Arcade Archives: Golf (1984 Nintendo Arcade Review)

I used to golf quite a lot. I grew up literally right next to a country club that we were members of, but we never went next door to do anything but eat. Then my father had a mild heart attack and the doctor suggested he needed to take better care of himself and take-up a nice, relaxing physical hobby. Guess what he chose? Heh. Yea, because golf has NEVER been known to cause stress, right? I was 11-years old and, content that my father was on the mend and not, you know.. dead.. I went back to my normal routine of staring blankly at the screen while playing video games. I was on my brand-spanking-new PlayStation 2 when my Dad said I was coming with him to take-up golfing too. I refused, and he threatened to repurpose all my disc-based games as drink coasters. I said “you wouldn’t do that” and turned around to find my copy of Eternal Ring sitting under his mug. So, bitching and complaining the entire walk over to the clubhouse, I took-up the sport with my old man. Like most middle aged men suffering a midlife crisis, Dad overdid it with all the best equipment money could buy and lessons from the club pro, and whatever he bought for himself, he bought for me too out of guilt. It didn’t help him at all. His swing is such a disaster that I wanted to learn to play the violin and strum out Nearer, My God, to Thee after every tee-off. “It’s been a pleasure playing with you, Pops.”

Like Satan himself, this goes under many names. It could be called just Golf. It could be Vs. Golf. It could be Stroke & Match Golf. Hell, there’s even a re-sprited version with women called Vs. Ladies Golf that has different holes. Why wasn’t that included in this set? Because it’ll be an extra $7.99 when it inevitably lands on Nintendo Switch. Duh!

Meanwhile, given my size, strength, and complete lack of coordination and athletic ability, I wasn’t too bad a golfer. At my best, I was a 14 handicap. Which, for you non-duffers out there, that means if I were to play a full eighteen hole round of golf with a score of -14 to start, you would expect that I’d finish the round at 0, or even par. In essence, I got good enough where you wouldn’t expect me to bogey every hole. Dad was a 29 handicap. He couldn’t even get halfway to me, and if you don’t think I didn’t take a moment to rub that in his face every single time we hit the links, you don’t know me. None of that has anything to do with golf video games, but what do you want? They’re usually games about stopping a meter on time. YOU try to make it interesting! Really, the only reason to put all this here is to make it clear: I know my golf, and even though I consider myself a mediocre-at-best video game player, I usually annihilate golf games. I played Mario Golf on Switch Online a few months ago, a game I played a lot as a kid, and it was like putting on a comfy pair of old shoes. After a brief warm-up period, I was draining eagles and holes in one like there was no tomorrow. I even had an elusive albatross! It was like no time had passed at all. Mario Golf for the Nintendo 64 shockingly holds up very well to the test of time. I wish the same could be said about the one that started it all.

If some of these holes seem eerily familiar, they should. If you played golf on Wii Sports, you played these holes too. They just took the NES/Arcade Golf course and made it 3D. Yep, really.

Golf was one of the most successful of Nintendo’s Vs. System arcade games, so much so that they had one in the country club before I was born. I’ve heard from people who bought an NES just to have it. So, this is a little more historically big than I thought about. And man, talk about a pedigree! Golf was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, directed by Kenji Miki (who also directed NES Open Golf and Wario Woods before going on to be a very prolific producer at Nintendo), and programmed solely by Satoru Iwata. Apparently, Miki got deeply into golf during the Japanese golf boom of the 80s. You wouldn’t know it from this. I know a lot of my readers get annoyed when I talk about the dribblty-ball or other assorted sportsballs, but this is where I have to let the sports nerd in me come out. Because this is a golf game that basically does one thing right, and everything else horribly wrong. And, by the way, if you don’t know anything about golf, you’re going to need time to read the manual and memorize the max shot length. There’s no computer assistance with choosing your club, nor anything on-screen that tells you how much yardage you get out of each. If you don’t know the difference between a 3 Wood and a 6 Iron, you’re on your own to figure it out. There IS a chart in the instruction manual but you have to pause the game for it (which will automatically end your game if you’re playing Caravan or Hi-Score mode), but still, it’s not the most user-friendly golf game. You also always default to the driver at the start of every new hole, even if it’s not a hole where you’d want to bring the thunder. This is golf played exactly like everyone who steps onto the links for the first time: hammer always in hand.

One of the golden rules of golf is it’s better to undershoot than overshoot. A wise man once said you’re not likely to hit a parked car by undershooting.

