Friday 17 July 2015

Snes Review - PGA Tour Golf (Game 086)

Mark Twain once said that “golf is a good walk spoiled”, but as this sports simulation game proves, it can also be the ruin of a good cartridge.

Developed by Sterling Silver Software
Published by Electronic Arts
Released in 1992

It's hard to get too excited about a game when in all likelihood it's not one that was designed with you in mind. It doesn't matter if it's the best title in its respective genre, universally adored by critics and players alike, if it's not the type of game you're interested in you are hardly going to be overly enthusiastic about playing it. This is how I feel about sports games. What I know about most sports can be written on the back of a postage stamp. I don't partake in real life, I don't watch and if I am to enjoy a game based on a sport it really needs to be something special. The few sports titles that I would say I enjoy take the essence of the game and adapt them into something enjoyable to play on screen. 'Sensible Soccer' for example focuses on strategy, 'Side Pocket' introduced puzzle elements to pool and 'Super Punch Out!!' Is more about recognising patterns than replicating boxing. These three games are enjoyable games inspired by sports, promoting fun at the expense of realism. At first glance in 'PGA Tour Golf' seems to have the opposite approach.

 It's a game that proudly features licensed golfers and identifiable course; "realistic golf action... the only game to cut it with the PGA tour". The box proudly boasts that the game features incredible "TV style coverage with announcers and multiple cameras", bad news for me as I find watching golf to be more tiresome than the few attempts I've had at playing it. My preference when it comes to playing real life golf is more skewed towards crazy, which perhaps explains why 'Kirby’s Dream Course' was something I was keen to try. As a result when it comes to digital representations of the sport my enjoyment is inversely proportional to its attempt at a realistic portrayal. 'Wii Sports: Golf' is fun, 'Everybody's Golf' is ok, 'Tiger Woods 2016' is boring and frustrating. I struggle to see how a game that was at the time sold as "the most realistic golf simulation in the world" would be my cup of tea.

Of course, if you are reluctantly going to try a Snes golf game, going for the one that the critics consider to be the best seems like a good idea. With this in mind I took GamePro Magazine's advice since they suggested that "If you're looking for a great 16-bit golfing challenge, download your brain's best golfing strategy and plug in 'PGA Tour Golf.' The Super Nintendo versions is based on the Genesis / Mega Drive 1991 original, which according to Super Play magazine made it " a conversion of what's generally agreed to be the best golf game on all formats".

At the time it was hoped that the Super Nintendo's superior colour palette and visual trickery would give the game a bit of an upgrade in the graphics department. On Sega's 16 bit machine the game’s courses are all mapped out using sprites. However on the Super Nintendo port, Mode 7 technology meant that players were treated to a 3D style approach, including aerial tours of holes and a camera that followed the ball as it sailed through the air. It was considered new, fresh and the box even boasts that it's a "brand new way to view golf". To achieve this pioneering new method of presenting  golf, the whole course is made up of one giant flat sprite that is rotated and scaled creating a smooth artificial 3-dimensional experience. It would no doubt have been impressive at the time, Total! magazine were so wowed they called it "smashing” and “jaw dropping". Publisher EA Sports even registered the phrase "Sports Ball Cam" so great was their pride in this novel way to view game play. Yes, placing a virtual camera right behind a flying ball may sound great on paper, but to achieve it you have to sacrifice the level of detail closer to the players' point of view. Mode 7 plains have always been of a lower resolution, so as a result the most enlarged section becomes heavily pixelated.
The end result is a blocky foreground; quite a problem when you realise that this is something you see for the vast majority of play. Indeed Super Play even said the poor quality visuals surrounding the player’s avatar robbed the game of the atmosphere essential to a golf game." Like many critics they were of the opinion that the game is pretty horrible to look at. Colours are unnaturally garish and glitches are numerous. At times the player will be standing on top of water if the ball is hit close to a hazard. Even worse, the illusion of depth is very quickly shattered when you notice that trees look identical from every direction, rotating on the spot so they are always facing the player’s point of view. It wasn't trees that broke the sense of realism for Super Play magazine though; it was the odd behaviour of the ball itself. "The ball doesn't move terribly realistically" they noted." It judders along and suddenly stops, rather than gliding to a halt."

