Those of us past a certain age can remember ads that would promise to bring an arcade gaming experience into our homes. God knows, there were all kinds of goofy commercials playing on the impracticality of cramming several different 250 pound arcade cabinets into someone’s living room just so they could play a pixel-perfect version of “Pole Position” or “Altered Beast“.
Back then, of course, the whole point of running an arcade was to house the most advanced game technology. Home consoles were always playing catchup because a single arcade machine had to worry about making only that one game play as best as it could. There were shared components between some cabinets, like processors, logic boards, sound chips and the like, but they weren’t like consoles where you would just swap out a cartridge and change it instantly from one game to the next.
At the very start of the 1990s, the arcade game company SNK released a rather novel arcade system that no one had really attempted before. It was a cartridge based system – like home consoles. The idea was that this system would go into a “stock” kind of arcade cabinet that could be customized easily to match whatever game was currently being played. This would be a good idea in Japan where SNK was based, as floor space and real estate is generally at a premium there.
But SNK decided to go one step further and release the exact same hardware with a sleek enclosure around it and call it a home video game console. And thus the Neo Geo was born.
But if you wanted this genuine arcade experience at home, it was going to cost you. The console alone cost $649 when it was released in the US, and games for the system cost $200 and up. But SNK went out of their way to be clear about what people were getting when they bought this system. This wasn’t like the other 16-bit home consoles available at the time – the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. This was the real deal.
And there is no comparing the Neo Geo with its competitors. It wins, hands down. But who could afford it? And games on top of it?
Most of the games made for the system were fighters, which were the most popular games in Japanese arcades back then. And playing a fighter on the Neo Geo was an experience like no other at the time. But there were other games in other genres made for the system. Two of these are golf games.
“Neo Turf Masters”, 1996
This game looks like it belongs in a noisy arcade, surprise surprise. All Neo Geo games ask for coins, so don’t be alarmed when you see that on these screenshots. The home console allowed for unlimited coins to be added as credits. If you mail me coins by the way, you are doing so at your own risk.
“Big Tournament Golf” was the original title for this game in Japan. The above screenshots are taken from the very cinematic opening. The animations possible on the hardware are quite impressive, and would have made the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo sputter and smoke.
Hang on… I think I here the sound of the TurboGrafx-16 weeping bitterly with shame in the corner…
All Neo Geo games had all kinds of action going on in intro scenes like this. Remember that these games were not intended solely to be played on your couch, but they were also intended to grab your attention as you walked by a cabinet in an arcade.
This screenshot shows part of a demo on how to play, which was another feature that Neo Geo games had. You were (theoretically) about to plunk down some hard earned coin into an arcade machine, so it was in your interest to watch the tutorial before you wasted your money.
These golfers all look upset about something. It might be the music. There is music playing throughout this game too, but it’s not nearly as annoying as it has been in some other games. That might be because I know this is first and foremost an arcade game, and maybe I’m just approaching it with a different bias.
Here you get to choose one of four courses. The art is quite beautiful. The TurboGrafx-16 continues to sob in the corner.
You also get to hear realistically recorded voices telling you what’s going on. The sound capabilities of the Neo Geo were phenomenal too, even if the voice acting and English were not always on the mark.
Here you are ready to play, and you can see the view of the course. Up and down on the joystick switch your club, left and right will aim. When you change your aim, you will see the whole course rotate, and the line drawn on the map will change as well. Your golfer will remain stationary.
The power meter is one of those where you have to time a button press to the constantly moving meter. The meter will go from lowest to highest and back again, and you must press the button at your desired point. After you have done that, the “Low/Nice/High” meter will determine on which point you strike the ball. This meter works the same way, and starts moving after you have finished with the power meter.
Everything on the screen is fully animated, and everything is constantly moving or showing something going somewhere. There is always action. This reminds me of “The Golf ’92” for the NES, but of course on the Neo Geo, this game is much more detailed and fully realized.
