Wednesday, May 2, 2012

NES Golf Tour: Jack Nicklaus Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf

Wow.  What a title!

For those of who you are not familiar, Jack Nicklaus, respectfully and affectionately known as the "Golden Bear," is arguably the greatest golfer in the history of the sport (sorry Tiger).  Nicklaus has won more major tour events than any other golfer in history and has dominated the Master's Tournament six times, back to back in '65 and '66.  Nicklaus was the golfer in the 1970's and if anyone was going to take you on a tour of the greatest golf courses in PGA play.

The game that bears his name, Jack Nicklaus Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf (JNG), was the game that taught me all I know about golf, both video game and real world.  My uncle had long been a devotee of PC golf, but we were too poor to own a PC at the time.  We did have an NES, and I had played, briefly, Golf, but couldn't really get into it.  Golf was nothing like the PC games my uncle played.  Then came JNG.  It looked a lot like the PC games my uncle played and had way more detail than Golf.  So I played it, and I played it, and I played it.  I have shot 59 on it several times.  I got so good at one point that I could hit the flagstick on every approach shot.  Every one.  I love this game.  I love it.

That doesn't mean it is going to get a perfect score on this tour.  This isn't a tour about games I loved as a kid or have sentimental attachment to.  This tour is about providing a critical analysis of the golf games available for the NES.  So let's put JNG to the test:

Course Design:  Interesting.  The course is built from some of the best holes on some of the most famous golf courses on the Pro Tour, so the hole designs are pretty much a lock.  But can you take 18 holes from various courses and construct one awesome golf course?  It seems that you can, at least for the most part.  I don't know if Nicklaus himself actually picked these holes or not, but the selection was rather smartly done.  While not every hole presents a huge challenge, despite what Jack's intro says, the course as a whole is well put together and is fun to play.

Green Design: Various.  Greens are mostly flat and straight, but occasionally there will be a severe break that will disrupt your putt.  Hole location varies and can provide extra challenge.  Green size varies by hole and a couple of greens are really small.  The greens themselves, however will not provide too much real challenge.

Shot Set-Up Interface:  Basic.  You only get one view to set up your shot: third person.  You will get a overhead view on the loading screen that details the statistics for the hole, but will not be able to use that to plan your shot.  The third person view you get is alright, but often you cannot see the hole or hazards in line with your shot.  In many ways you are shooting blind, particularly since elevation is not a consideration in this game, however that also lends a bit of realism to the game.  The biggest problem occurs when trees obscure your view, but once you've played the course a few times it gets easier.
One interesting adjustment is how you line up your shot.  Instead of an arrow or dotted line, you line your shot up with the ball and a dot that runs along the border of the window.  This doesn't make lining up a shot any more difficult, but it is an interesting deviation from the norm.
You will get distances to the pin from the tee and from the course.  Distances on the course are irrelevant since you cannot see exactly where you are hitting the ball.

I added the % and numbers!
Swing Interface: Standard.  The swing meter runs vertically along the left hand side of the screen.  One interesting feature is the addition of the power section at the top of the meter.  If you swing into the power section your club can reach upwards of 40 yards beyond its standard power rating.  However, if you miss the accuracy target, your fade or draw will be more severe.  Other than that, the meter is pretty standard.  Hooks and slices are manageable and the swing speed is slow enough to make an accurate shot pretty easy to come by.  The swing meter is marked off in 10 yard increments to make hitting exact distances much easier.  This swing meter is a great way to learn precision golf.

Putting Interface:  Exactly the same as the swing interface.  However, there is one point I would like to mention with regards to putting.  Just as you line up your shot in the rest of the game, you will also have to line up your putt with the small dot at the top of the screen.  This is very, very hard to do unless you go get a ruler.  Eyeballing this shot is just as hard as it might be in real golf. This can make putting extremely difficult.  Most of the time the game will line you up just fine and you will have a straight putt, but every now and then the game gets mean.  Be careful, and keep a ruler handy...
As you can see from my line, you had better have a good eye or a good ruler handy.

Auto-Caddy:  Pretty good.  You'll probably want to club up or down depending on how much you plan to use the power section.

Spin Control:  Oddly there isn't any.

Wind Influence:  If the bar is more than half red, then you had better correct for wind, a lot.  Otherwise, minor adjustments will keep you in the fairway.

Break Influence:  Same as Wind.  Best to use fade or draw to combat the break since lining up the shot can be a bear of its own.

Chip-in Possible?  Yes, but very rare.

Hole-in-One Possible?  Oddly enough I have never managed to negotiate one, but I suspect that if the chip-in is possible, so is the ace.

Learning Curve: 2.  Getting used to the putting and the single perspective take a second, but seasoned golf gamers will overcome that in no time.  The swing speed is slow and forgiving and the hazards are avoidable and easily played out of.  A great game for first time golfers, as it was for me!

Whistles and Bells:  Few.  The game tries hard to recreate that PC experience by loading the play field lines at a time.  That doesn't work, particularly when the resultant graphics are blobs and blocks of color.  The NES doesn't need that kind of thing, it works fine on its own engine.
The best special feature is just the lead-ins by Jack and the chance to play a round of renowned golf holes from courses around the PGA.
The music is decent and there is a sound grab when you star the game that says, pretty clearly, "nice shot!"
The game does track some stats and keeps you updated between holes.  That sort of thing is fun, but not exactly mind-blowing.
Overall Score: 6.
The game is good, and I dearly love it for nostalgia's sake, but there are far better golf games for the system.  The idea behind the design and the ease of play are the game's strong suits, but the rest of the game is less than what the NES is capable of being used for.

Tips from the Club Pro:

Yes, I am, thank you.
  • Trees are the death of your game.  Avoid at all costs.  There are only a few holes where trees come into play, but learn them and then learn how to not hit the ball near them.  It is virtually impossible to hit over or around them successfully.
  • Use the power meter!  You can drive upwards of 320 yds with good wind.  It will add nearly 50 yds to your club, so you can get a lot of distance and still lob the ball.
  • There are only a few real hazards that come into play on the course, learn them and play around them.
  • Hook and Slice are not as important in this game, unless you are recovering from a bad shot.
  • Take the time to line up your putt correctly.  Doing so will make the putting game so much easier.
  • Use the fade or draw to make minor adjustments in your putt or to overcome a mild break.
  • When using the putter or the PW consider the meter to be marked off in 10 yard increments.  This will help you get the right distance on your power.
  • Over hit your putt by about 5 yards as you will sometimes come up short even if you have the right power.

Club Pro's Best Rounds:
2.14.06         59 -13*
4.06.04         60 -12
2.15.06         62 -10
2.16.08         64 -8
2.13.06         65 -7

*After I shot 59, I switched to the PRO settings.

Alright, we've one last stop to make on the NES Golf Tour, so come back next week and we'll see what the good people at Atlus have to offer!

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