As we come close to wrapping up 1987 we arrive at the last of the ‘Great Sports’ titles and it’s another contest that seems to be a requirement on any gaming platform, Golf. And once again this borrows the name of an earlier different release in Japan; the original Great Golf card was quite different than what you see here, with a unique isometric perspective to boot, but apparently Sega decided to best way to compete with Nintendo’s Golf in the West was to clone it for their console and thus brought out this follow-up, which is also known as Masters Golf in Japan. While this game might have been fine for its day and certainly seems like one of the more competent of the ‘Great’ line at first, time has not been kind to it.
After firing up the cart and getting treated to a cool intro screen, you’re presented with a single 18-hole course to challenge and given the option of either head-to-head match play or stroke play, which is the tournament that allows up to four players to hit the links. You begin at the clubhouse where you enter your name before choosing which 14 clubs out of a possible 17 you wish to use. Once you head out to the first tee to begin the actual game you’ll see the screen is laid out pretty similar to the NES cart. You’re given the now-standard behind-the-golfer view which takes up most of the right side of the screen while the left side features a small bird’s eye view of the course as well as the wind speed. You select your club (there’s no ‘suggest’ feature), set your stance and shot angle, then time a button press on the power meter to swing the club and send the ball in flight. Naturally each course has its own set of sand traps, water hazards and trees as you try to reach the green while trying to meet the par score, as well as boundaries for each hole. Once on the green just putt the ball in the cup and it’s on to the next hole. And you continue on until you finish the 18th hole, after which you get your final standing and the game ends. In the event of a tie, the players will then play a sudden death round to decide the winner.
However it won’t take much playing to see how this cartridge hasn’t aged well. First off, the graphics are not that great; while your golfer is well detailed and sports some smooth swinging animation, the landscape itself looks flat and uninteresting as it’s just a mish-mash of colors with trees thrown in. Plus the ball’s flight seems floaty with unnatural scaling, leaving you unsure of how far your ball is really going unless you follow the course map. The audio is also pretty bare; there’s only a few blah sound effects, including an annoying beep when you select something and a muffled voice clip that plays when you get off a great shot, and no background music or crowd noise is featured to punch up the action. As a result the game is played in almost total silence, which is pretty boring.
Of course the plodding and often frustrating gameplay is what really keeps this game from making the cut. The controls are not hard to figure out, but the lack of a caddy feature leaves you guessing which club to use (since it doesn’t remind you of each club’s distance on the screen, forcing you to constantly glance at the manual), which will most likely result in you repeatedly overshooting the green or even sending your ball out of bounds. Putting is also needlessly complicated; don’t be fooled by the fact that the green looks flat on the main screen, each one has a few hills and slopes that can misdirect your ball, only you can’t see them without constantly using the ‘eyeball’ feature (push button 1). There’s no reason Sega couldn’t have provided a detailed view of the green, like the NES cart or most other golf games in existence. Not only that, after every shot it takes a few seconds for the screen to get rendered for the next player and it gets annoying having to wait after every shot; with multiple players this can make games seem like an eternity. And not too surprisingly, one round of golf is all you get; there’s no option for other competitions and courses to challenge, and you can’t save your scores or results.
Great Golf isn’t the worst golf game out there but it’s well short of being a contender. Its horribly dated and too slow-paced gameplay, flat graphics and near-absence of audio doesn’t stack up well against Nintendo’s Golf, or any other golf game for that matter. Plus with superior golf titles available for the SMS like Sega’s Golfmania and U.S. Gold’s World Class Leaderboard, there’s no reason to tee this one up. Pretty much a sad last entry in the ‘Great Sports’ line, which we thankfully finally bid farewell to.