A view of the ball lie. I’m on the fairway.
The putting green brings a different view of the golfer – a closeup of the putter. The power meter is horizontal, but it operates in the same way. Your aim is marked on the putting green by a dotted line, and the recommended button-press spot on the power meter is even marked.
This makes the game far to easy. The only time I didn’t par or birdie a hole is when I accidentally pressed the button with my finger on the way to the pause key while putting my controller down to go get a cup of tea.
He still looks kind of upset. Maybe an eagle would make him really happy?
More information is quickly flashed by over some narration by a really sweet sounding girl with a Japanese accent.
Standings at the end of the round.
So it’s fast paced, always moving, flashy, never silent, but it’s not really annoying. I just think it’s way too easy. I see the text “LEVEL-4” on the screen, and I wonder if there’s a way to increase the difficulty. If I could do that and mute the music, I would play this game regularly. When a Neo Geo game is made right, it is quite a thing to behold. If you appreciate video games at all for their art, give this one a try.
“Top Player’s Golf”, 1990
Well now, let’s say a little something about that Neo Geo logo you can see in the corner of this box. The one with the Comedy and Drama masks, you know, the one smiling and the one crying. It’s like the Yin and Yang, the Good and Bad, the Darkness and Light.
So “Neo Turf Masters” turned out to be a very good golf game for this system. “Top Player’s Golf” is its counterpart, and we will file it under very bad.
Considering that this game was made six years before “Neo Turf Masters”, it’s not surprising that it’s not as good. But remember when I said that some Neo Geo games just didn’t take advantage of the console’s capabilities? This is one of them. The graphics look like something from late in the Genesis or Super Nintendo’s life, and even the sound is marred by a constant hiss that runs throughout. Somebody fucked up.
But even at bare-minimum for Neo Geo, it looks alright.
Don’t play golf in a thunderstorm, dumbass!
That’s right, your ball ain’t coming back.
This guy looks like he’s shitting his pants.
Here you see the three styles of play you can choose.
And your choice of players. You’ll notice that Mr. I-Lose-Balls-In-Thunderstorms and Mr. I-Shit-My-Pants are not present.
SNK made a lot of stuff look nice in this game, but I can’t help but think they should have spent that effort elsewhere.
The text is in Japanese, but this lovely lady is actually telling you something about the hole in English. With better sound capabilities, this is a nice feature to have in a golf game.
And here you are in the game. The direction pad controls the menu on the left now, and pressing the button over the highlighted rectangle will bring up a screen or options for that rectangle. Also, there are little white fluffy clouds rolling by. That’s a first for these golf games. I’m not sure how crucial it is to the gameplay. You will also notice now that there is some vile, obnoxious music playing. What the fuck is with these drums?
Another thing you will notice is that there is a timer counting down. Yes, this is a timed golf game. You only have 30 seconds to aim and make each shot. That alone means I will never bother with this game again.
Once you press the button on the “SHOT” rectangle, you see your power meter. This is 2-button style, but once the meter climbs and goes back down, it will keep pulsating, thus turning into a timed power meter. If you want to use it as a timed meter this way, you can.
Your swing is animated for you…
And once you make it onto the putting green, that cheerful lady you saw earlier will tell you about the slope of the green.
And if you go over 8 shots YOU FUCKING LOSE! Come on man! There are people waiting in line behind you to plunk quarters into this machine!
And here you see your golfer, hanging his head in shame, no doubt looking for his tantō.
I’m sorry, but the time limit kills this game for me. Also, the music. What the fuck is with those drums?
So there you have a look at two games for this system. If you read my Sega Genesis review and the way I salivated and slobbered all over “PGA European Tour” then you will know what attributes I consider necessary to make a good golf video game. Even though some of these are lacking in “Neo Turf Masters”, I can still recommend that one just because it is such a well-made game. The NeoRAGEx Emulator works great for me, so if you want to give that game a try, check it out.