So, here’s the thing about golf that matters most: any idiot can do a tee shot with a solid 80% accuracy if they practice it enough. It’s not even that much practice you need to learn to drive well enough to not embarrass yourself. In golf, real or video, it’s the short game that makes or breaks you, and Match & Stroke Golf has a pretty abysmal short game. Especially troublesome is chipping. In real life, if you ask any professional golfer what’s the most important club in their bag besides the putter, they’ll almost all agree it’s the pitching wedge. In Vs. Golf, the club is just not calculated right and it makes it unsuitable for chipping and other assorted short-distance shots. In fact, they seem to have designed it to play like a lob wedge, which is not the same thing. A lob wedge is designed to make high-arcing drop-shots that have less bounce and roll. They also allow for more control over the spin if you want to angle it. In Vs. Golf, the wedgie launches the ball high into the air with a tall arc, even if you chip. In a game where there’s no topography outside of the green and you can’t put English on the ball, that kind of shot is totally unnecessary.

The bunkers might as well be repainted fairways for all the challenge they pose in this game.

Yet, if you’re right by the green, you don’t want to use the wedgie. Even with a very light powered chipping stroke, the ball gets too much distance. I found myself using the sand wedge, which I suppose was a satisfactory enough chipper for the purposes of this game. Yes, many people, including pros (famously Phil Mickelson) use the sand wedge on the fairway because of its large-angled face which is great for a variety of different spins. You know what? I honestly found it was a lot safer and accurate to just putt from the fairway if I was 30 yards away. The game at least tells you how far you are from the hole, and anything less than 30, screw it, I putted. Sometimes it would even go in the hole, though this felt entirely like it was luck-based. This doesn’t seem like that big a deal, right? But, it sort of is.

Putting is annoying at first, but you can get SOMEWHAT used to it. The arrows on the green clue you into the slope, and it’s just a matter of figuring out the power to use. But, it’s not a good system. There’s no adjustable power and judging the speed and roll and distance is completely guesswork. Also, sometimes you’ll get a lie that I’m almost entirely certain isn’t possible to make in a single stroke. That happens in situations where you’re putting directly against the slope from a long distance. I had full-powered strokes come to a stop before they reached the hole. Golf doesn’t do any of the short game in a way that feels good, but putting is the worst. It never feels comfortable. Annoying you can learn to deal with it just enough to not be a deal breaker, but you’ll NEVER like it. Okay, maybe this really IS accurate to the sport.

See, you’re not going to be shooting holes-in-one or ironing-out eagles from 150 yards out as anything but dumb luck in Vs. Golf. It’s just not a precise enough game. BUT, you also can’t just chip-in either, and that’s where it crosses the line for me. Putting from a pixel or two off the green isn’t the same as knocking-in a forty-yard chip, and you can’t do that here. 99% of the best moments in golf, real or digital, are not shots off the tee. The most exciting and satisfying shots almost always come after that, and that can’t happen here. Not with these mechanics. Thus, you’re left with a game of video golf that lacks the potential for the most exciting shots. It’d be like a basketball game without dunking or a three point line. That’s the fun stuff! Remember, Golf is the one sport where “close enough” can be exhilarating. One of the single most incredible moments of my life was the first time I shot a ball from a bad lie in the rough and put it about five feet from the hole. Mind you, the putt was for a double-bogey, but I didn’t care. I was 12 years old and it was the first time I’d ever done anything that resembled good golf.

I had to re-write a few parts of this review because I didn’t even think to pause the game to check and see if there was a shot chart to help newbies. I hate that I keep picking games I ultimately don’t like. I can see why Hamster wouldn’t want me to get review copies. They have a bad winning percentage with me. BUT, I will always give them props for their instruction manuals. They’re never half-assed and I really do appreciate the effort for clear instructions.

Well, the Nintendo Golf doesn’t really capture that spirit well because the short game just isn’t exact enough, and while “close enough” is a staple of golf, it’s also a game of precision. The strongest aspect about Vs. Golf is easily the shots off the tee. This was a pioneer of the standard triple-click swing mechanic that’s so ingrained into the video golf genre that the recent EA PGA game brought it back. It works here, and thank god for that. You can only shoot in sixteen exact directions and have to learn to utilize the slice (curving the ball right) and the hook (curving it left), which is simple to remember: left is right, and right is left. On the final click, if your meter is left of the white target, the ball will slice right mid-flight. If you’re right of the target, the ball will hook left in the air. You have to learn to use this, because sometimes you absolutely just can’t aim at the green the way you want to and have to sort of guestimate the hook or slice. There’s no flight trajectory or any method of helping you. I suppose, once again, it’s true to real life golf: you have to practice to get a feel for it.

