Wednesday, May 9, 2012

NES Golf Tour: Atlus Golf Grand Slam

The final stop on our Tour takes us to one of the most unusual golf games for the NES.  The good people at Atlus must have taken a look at the field of games already out there and said, "if we are to compete, we need to do something radically different."  And so they did.
Look familiar, facebookers?

I first encountered Golf Grand Slam as a teenager when my dad and I were playing a LOT of NES stuff in tandem (my dad was super cool).  We had been playing Golf and Jack Nicklaus for some time when this came home from the rental store.  It was like no golf game I had ever seen.  Weird interfaces, dramatic music, and a password feature.  Was this some kind of Golf RPG? (if only...but that would come later with Mario Golf Game Boy Color)  It very quickly became my new favorite golf game and it got a lot of play and rentals.  When I finally located the game as a twenty-something, I quickly discovered that skills I possessed as a kid had clearly vanished and my love for the game was mixed with a blind rage.  Always fun.

Here comes the putter throw
Course Design:  Good.  Atlus Golf Grand Slam presents a challenging course with smart hole design and a variety of well planned holes.  The course provides lots of interesting shot opportunities and puts hazards right where they should be: in the way of your easiest, best shot.  There is only one course in this game, but it will take many rounds to truly master.

Green Design: Tough.  Due to the design of the break and how it is implemented, putting is easily one of the hardest parts of this game.  This is amplified any time there is a slope or hill on the putting surface.  Hills or slopes require a LOT of extra power in your putt and can also veer a ball off course very easily.  There is no sigh of relief for making the green in this game as you may find half of your strokes are putts.

Shot Set-Up Interface:  Complex. AGGS provides the most comprehensive golfing experience you are going to find in a golf game of this era.  You'll not find the traditional shot of the golfer lining up the shot.  You will get a top down view of the course, but you'll line your shot up entirely using a menu below the view.  You have crosshairs that allow you to pinpoint the exact distance and direction of your shot.  You can over-extend your shot a bit, but too much and you will flub.  Once you are happy with how the shot lines up, you will select your club, your stance, shot type, tee position, and grip.  Yeah, you heard that right.  You can customize every last bit of that.  Plus, your stance actually has two options including ball position.  It's sick.  Off the tee the tee position will be replaced by your lie and the grip will be replaced if you are on a slope to indicate the severity so you can adjust your stance.  Similar options appear on the green.
Now, here's the best part, you don't have to go that in depth if you don't want to.  The auto-caddy (more later) will give you a default setting that is useable.  The shot set-up is as deep or shallow as you want it to be.  That greatly helps out the learning curve as well (more later).
This diverse shot set-up is unique in NES golf games and may take some time to get used to, but once you are adjusted it is a very precise way to play video game golf.
Look at all of these options!!

Swing Interface: Unusual.  Since the power is set by the set-up interface, your "swing" will consist of setting the spin of the ball.  Press A to start your "swing."  A small dot will gyrate across the image of a large golf ball.  Where you stop the dot will determine the spin of the ball.  Stop on either side and you will hook or slice.  Stop high or low to add forward or backspin.  It will take some concentration to hit the ball square in the middle.  This set-up does make it easy to add spin, fade, or draw.
The more accurately your club fits the situation, the slower the dot will jump, hence the better your control

Putting Interface: Also unusual.  The putting interface is the same as the swing.  Adding spin to the ball will cause it to roll in the given direction.  This can help adjust for brutal breaks or slopes.

Auto-Caddy: Decent.  As stated above, the auto-caddy in this game will give you a pretty good shot.  You can also customize it and make it better, but the shot the caddy sets up will get you where you want to go for the most part.  It is a good way to learn the game, and then branch out when you get bold.

Spin Control:  Awesome.  Because of the depth of the swing interface, you can set the spin to be as much or as little as you like and the game is pretty responsive to that input.  The amount of influence your spin will exert will depend on the landing surface.

Wind Influence: Strong. The wind varies realistically from light winds around 1-4 mph to strong winds, 10+.  You will need to adjust your shot accordingly and take particular note when the wind is in your face.
It may look easy, but no putt is certain.

Break Influence:  Vicious.  The break in this game is indicated by an arrow and a degree.  Thus you may get a break at roughly seven o'clock with a severity of 6 degrees.  That is going to be a pretty strong break and you will definitely need to make an adjustment to survive it.  Slope also plays a huge factor and will require adjustment depending on the severity.  As I said above, putting is probably the hardest part of the game.  If you fail to account for the break, you will three putt at the very least.

Chip-In Possible?  Absolutely.  While it isn't easy to do, it is definitely do-able.  Oddly enough I hit 4 chip-ins playing the game for screen shots for this review.  See that Eagle pic?  That was a chip.

Hole-in-One Possible? Yes.  Like the chip, the ace is definitely possible and with the right customized swing, you can knock in the occasional ace from time to time.  It is a great feeling.

Learning Curve: 5.  The depth in this game would suggest a greater curve, but the optional nature of the depth washes some of the curve out.  It will take a few rounds to get used to the unique controls, but once entrenched the game opens up to you.

Whistles and Bells: AGGS has great graphics with lots of color and detail.  The soundtrack to this game is bizarre and sounds more like it belongs in an RPG.  It sounds goofy, but sometimes this adds some real tension.
In addition to the spectacle, AGGS also allows you to pick your club set and your style of play.  It also features a password feature.  Thanks to this feature you can cheat and put together the perfect round by reloading each hole over and over until you get the score you want.  Not terribly sporting, but interesting.  Somehow I think the feature was designed more for people who need to stop playing and resume at a later time.  I am sure that doesn't stop cheaters, though.
You are not helping combat any Engrish stereotypes, people!

Overall Score: 8. Save for the frustration that comes with putting in this game, Atlus Golf Grand Slam is a pretty damn good golf game.  There is only one course, but it takes a lot of rounds to master and I cannot stress enough how much challenge the putting adds to this game.  That said, the game is a lot of fun and gets a lot of play around here when I am going through NES golf games.  It was a favorite when I was a kid, and it gets pretty high marks today as well.  The (optional) depth of the game play goes a long way to making this game exceptional.

Tips from the Club Pro:
  • Putting off of the green is sometimes automatic when chipping.  Just be careful and remember: it isn't an all-purpose trick.
  • Choose the Up swing when the wind is at your back for some extra distance.  Use the Down Below shot when the wind is in your face.
  • Watch for trees when lining up your shot.  You may not think the trees along the border will come into play, but they can.
  • Speaking of trees, they are brutal when they are in your path.  This is only important on a couple of holes, but on those holes, it is important.
  • When putting up a slope, you will need extra power and lots of it.  The slope can also act as break.  Trial and error are your best teachers.
  • The club distances are spot on.  You can extend the shot by 8-10 yards without flubbing, but be careful, particularly out of the rough.  It is better to over club, than to extend your club past its ability.
  • You will have to set distance with the crosshairs on the putt as well, so don't come up short while thinking about the break.
  • Elevation on the course doesn't make a lot of difference, but the slope indicators will give you an idea of how your ball might roll once it lands.

Club Pro's Best Rounds:
(as much as I played this game as a kid and adult, you would think I would have better scores...)

4.24.10               73 +1
3.15.12               75 +3
4.25.10               77 +5     Ace Hole #12
4.24.10               78 +6
4.21.10               79 +7

But wait, there's more!  Come back next week and we'll wrap up the tour with a look back and a ranking of all of the golf games on the Tour!

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