The player’s sprite is large and detailed, but it can't be customised at all. Hopefully you're a fan of ginger haired golfers who have a penchant for bright yellow tops and fluorescent blue trousers, as that's the only option in this game. Given this is the only animated sprite in the game you would think developer Stirling Silver Software would have gone to more effort animating him, 8 frames simply isn't enough. It wasn't something that escaped the critics and N-Force magazine apply said, "The animation of the swing's jerky ... with very basic graphics and little if any background."
After a few hours of play you simply get bored of looking at the same man doing the exact same thing over and over again. As with the Mega Drive version, the game features a choice of four tournaments, with three based on real locales and each naturally features 18 holes. To someone who has no knowledge of the sport or its celebrities (especially those from twenty years ago) the inclusion of real places and real people means nothing. Not that you can even play as "60 real PGA pros" anyway. They only exist within the game to give advice at the beginning of a hole and to take up space on the leader board.

Despite being more than twenty years old the main game mechanics are identical to modern golf games. The obvious goal of golf is to get you ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible. Taking a shot depends on the tried and tested power meter. Pressing A starts filling this power bar and when the desired power is reached the A button should be pressed again. This cause the indicator to move back along the power bar and the player then has to stop it on precisely zero by pressing the A button a third time.

Pressing the button too early causes the ball to hook to the left but waiting to late will cause it to slice to the right. It's a play method that seems to have appeared in every golf game ever devised. Indeed 'PGA Tour Golf' was the third golf game released on the Super Nintendo but all three are functionally identical. If anything, in 'PGA Tour Golf' The power indicator actually moves much slower than some other golf games making it easier to get a perfect shot.

This ease of play is offset however by the game designers bizarrely putting a tiny aiming arrow at the top of the screen, even when putting. This makes it incredibly hard to hit the ball in the exact direction desired.
The wind too seems to have a far greater effect on the ball than seems natural or realistic. If the wind speed gets up to 20, it’s best just to start over. The celebrity computer opposition may be unaffected by it, but for you, playing a shot in a gale is impossible. Not that you can see this near hurricane on screen, there are no weather effects and the course always looks the same. You can't hear it either as there's only the occasional sound of birds to prove your speakers are still working. Music is limited to just three tracks used for the title card, game menus and course previews. For the most part the game is silent and the invisible crowd gasping when an easy putt is missed only emphasises this more.

At the time 'PGA Tour Golf' was considered "one of the best golf games for any system" according to Mean Machines magazine. Even if that was true, time has not been kind to it. Technical advances have left the game looking archaic and only a fool could say it's more realistic than a game you'd find on a modern console. This somewhat nullifies any reason to play the game. Those who originally gravitated towards 'PGA Tour Golf' over a cartoony ‘Mario Golf’ game did so because it was authentic. I wasn't the target audience twenty years ago, but you have to wonder if anyone would be interested in playing a two decade old golf game at all now. Perhaps in my ignorance I’m missing some tiny nuance that makes this game better than a modern equivalent, but I’m of the opinion that those seeking realism in their games don't play retro games.

Nostalgia plays a big part in modern enjoyment of old games and without rose tinted memories or even an appreciation of golf, there's no appeal for me. Twenty years ago people may have said that 'PGA Tour golf' achieved its goal of replicating the sport accurately, the problem is even if it was a perfect digital representing of golf, it doesn't change the fact that I find the sport the game is replicating boring. It wasn't a game for me then and it certainly isn't one for me now.

Where did I get this game from?

When it comes to accumulating retro games cheaply, it’s always best to buy bundles. Expensive games often are included, but in the mass of titles they are over looked by other collectors. The problem is though, when you buy bundles to get certain games, included in the deal are games you don’t want. This is how I ended up with a sports game that I never intended to play. When you divide up the number of games in the bundle by the price paid, I actually paid £9.00 for this. To be frank this  is £8.50 more than I think it’s worth. 

1 comment:

  1. This was a rubbish golf game - never fun if you ask me...!


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