Stupid as it is, I did enjoy the standard Arcade Archives five minute Caravan Mode. Yes, it’s even part of Golf. My best was shooting -4 after five minutes. I only barely finished the 6th hole when time expired. My best in the standard mode was shooting -10 for 18 holes. Not too shabby. In my recent Mario Golf session, I shot a 51, or -21 under par for the second-to-last course. My best as a kid wasn’t far off that. I think I did -25 under once. In real golf, one time at a par-3, nine-hole pitch & putt, I shot +1. At the course I played most on, my best ever for a day was +7 scratch. Sounds not too bad, but I was only +1 after nine holes. I gagged away the best nine holes I ever shot in my life, and Dad was calling me “Shark” after famous choker Greg Norman.

Another problem with Vs. Golf is every single shot is essentially a clean lie on the fairway. If the ball lands on a tree, it’s out of bounds and a penalty. Otherwise, even if you’re facing a tree, you don’t have to do anything different. It’s as if the trees aren’t there. There’s not even a rough in this golf game. Rough, aka the tall annoying stuff which is the thing that you’re desperately trying not to hit in real golf. No worries about that here. Instead, you’re playing all-or-nothing golf. It’s feast or famine: you’re either on the fairway, bunker, or green, or you’re out of bounds (or in the water, but at least there you get to take a drop). There’s wind, which barely manipulates the ball at all unless it’s over 10mph. Even sand traps don’t really factor in all that much. I never once hit one that wasn’t right by the green, which would be the only time that would actually hurt. The ball doesn’t get buried in sand, and you don’t have to do anything special besides switching to the sand wedge, which makes them kind of toothless, which defeats the point of having them in the first place. If anything, they’re just a brown-colored fairway that’s easier to chip off of. They’re the one element where it IS safe to chip and not worry about overshooting.

The little fist-pump Mario does when you sink a birdie managed to bring a smile to my face. Sadly, I never shot an eagle this entire review process. Not one. Came close only once, and yea, that was cool. It’s golf! Those moments would be cool no matter how antiquated the actual game is.

So, what do I make of this? Because golf should be frustrating, right? It’s golf, named as such because all the other four letter words were taken (yes, I stole that from Leslie Nielsen). It’d be weird if there wasn’t a steep learning curve. But, I think that this does little more than serve as a good first step towards making video golf a legitimately fun and viable genre. I’m totally certain this was groundbreaking and probably very fun in the mid-80s, like Golden Tee was in the 90s. Nintendo’s Golf is ultimately a very stripped-down game of golf, and while it isn’t totally crap by today’s standards, it’s just not that fun anymore. Vs. Golf is hurt badly by what it doesn’t do. Despite the lack of complex terrain, it lacks for assisted club selection, thus making it not so newbie friendly. But, veterans of video golf will find it too basic. What is Match & Stroke Golf? It’s a really good proof of concept for where video golf would go over the coming decade, and that’s awesome and admirable. But, now it really only has value as a historical curio. Then again, there’s people buying this because this version has music and the NES version doesn’t. Do I recommend it? Well.. no. But, with handicap, it could be a yes.

Golf is not Chick-Approved.

Golf was developed by Hamster Corp.
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 triple-bogeyed in the making of this review.

NES Remix

No, it’s not an indie. But, I’m not exactly known as someone with a particular fondness for NES “classics” that grew stale before I was even born. When Nintendo surprised everyone Wednesday by debuting NES Remix and announcing it was out right now, it was bizarre. Almost as if they had no confidence in it. But, it looked vaguely like the 9-Volt stages in Wario Ware, which is pretty much my favorite game ever. And my Wii U was starting to get dusty again after I finished Super Mario 3D World. So, $15 later, I was going to see what this game Nintendo was so nervous about hyping for more than a few minutes was all about.

