Golf 09

After first playing the Sega Genesis version, I can see where this version has limitations and missing features.  Though it still has the instant replay for some of the more remarkable shots you make.  And even though it’s on an 80s 8-bit console, “PGA Tour Golf” is still a great game.  This could be hours of fun for anyone with a real SMS or a Game Gear.  If you’ve downloaded the Meka emulator like I rudely ordered you to earlier, then definitely take a look for this ROM and give it a try.  It’s fast-paced without being flashy and annoying like some of the other golf games I’ve reviewed recently.  If it wasn’t for the much better Genesis version, then “PGA Tour Golf” would be awarded the #1 spot in my favourite golf video games of all time.