Golf for the NES is a game that, while I have a hard time calling a classic, is still close to my heart for being exactly what the title advertises. However, for a worthwhile golfing experience on the same system; NES Open Tournament Golf is the best one in this regard, and how could it not be? This was produced by the same man who designed the NES (Masayuki Uemura), Satoru Iwata helped with the programming, Akito Nakatsuka composed the music, and even Eiji Aunoma joined in as the graphic artist. This game has quite the promising team already behind it, and despite that it can be seen as “simply golf” at first glance, there is much more to it.
Just to clarify, I will not be talking much about the Famicom version known as Mario Open Golf. It is quite the difficult game with more obstacles put into the fields, and while it has two more courses to offer, this game can turn into a rather unpleasant experience. In fact, most of the modifications in NES Open Tournament Golf are different for the sake of giving the player a more comfortable playthrough, so no Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels insanity here.
More than just the average Golf
When you start the game, you are able to choose between multiple options. The first one you should attend to, is the Club House where you can enter your name, choose which clubs to take with you, and tinker with the settings. You are also able to check stats, train on different holes, review your best shots, and even change the names of every NPC if you want to, but these are more novelties than anything. Although, checking the prize money can be intriguing, since your goal is to acquire one million US dollars total in order to win this game. I will give you three guesses on how this is done in a game containing the word “golf” in its title.
Before we get to the different options of stroke play, match play and tournament, I suppose a quick overview of the rules of golf is in order. The objective through every field (usually called holes) is to get a ball into a hole with as few hits with the different clubs as possible. Stroke play will have you win a game by doing the fewest amount of strokes under or equal to par compared to the other participants, where par represents the expected amount of hits to finish a field with. Meanwhile, match play will put you up against one other player, where the player who finished a field with the least amount of strokes getting a point and the winner of a game being the one with the most points. A game consist usually of either 18 or 36 fields.
This might sound easy, but a lot of preparations need to be had. The courses contain hazards like rough areas, water, trees, and sand bunkers, wind will have to be accounted for, and swinging the club will require steady hands and good accuracy. Impressively though, NES Open Tournament Golf is great at helping the player be strategic. Besides the overview map of the field where you aim your shots, you have stats for the wind, the distance to the hole, and more to make you ready for what to take in. Another neat element, is that you are able to choose the speed of the swings between three levels. The slowest will make the ball go shorter and hitting it easier, and vice versa on the strongest swing, making this a nice risk versus reward system.
After selecting where to aim towards, you are about to shoot the ball. While the game automatically provides you with the safest club to use, there is nothing stopping you from making a better (or worse) decision. Although, the clubs are chosen with both hazards and the amount of yards left in mind, such as sand wedge for getting the ball out of bunkers or putters for tapping it into the hole, making it important to take their recommendations into consideration. Lastly, you can put spins on the ball, which will make the ball roll forwards or backwards after hitting the ground, which can help to make it land on a designated spot.
Then we have the actual swing, where you can alter it to make the ball go either high to be more affected by the wind or low for a more straight shot at the cost of hitting hazards easier. After pressing A, you will automatically move an arrow over a bar towards the left to determine the swing’s power. From here, you will have to press A again to try to achieve the preferred strength, where the arrow will then move towards the right, and you have to try to hit A again just as the arrow is over the white spot in order to make an accurate shot. Whenever you are on the green, which is the small area near the hole, you will only have to worry about the strength of your shots and the green’s altitude.
This is what is so lovely about golf in general: it requires steady planning and accuracy in order to gain the best outcomes. NES Open Tournament Golf exceeds at recreating this with great level designs that provide enough variety to be engaging, and reward clever and skillful play in all of them. There are a total of three different courses to partake in; U.K., Japan, and U.S.A., all providing different layouts in their fields. Some even contain the ability to take shortcuts, if you are daring enough.