NES Remix is made up of micro-sections of sixteen early first-party NES games, most of which are no fucking good today and probably wouldn’t have been all that fun even back in the day. Look, I appreciate the historical significance of the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda. But the same franchises have been done better so many times since the 80s. To pretend otherwise seems kind of crazy. Meanwhile, the majority of the games in NES Remix really just aren’t any good at all. Baseball, Pinball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Golf should be locked in a box and thrown in the middle of the ocean. And Ice Climber? I swear to God, I think it might legitimately be the worst game Nintendo ever made. Not only does it control like it was designed by someone who hates video games, but it also has a tendency to have players fall through the platforms because you’re “too close to the edge.” Even though you’re more than a full character-length on the platform. If there’s a worst first-party game Nintendo has ever put out, I haven’t played it.

Funny enough, it's actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

Funny enough, it’s actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

So, a collection of sixteen games that I either hate or am totally indifferent too? Games which have not been blessed with the gift of graceful aging? Games which I would never pay the price for off Nintendo’s Virtual Console if they were sold alone? Obviously, we’re talking a real game of the year contender, right?

Well, actually.. yeah.

NES Remix utterly owned me. I got it Wednesday morning, and I played it so much that I ran out the battery on my Wii U pad three times in a single day. Never mind how pitiful it is that a console could have the battery run out that much in a single day. I also will try not to focus too much on how there is absolutely no reason why NES Remix has to be exclusive to the Wii U, or that Nintendo unquestionably lost out in millions in revenue this week alone by not having a 3DS version launch alongside it. Okay, so that’s a lie. It’s kind of the elephant in the room and it requires scrutiny. Nintendo fanboys are saying it’s because Wii U needs exclusive software to justify owning it. That’s a fucking cop-out excuse if I’ve ever heard one. NES Remix is the perfect portable game. Pick-up-and-play mechanics, small goals, a large variety of gameplay styles, and no consequences if you think you have time to kill, turn on your device, then suddenly become busy and have to turn it off. Tethering this diamond to the Wii U would be like hiring Michael Jordan to be on your golf team. I’m sure he’s a damn fine golfer, probably better than your average schmo, but wouldn’t he better suited on your basketball team? And NES Remix would be better suited on the 3DS. It just would be.

But, the decision was made, and NES Remix is slumming it on the wrong console. Fine. It doesn’t change the quality of the game at all. NES Remix is, as of this moment, the best digital-exclusive Nintendo has ever produced. Like Wario Ware, Nintendo has taken gameplay, stripped out most of the bullshit, then weaponized what was left into the most potently addictive micro-gaming chunks seen since, well, the original Wario Ware. This is gaming in its purest form.  Scoring and/or speed based, no frills, white-knuckle gaming. And I love it.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called "Clu-Clu Land". With a "C". Just go back to playing Uncharted.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called “Clu-Clu Land”. With a “C”. Just go back to playing Uncharted.

The NES games are divided into sections by game, which have anywhere between seven to over twenty levels per game, though I don’t believe every game has its own unique stage selection. Baseball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Donkey Kong 3 seem to have drawn the short straw and don’t have their own sections, and that’s just fine with me. There’s also fifty “remix” stages that do something wacky with the gameplay or graphics, plus twenty-five “bonus stages” that seem more like deleted scenes, cut from the game for a reason. Each stage is scored on a scale from one-star to three-stars, plus if you do really good, a meaningless rainbow star thing appears that doesn’t seem to unlock anything.

The remix stages are treated like the meat of the game, but really, I enjoyed all the non-psychedelic challenges presented here. Stuff like trying to catch 1-up mushrooms in Super Mario, or fighting bosses in Legend of Zelda, one ten-second stage at a time, was hugely satisfying. It even managed to make games like Golf and Balloon Fight more than enjoyable, something I never imagined was possible. I knocked out most of those before I ever started on the Remix stages, which were often pretty cool too. You might have to play a full stage in Super Mario where the game auto-runs for you. As it turns out, Super Mario makes a great auto-runner. Who would have thunk it? Other challenges might be related to the presentation, like having the camera pull back, showing multiple, progressively smaller screens. When I played these stages, I would then look away from the Wii U pad, where my room now seemed to be pulling back and shrinking. It was trippy. And awesome.

