Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NES Golf Tour: NES Open

Nintendo's second foray into the world of video game golf is the bigger and badder NES Open.  Not only was this game a true successor to the original Golf, it also laid the foundation for the later, incredible Mario Golf 64.  NES Open might be the ultimate golf game for the NES.  It can be truly said that this game has pretty much everything you could ask or expect from a golf game on this system.  The graphics are crisp, the game play is smooth and smart, and the extra features are plentiful.

Course Design:  Great!  NES Open features three different courses: US, Japan, and UK.  Each course is smartly designed, although not terribly distinct or indicative of their geographical designations.  Hole designs vary from complex to straightforward, but every hole provides challenge.  There are a few "video game" style holes, but they are not the norm and are not entirely unwelcome, either.  Par 3's are plenty tricky and Par 5's provide opportunity for skilled players to make up a few strokes here and there.  All three courses are fun to play and are well designed.

Green Design:  Sometimes the greens in this game are so busy that it is difficult to plan a good putt.  This isn't always the case and in general the green design is pretty solid, but from time to time you will get a green that can't tell if it is coming or going and chances are it is doing both and several other things as well.  Greens do vary in size and shape, however, and while hold placement doesn't change much the designs alone will provide sufficient challenge.

Shot Set-Up Interface: Almost the most complete control you will have over your shot in a golf video game on the NES (only Atlus Golf Grand Slam offers more in depth control).  NES Open's shot set-up allows you set the direction of your shot, the speed of your swing, your club, the point of impact on the ball (to determine spin), and then the height of your shot.  During the swing you can also determine the fade or draw.  The shot set-up gives you almost complete control over the path of your ball.  Once off the tee you are given distance to pin measurements and lie conditions.  The only thing you are not given is distance in the field from your lie.  As with nearly every other game on the tour this means you will have to guess if you can clear that pot bunker or water hazard until you have taken several swings at it.  This limitation is quickly overcome after a few rounds and is made up for in part by the otherwise complete control you have over your shot.

Swing Interface:  The difficulty with the swing meter in NES Open is entirely a factor of the speed of your swing.  Set to SLOW, the swing meter is soft and smooth as butter.  Set to FAST and you are looking at a button masher.  While this will take some getting used to, it is also a really cool feature of the game and adds a level and depth of challenge that makes the game all the sweeter.  Accuracy and length will vary depending upon the speed and club selection, but accurate shots are not hard to come by once you get the hang of the meter.  There is even a super shot that gives you extra distance if you hit a FAST swing at max power and directly on the accuracy target.  But believe me when I speak from experience, saying that there will be a big adjustment to this swing meter if you are coming from another golf game, especially, say the turtle-slow meter on Bandai Golf Pebble Beach.  Hooking and slicing are pretty easy to accomplish, but they are absolutely wicked and require some measure of control to use effectively.

Putting Interface: Similar to the swing interface, speed will determine the success of your putt and most of the time, with good green placement, you'll be using the SLOW setting.  Due to the speed variance, few putting situations will require you to use the full meter, but you might find use for it putting off of the green.  You'll need to get a good handle on the putting as the breaks in this game are vicious.  The FAST putter can be your friend, but it is also a powerful weapon that when used improperly or without discipline, will add strokes to your score.

Auto-Caddy: Pretty decent, although the recommended club is often a club or two less than what you might need to combat conditions like lie and wind.  You can toggle this feature off in the OPTIONS menu.

Spin Control: Inconsistent.  Top spin will almost always give your ball extra distance, but the amount of distance you'll gain is not significant.  Backspin is terribly inconsistent.  The influence of the backspin is dependent upon the club you are using, but the actual effect is hit or miss.  Land a backspin shot in the rough or fairway and it will stick like a magnet, regardless of the club.  On the green, backspin will either put your ball into full reverse, stop your ball like it hit mud, or have no effect at all.  What determines this is difficult to tell, as I have had all three effects result from the use of a PW.  I don't think you should shun the spin control, but don't count on it either.

