The fondest moments I’ve had with golf in my life (there are very few), were usually laying on the sofa on a Sunday playing Pokemon, while the highlights were on the TV in the background. It’s golf. It’s boring. Even people who love golf would admit that. Needless to say I’m not exactly an aficionado when it comes to the sport of putting, nor would a game based around it excite me. I find most sports that way. Sports games are not my cup of tea. Arcade sports titles however; well now you’ve got me interested.
Neo Turf Masters is from arcade Kings SNK and Nazca. An arcade take on the slow paced Sunday afternoon sport makes it perhaps an unusual title for a system typically know for fighting games. Does it work? Oh yes it does!
Nazca made golf fast-paced, streamlined and a whole lot of fun. With 4 courses to choose from out of Japan, Germany, America and Australia, you’re planted right into the final round of the tournament and tasked with surviving to the end of the 18 holes. Being arcade release, progression is handled a little unconventionally with each ‘credit’ giving you 3 holes worth of play. If you want to survive you need to score a Birdie (1 under par for the hole) to give you an extra go. 3 pars in a row isn’t good enough. Like wise, scoring a humiliating Bogie and that will take an extra go away from you.
Compared to more modern sports titles, player aides are kept to a minimum which leaves a bit of guess work on the players part, which is fair enough and the game is simplistic enough for it not to matter so much. Hitting the ball is easy as can be. You first have your power meter which you have to time your button press right. Obviously at the start of the whole you’ll want it at 100%, although when trying to hit the green you’ll want more a subtle swing. The second and final input is the the angle of the shot, if you want to hit it high or low. Again, it’s a timing based meter that’s easy to get a grip on. All in all it’s a very simple game but there is depth to it.
The only other type of gameplay is putting which is relatively simple. Again, it’s a power meter that needs to be timed. This time the game is generous enough to show you the ideal power needed, although if you need to putt uphill lightly then it may not be enough.
There are six different male golfers to choose from from around the world and they all have different stats. You can have the all-round American, or maybe the full-power Brazilian who doesn’t know the word subtle. Surprisingly they do play very differently from each other and it does add some variation to the game.
In the normal game there are only two different game modes. There’s Stroke Play with is for either one or two players and the second is Match Play, a two player exclusive mode. Stroke Play is probably what you’ll play the most, you enter the final day of tournament and do your best. Match Play is just two players competing against each other.
Outside of the natural game, HAMSTER have added two more modes. One of which is Hi Score Mode which you compete for high scores on just one credit. The second is Caravan mode which gives you five minutes to get the highest score possible, although since this is golf you want the lowest score! This addition doesn’t work quite so well with Neo Turf Masters as it’s very difficult to rack up any kind of score in just five minutes. Again, like Metal Slug 3, I found it difficult to understand the leaderboards considering even when I did get a score worthy of being there, it just didn’t turn up.
Graphically Neo Turf Masters would have been mesmerising at the time thanks to its huge, colourful sprites and animation frames. It’s still glorious to behold even to this day. It’s definitely a looker for its time.
The sound department may divide opinions. The music is a little on the cheesy side, but a nice twangy bass and the occasional saxophone make it enjoyable for me personally. Others may see it as jazzed up elevator music and I wouldn’t argue against that, but I like its cheesiness. With only four main music tracks (one for each course), it can get a little repetitive after a while.
The sound effects may cause the biggest annoyance for gamers, mainly the digitised voices. The female announcer is almost incomprehensible, while there’s one guy doing the same voices for all six of the golfers. It’s really not the best aspect of the game.
Like all the Arcade Archives series, HAMSTER give you the option of playing the Japanese original release or the international version. I played both but personally I couldn’t discern much difference between the two aside from the ordering of the courses, where the Japanese release naturally puts its national course first in the lineup.
Within the vast array of options presented in this arcade archive is the ability to change the difficulty. The default is set to Level 4 which, considering as an arcade game, is designed to suck the money out of your pockets. Saying that, Neo Turf Masters seems to be one of the fairer Neo Geo games out there once you’ve gotten used to the mechanics, but I still feel that lowering the difficulty to a Level or two below allows the game to be more enjoyable.
Overall, Neo Turf Masters is an excellent download option for arcade fans, even if you’re not particularly fond of the sport. It still looks great and plays just as well as it ever did. HAMSTER have included plenty of options to curate your experience and suit your enjoyment needs.