Not all the remix stages were well conceived. A couple of them involve you playing Donkey Kong using Link. No, you can’t use your sword for some fucking stupid reason. Also, you can’t jump. Ever tried to beat the first stage in Donkey Kong without jumping? It’s way tougher than it sounds. You’re basically left up to the whims of fate, hoping against hope that the barrels don’t go down the ladders you’re about to cross, since you have no way of defending yourself or otherwise avoiding them. My gut instinct tells me they originally planned to let you use the sword for these sections (since it makes no fucking sense to have Link in Donkey Kong and not be able to swing your sword) but they couldn’t do it right (it’s really just a ROM hack, with Link painted over Mario), so they just left it the way it was. Of course, the whole ROM hack theory doesn’t explain why you can’t jump. Other ill-thought-out stages include Pinball (a crap game on its own, like most of the games in this collection) where the flippers are invisible, an Ice Climber stage where the only hook is the graphics become Game Boy-like (and this one screws up sometimes by having the mono-Gameboy sound be present during the NES part, and vice versa), or fighting “imposters” in Balloon fight that are the exact same enemies you already take on, re-skinned to look like you. Really, some of them are just plain lazy. But this is the same company that has put out roughly fifty-billion ports of the 75% complete NES version of Donkey Kong. I’m almost convinced that Nintendo is the Japanese word for half-assed.

The biggest problem with NES Remix is these are the exact same games that they’ve always been, only broken down into microscopic chunks. Although this makes some of the games more palatable, all their original control flaws are still present. I mentioned Ice Climber above, which is probably Nintendo’s most broken controlling game. But actually, the original Mario Bros. is nearly as crippled. The jumping physics are horrible, requiring you to build up momentum to make a jump. Only sometimes this doesn’t seem to work. Plus, landing on a platform above you requires you to land perfectly flush on it. If a micro-pixel isn’t on, you fall through the platform. In games scored entirely around timing, shit like this is fucking maddening. Additionally, Baseball, Tennis, and especially Clu Clu Land (my buddy Cyril’s choice for Nintendo’s worst first-party game) control the same as they always have: like shit.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase. As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared. I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase. I'm not sure if it was a glitch or not. I never bothered to replay it after that. I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase. As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared. I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase. I’m not sure if it was a glitch or not. I never bothered to replay it after that. I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

Another issue, which is kind of minor, is that the difficulty of each challenge, in terms of what will give you a three-star rating and what won’t, varies wildly. In one of the Super Mario levels that is divided into three sub-stages, the object is to enter a warp pipe. The target time for three stars was 30 seconds. Getting this required near-perfect runs. I twice finished at 30.1 seconds because I had trouble lining up in the under-water pipe or something. Eventually, I did get the three-star rating I had coveted, clocking in at 29.6. No rainbow stars though, and I’ll be damned if I can guess where I could possibly make up the time for it. Edit: Oh my God, I am such a fucking idiot.  I thought I had attempted to enter all the pipes in the second stage. It turns out there was a much, much closer pipe I could have entered than the one I was going into. I just finished in 24 seconds and rainbowed. I suck. But then I would play multiple other stages where I could die three or four times and still score three-stars with rainbows even though my performance could best be summed up as “pitiful.” There was no consistency from one stage to the next, and it takes the oomph out of the sense of accomplishment I sometimes felt.

Despite those issues, NES Remix is honest-to-God my new favorite Wii U game. Certainly Nintendo’s best digital-exclusive in their history. I was utterly hooked for three solid days on it. It even did the impossible and made Urban Champion fun for like five seconds, which by my count, is three seconds longer than Wario Ware accomplished. (UPDATE: I hadn’t ever played Urban Champion by this point, and eventually gave it the IGC Seal of Approval. Go figure!) Although I have no fucking clu-clu why this is exclusive to Wii U, this is a must own. At least, I think it is. Opinions are hugely divided here. One trend I’ve noticed: older gamers that played the originals to death in the 80s seem to like this a lot less than myself and younger gamers have. I’m guessing if you’ve played the original Super Mario Bros. once a week for the last thirty years, you probably would be bored by some of the “challenges” here, like playing level 3-3 with all the platforms invisible. See though, I don’t have every nuisance of these games committed to memory, and probably for that reason, this could very well end up being my Game of the Year. So a word of advice to the younger Nintendo fanboys out there: don’t schedule a monthly play-through of New Super Mario Bros. or Pikmin 3, or else when Wii U Remix comes out in 2043 for the Nintendo Wii UeuPrince logo.svgmI3, you’ll be sorry.

NES Remix LogoNES Remix was developed by Nintendo

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 said “the game just fucking came out, so stop talking about sequels already you annoying fucking fanboys” in the making of this review.

NES Remix is Chick-Approved, but not remotely Leaderboard eligible (non-Indie)

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