Wind Influence:  Anything over 5 MPH is going to be a bear, so plan accordingly.  Anything less and you can make a mild adjustment here and there and be fine.

Break Influence: Evil.  Not kidding.  You will not find a less forgiving break in a golf game for the NES.  Breaks may vary from minimal to "pick up your ball and throw it back into the rough," but no matter what kind of break you find, you will need to account for it during your putt. You can power through most breaks, especially close to the hole, but power isn't going to solve all of the woes the breaks in NES Open will create.

Chip-In Possible?  Yes. And for the skilled golfer it is a viable strategy.

Hole-in-One Possible?  Yes and I have one!  Tricky to do, as with all aces, but certainly out there to get.

Learning Curve: 3  Once you get the hang of the speed differences in your swing and the impact that has on the swing meter, the rest of this game is just golf.  You'll have to learn distances and how to overcome the vicious breaks on the greens, but again, most of that is overcome after a few rounds.  After that you are treated to an incredible golf experience.

Whistles and Bells:  Where do I start?  From cut-scenes at the hole and in the bunker to the ability to select the clubs in your golf bag to the save feature that tracks your progress and improves your skill rank. NES Open is a cornucopia of special features that elevate your game experience from great to amazing.  Regular stroke play gives you ample opportunity to practice and improve your game.  As your scores improve, and your skills improve, the game will keep track of your stats (under OPTIONS) and also improve your standing (Amateur, Semi-Pro, etc.).  Your standing comes into play when you enter Tournament Mode.  You can play either 18 or 36 hole tournaments and compete against (invisible) AI golfers.  You will play a regular round and AI golfer results will be simulated.  Depending on how low your score is, you will be ranked against the simulated results and be awarded prize money accordingly.  At the end of each tournament, Donkey Kong will deposit your prize money and keep tabs on how much you have earned.  There are extra opportunities to earn money during the tournament with the Longest Drive and Closest to the Pin competitions.
If that isn't enough, the game also records your best birdie, eagle, albatross, and ace shots so that you can replay them later and relive the glory.
NES Open provides the biggest and most complete golf experience on the NES and these whistles and bells make that experience all the more enjoyable!

Overall Score: 9  I don't give perfect scores very often and while NES Open doesn't earn a coveted 10, it is a close as we are going to get on this tour.  With only a few minor quibbles here and there, I don't think you can find a better, or more fun, golf game for the NES.

Tips from the Club Pro:
  • Swing speed is essential when setting up your shot.  Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each speed and use them to your advantage.  Fast shots are great on the tee and out of the trap or rough, but your accuracy will vary unless you are really good. Medium shots are good all purpose shots, good from the fairway or rough.  Slow shots are good for the short game or when you absolutely must navigate tricky hazards.
  • Pay attention to hazards and trees when judging shots.  These courses are designed for challenge.  If you wonder how far out that tree is from the tee, chances are good it is nearly the distance of your best possible drive. 
  • Clubs will not yield their full distance except under perfect conditions, so be ready to club up one or two, three or four in the rough.
  • Woods out of the rough are inconsistent, as in the real game.
  • Putting is perhaps the most difficult part of this game.  Overcoming vicious breaks and judging speed and distance will require lots of practice.  Don't expect many one-putts your first few rounds, but stick with it.
  • Not good at putting? Shore up that short game.  Long putts are never desirable.
  •  The wind WILL affect your short shots and chips.  Adjust accordingly and keep those shots LOW when possible.
I have no idea why Peach is so cracked out in this game.

Club Pro's Best Rounds:

US Course
4.11.12             74 +2
4.12.12             76 +4

Japan Course
4.9.12               71 -1
4.11.12             73 +1

UK Course
4.12.12             71 -1   Hole-in-One Hole #12
4.12.12             74 +2

Next on the tour, we'll join the Golden Bear as he take us on a tour of the greatest 18 holes of major championships golf (also the golf game with the longest name, ever.)

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