I might not be much a collector these days, but if there is one console I wish that I owned everything for, it would have to be the Neo Geo Pocket Colour. It is a curious handheld that I never found as a kid, but always fascinated me. Thankfully, SNK has given its legacy a second chance by releasing its titles quite frequently for the Switch as of this review. While I was ecstatic to be able to play SNK Gals’ Fighters, Dark Arms: Beast Buster, and the Metal Slug entries for it to name a few, I was especially intrigued when I saw one familiar name. Porting Neo Turf Masters to this handheld was an obvious choice in my eyes, but is this more than an 8-bit version of the original?
Arcade experience for the long drive
Golf is a simple game to learn, and one I will never get tired of explaining. Your goal in each field, is to get a ball into a hole with as few strokes as possible by using different clubs. The one who does it the best compared to each field’s par wins, with par being the expected amount of swings needed in order to reach the hole. Starting up this title, you are able to choose between three modes in singleplayer. The first is stroke play, where you play through one of the three available courses, containing 18 fields each. This is a fine mode on its own, despite being labelled as a practice run. For fans of the original, this indeed means that one course is missing, since this port only has USA, Japan and Germany. Australia was sadly cut.
The next mode, Handicap, tests you in 18 randomly selected fields from the three courses where your overall score in handicap is calculated by your final score. It is basically a randomised setup with uneven difficulty, and this leaves us with the biggest mode of them all: Triple Crown. Here, you take on all of the three courses twice; once to prove your ranking in a semi-final and second to win the golden cup. Yes, this essentially means that you have to play 108 fields of golf. While this is a ton of golfing to do, you can always suspend your game before a stroke, which is nice for gaming on the go. Still, is there enough here to warrant so much golfing in one playthrough?
Let’s first go over what makes golf so strategic in this adaptation of it. You have to take into consideration the yards left to the hole, how far your shots can travel, obstacles and hazards in the way, and how the wind is going to affect your ball. All the info you need is presented at all times, including a map of the entire field you are on being placed on the right side of the screen. Because of this, you always have the information you need in order to make the perfect shot, but it is all on you to make sure it happens.
On the map screen, you see a closeup of the area around you from an overhead view where you are able to aim your shot and choose what club to use. The game will always present you with a recommended one, but there is nothing stopping you from using a different type. Although, unless you know that the sand wedge is for getting out of bunkers and the putter is for making light taps to the ball on the green, you are better off letting the game automatically choose the clubs for you.
After making your choices, you are then taken to a third person view where you are able to make the ball go slightly left or right in an arc, and can then start readying your swing. Here, you will have to time your presses for how powerful your stroke will be and afterwards for how you will hit the ball. H will make the ball go high, L will make it go low, and a press in the middle of the bar will make for a perfect shot. However, the red zones will make for a bad hit, so do not push your luck! When using the putter, you will only have to aim and make a timed press for the power of your swing.
All of these details make golfing exciting, and the stages help this out too. They are all taken straight from the original version, and are again varied enough to be fun. Bunkers, waterfalls, trees, and similar decorations change up the layouts nicely, even if they are not creative enough to be memorable. Neo Turf Masters for the Pocket unit offers just the same as the Neo Geo version advertised: an arcade golf game. However, this is where this adaptation fails, as it becomes a marathon of golfing instead of a quick arcade experience to take on, and it can become repetitive because of this.
The modes also do not vary enough to be worth revisiting, making me ponder whether this title needed more to be unique or less to be engaging. I cannot deny that this is still a good game that offers a great time in stroke play, but by playing so many fields in the Triple Crown mode, the landscapes end up blending in together and the playthrough becomes draining because of this. A better setup for these tournaments or being able to save other times than outside of one, would have been much appreciated.
Even with multiple characters having unique stats each, this is not much more than the arcade version on the go. There are also some other minor annoyances, such as how the greens’ hills are not strong enough to affect the ball and that the altitudes for them are always shown by arrows in the corner of the screen instead of using their textures to visualise them, which is odd. I also swear that getting a hole in one or even chipping in the ball is next to impossible here due to strange programming. Still, this is just as much of a solid golf-title as the original arcade version, just pocket sized! I guess you could say that these two versions are almost on par in terms of gameplay.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
No textured grass
This is such a strange mixed bag. On one hand, you have cute chibi characters with tons of expressions and smooth animations to their swings. Not to mention, plenty of visual personalities and impressive backgrounds in the third person views. On the other, the fields look like they were drawn in MS Paint with no textures and the ball barely has any animation to it. Golf games can be pretty to look at, and I am shocked that so little effort went into the courses here when they are mainly just different green layouts. It is to the point that I cannot tell a single field from one another. On that note, why is it only the greens that have textures?
It can still be a beautiful title to look at with waterfalls and mountains in the backgrounds, but the overhead maps are going to be equally much looked at. The ugly brown areas being the visual indication for O.B. are also a constant eyesore. Thankfully, the sound effects are cute with chimes for getting the ball into the hole and nice punches to the swings themselves. The same I can also say for the music, as the tracks are sweet 8-bit renditions of the jazzy and uplifting tunes from the original. They are all rhythmic, memorable, and varied to make you excited and ready for a day of golfing. Just be warned that in the Switch version, the multiplayer music will overlap on itself before starting a match, which is a tad unpleasant.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Lost in transition for the better
Besides choosing a preferred difficulty, there are some decent reasons for returning to this pocket sized arcade game. You can play this title in multiplayer through a link cable and go for different amounts of courses in either stroke play, or match play where you compete in most fields won instead of doing well comparable to each field’s par. This is a nice inclusion that is also present in the Switch version, but by winning in multiplayer, you can also gain cards that are basically better golf clubs. Unfortunately, this can make the game very unbalanced and you can even gain a complete legendary set if you finish the Triple Crown mode.
You can trade these clubs with other players, but what is bizarre is that you have to individually choose what you wish to give away and then what to receive, no direct trading. This can be kinda scary if your friend decides to betray you and not hold up to their word, which makes me happy that this mode was scrapped for the Switch version. Still, there is not much to the multiplayer otherwise, and I am confused as to why there is no hotseat mode. I suppose it is nice to be able to send messages in the form of cheers and boos when playing against another player, but with no sounds to make this more entertaining, it feels lacking. At least, this is an alright distraction for two players.
Extra Score: 5/10
The original Neo Turf Masters is one of my favourite arcade games ever, despite not being anything more than what its title advertises for better or worse. However, this pocket version tries to do slightly more and becomes stuck in an awkward middle ground where it is uncertain whether it wants to be a grander experience or keep to the original’s take on this sport. This is still a nice and interesting golf game, but the tournament and card aspects do little to sweeten the deal. A decent title for anyone looking for an arcade experience on the go, even if there are better choices.