To get money in order to progress through the game, you will have to enter tournaments, where you can either compete in match play, stroke play or bet on 1 hole. Bet on 1 hole is similar to match play, except that you can gain more or lose money on bets. All of them are fun options, and they even contain different events that will occur after a certain amount of holes have been reached, such as making the longest drive or getting closest to the hole. Winning in either of these contests will give you the chance to win one of three random prize money, which is helpful. You also get a ton of money by getting a hole in one, which you definitely deserve as this is a challenging accomplishment.
However, this is not all. By doing well in normal stroke- and match play, you will upgrade your rank upwards between beginner, amateur, semi-professional, and finally: professional. This is important to do as well, as each upgrade will make the game more difficult, but also give you the opportunity to earn more money in tournament mode. Just as an example, winning a 38 hole can differ between beginners’ reward on 25.000 dollars to the professionals’ 100.000 dollars. This is a severely fun idea, but one that confuses me at the same time.
Why could we not have just stroke play for earning money, while letting normal match play increase your rank for example? Having to play the same setups in a repeated fashion, unfortunately causes the game to become repetitive. It seems like the modes were added in as a way to pad out the game, and when beating NES Open Tournament Golf requires you to win one million dollars, you will be replaying the three courses too many times to count.
This is a harsh blemish on an otherwise great title. There are so many intriguing aspects to take into consideration, fun fields to play on, and made easy for everyone to jump in. It kinda makes me wish the courses from the Japanese version were included with some alterations to make them more manageable, as perhaps they could have provided better variety. At least, there is a battery backup in this game, so you can save whenever you need a to take a break. An overall enjoyable take on golf, but the repetition will be setting in.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
What a lovely day for golf
The NES is home to some of the most iconic tunes ever created, and NES Open Tournament Golf is no exception thanks to its legendary composer, Akito Nakatsuka. Similar to his earlier projects on the system, this title only has a couple of songs, but all of them contain huge amounts of variety and good lengths to make them memorable and pleasant for long sessions of gaming. It is quite the uplifting soundtrack that is whimsical and sweet, getting you easily excited for any sport to take part in. The sound effects are good with different ones used for swinging the club, where you land the ball, and putting for example. All are iconic, well implemented, and easy on the ears.
Then we have the visuals and this is an impressive looking title for the NES. Huge character sprites with smooth animations, the ball’s physics being mesmerising, and there are even small pictures for where you land it. Some aspects, such as when putting, also includes closeup cutscenes with animations, which are just spectacular for the system. Areas are lovely with diverse amounts of colours, clearly showcasing what is fairway and what is rogue grass, for example. It is quite surprising how immersive this title is through its visual quality!
I love the art style as well, since it contains characters with cartoony designs that fit the Mario universe, yet all is down to earth by focusing on traditional golf. However, I do wonder if more could have been added to make the fields more iconic. Specific landmarks or environmental elements to create better variety, would have given the game some extra flavour and made the courses visually memorable. However, it is hard to not appreciate the amount of animations and the enjoyable art style on their own, as everything here is brimming with quality. There is even the possibility of witnessing a sunset, which makes it easy to forgive the discoloured Daisy. Eiji Aonuma and Mikio Mishima really did a phenomenal job here.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Hey, Luigi! Mario is ready for a day on the field!
Outside of replaying this title to gain millions of dollars if you are insane, multiplayer is a nice inclusion and one that can be both played in stroke- and match play. Although, I am confused that stroke play cannot have more than two players, when golf is a turn-based game. If nothing else, this is a nice option to have and works well for a fun afternoon. Unfortunately, there is not much else to return to.
Extra Score: 6/10
You can definitely tell that big names like Satoru Iwata and Masayuki Uemura were involved in this project, as they sat out to make an engaging golf game. Which then makes it almost disheartening to be so critical, but this title could truly have used more variety in courses and either scrapping some modes or making it more manageable to gain one million dollars for a less repetitive playthrough. Not to mention, it would have been nice to have the option for more players to join in for stroke play. Still, this is a quality golf game made by Nintendo, and nothing more or less than that.