By reading this review, I want to remind you that I actually enjoy golf. To me, it is a fun activity where both skills and planning are heavily required, which also got solid video game adaptations that come recommended to a general audience. Due to Neo Turf Masters being one of my favourites in this regard, I certainly thought this instalment was going to be at the very least adequate since it was also published by SNK. Instead, I ended up making this article in agony.
Making golf a bother
For those of you unfamiliar with the rules of this sport, here is a quick rundown. The concept here is to get a small ball into a hole with as few swings of a club as possible, where par represents the expected amount needed to accomplish this in each field. Although, this is far from easy! Obstacles must be avoided, the wind needs to be taken into consideration, good accuracy is necessary, and the clubs to use vary in strength and practicality for the different terrains, such as the sand wedge being for getting out of bunkers.
This title’s first problem comes already before actually taking on a mode, since none of the four playable characters provides unique stats or gameplay styles. All are equal from what I can tell and only function as a visual avatar of the one holding the controller. The same lack of diversity comes with the stages, as there are merely two cups with 18 courses each. Despite that they do provide something worthwhile thanks to the placements of hindrances like sand, ponds, and trees, most of these areas are eerily similar to one another. Your caddy will explain something about the levels, but with a map clearly displaying the layout ahead, this comes off as redundant.
Upon each run, you get a menu that presents who’s turn it is, the course you are on, its par, the number of strokes taken, and the amount of yards this field has in total and those left to the hole. It is certainly nice for stats, but annoyingly covers up part of the map you are preparing on! Similar to other entries in this genre; you do get a recommended club for the situation you are in. However, the choices can be terribly unideal to the point that you vary between over- and undershooting. Even if you have the ability to see the entire stage on one screen, you cannot do so while you are simultaneously swinging at the ball. Instead, you are then taken to another screen that zooms in and makes it harder to aim properly. Could there not have been a minimap in the upper corner to lessen this issue?
When you are ready to make your shot, you will see how the wind acts and can make adjustments to the directions you want to fire towards. The sole aspect I truly enjoyed in this project, is that you can determine if you want a straight shot or hook it to either left or right by pressing accurately on the power meter when you charge your swing. You can even cause the ball to spin, which is a neat detail for making it travel onwards. Getting on the green (the area nearby the hole) will zoom in on this part of the level and show you what the terrain is like, which helps you to strategise your approaches.
At least, it would if the ball did not have a mind of its own. It rarely goes the distance the club is recommended for, even if it hits from the fairway (clean-cut grass) and with accurate presses for an ultimate swing, making it infuriating and hard to plan on how to proceed. This inconsistency of how far your ball will travel is a continuous problem, with the only exception being when putting. Due to this causing you to not reach under or even equal to the courses’ pars, you will have to put in another quarter, which simply feels unfair. Luckily HAMSTER and similar emulated versions avoid this with fictional tokens, but this does not mitigate the 18 rounds of frustration and a half an hour of irritation a tournament will provide.
Furthermore, you cannot take your time in this slow-paced sport, since there is a bloody time limit that is under a minute long! Considering that this arcade entry has plenty of menus and requires steady planning, this is absolutely idiotic. By this point, Top Player’s Golf becomes a cheap way to steal your money. I can praise it for having some minor diversity in the stages and a neat power meter, but when the mechanics flat out do not work and design choices are downright inconvenient, I get enraged and find it difficult to even care about finishing one hole.
Gameplay Score: 2.5/10
Shut up, I am concentrating!
Due to golf being peaceful and benefits from a calm mind, including jazz is not a bad choice in order to both make the player excited and relaxed. However, why is it done here with the quality of Genesis twangs? The tunes in each melody are high-pitched, fast, and contain a huge variety of notes that are the definition of improvised, making the experience rather stressful and inducing headaches. Merely two piano pieces are the exceptions, as they are mild and adequate. The rest barely resemble any form of musical instrument.
If nothing else, the soundtrack disappears completely when you are on the green, but the general effects are reminiscent of an 8-bit system with the volume cranked to the max. The ball going up in the air is bothersome, the boops and blips of selecting options in the menu are annoying, and the audio overall is a hassle to listen to. Although, not all of it is dreadful since there are nice and clean ones for swinging the club and the ball plummeting down on unique locations. I will also add that the voice acting is admirable, despite the caddy not uttering anything important, with the announcer having a soothing tone.
The layouts of the levels offer some variety in terms of visuals, but that is it. Every field is the same dull forest with water, bunkers, and trees. There will be an ocean to the right and a cliff that is barely noticeable, but that does not exactly enhance the playthrough. It is all honestly forgettable, with solely the strong colours being anything worth speaking of. The character models are at best average too, with facial features expressing how they did in each stage and come with decent animations for swinging their clubs. I will be kind to say that the ball contains detailed motions for when it is up in the air and landing on different terrains. Sadly though, everything is quite stationary, with even the clouds following the camera’s movement and breaking any immersion this project could have had.
Presentation Score: 3.5/10
No joy to share
Besides the main mode to see how well you can do it in one tournament, you got two other ones for playing against a friend or CPU. These relegate to whether you want to compete in who gets the fewest amount of strokes compared to the pars or winning most courses. With this being severely minimalistic and still having the problem of the mentioned physics, I could never force anyone to partake in this. For a turn-based arcade title, it is also bizarre to not have more than two players. You could argue there is something more to do here, but it is like saying I can jump into a pool of piranhas. Sure I could, but why?!
Extra Score: 1/10
SNK has made many interesting instalments for the Neo Geo, and while not all have been great, this is the first one I have played by this team that feels cheap in just about every way. With how many virtual quarters I had to use and the complete lack of any engaging representation of golf in this entry, it only gave its source material a more negative stigma than what it already has. Please, believe me when I say that this sport can be good! It is just that this is a terrible adaptation of it.