Monday, September 16, 2013

NES Replay: Golf

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: October 1985
What’s revolutionary one year is remarkably passé the next.

Take Golf, for example. Golf is a very bare-bones representation of the sport, and it’s missing a lot of features that we today take for granted in a golf game. For example, here in some vital information that’s not displayed onscreen in Golf:
  1. How long your shot traveled.
  2. How much distance you have to the pin.
  3. The general distance that each club can hit.
  4. Where the ball might approximately land if everything goes right with your shot.
That’s a lot of really important information that you would expect to see in a golf game, and it’s all inexplicably missing.
There are a few other flaws with Golf. For one, there’s no rough in this game. You’re either on the fairway or you’re not. Missed the fairway by a pixel? Too bad! You’re out of bounds! Have fun losing a stroke!

There’s very little control over the direction of your shots, either. You can aim in one of 16 directions, and that’s it. That can put you in an awkward position where you know that the wind will knock you off course, but you can either overcorrect or undercorrect for it. Either way, you lose.

Yet, as primitive as Golf is to us today, this was an absolute godsend for console gamers of the time. Look at this screenshot from Golf:

And now look at this screenshot from Golf for the Atari 2600, released five years earlier:

That’s an enormous difference. One of those screenshots actually looks like the sport of golf. The other looks like blotches and blocks.

For 1985, Golf was revolutionary. There was a stroke (pun not intended) of genius introduced into Golf as well, and one that put the skill of the player into the mix: The swing meter. The swing meter is so simple and yet so vital that it’s the de facto standard in almost every golf game since then, yet Golf was the first console game that used it.

Here’s how it works: There’s a meter by your golfer with a little arrow on it. When you’re ready to take your shot, you press A to start your swing. The arrow starts moving to the left. Press A to stop the arrow where you want, and that determines the power of your shot. The meter starts heading back the other way, and you press A again to determine your accuracy. If you hit A in the right place, you’ll be accurate. If you miss to the left or right, you’ll either hook or slice your shot.

The swing meter makes Golf feel like golf. Golf is a game of careful planning and study, where you can look closely at your shot and plan what you want the ball to do, then watch it all become undone because you failed to turn your wrist just so. It’s a mixture of the mental and the physical, and both need to be in tune in order to succeed. For the first time in a console golf game, a player could experience the humbling frustration of deciding where you want the ball to go, then making a huge mistake and sending the ball rocketing in exactly the wrong direction. This is exactly what a golf player wants in a golf game, and Golf was the first one that delivered it.

Today, Golf is almost unplayable due to the features it lacks. However, for when it was released and how much it advanced console golf games, we have to give it a ton of credit.

One final note: You know how they say that Native Americans used every part of the buffalo after their hunts? Nintendo is also notorious for using "every part of the buffalo" as well. Nothing ever, ever goes to waste in their remarkable back catalog, no matter how obscure.

For example, in 2006’s Wii Sports, there was a well-received motion-controlled golf game. Did you ever wonder where they got the design for the golf course featured in it?

It came from this game, right here. They modeled the golf course in Wii Sports (and subsequently Wii Sports Resort) off of this exact golf course in Golf, made in 1985. That’s 21 years later. Every part of the buffalo, indeed.

Final Rating:

Next Week: Gyromite

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