Nintendo's 1984 VS. Golf

While it's hard to imagine anything from Nintendo being "forgotten", VS. Golf was often overshadowed on the VS. System hardware by more popular, action-oriented games like Excitebike. Few people went into an arcade to play a relaxing round of golf. But when I was in college, I did exactly that.

As in real golf, your goal is to get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible. Also as in real golf, accuracy is the key. "Drive for show, put for dough", as they say. You need to check distance, wind speed and direction, then make a club selection. With club in hand, you aim roughly where you want the ball to go and swing away.

The swing is the key to this game. You have to hit the button at three points during the swing. The first hit starts the swing, the second determines how hard you hit the ball (the further to the left on the meter, the further you hit) and the third hit determines if you hit it straight, hook it, or slice it . Since you can only aim your golfer in sixteen directions - you have to learn how to hook and slice the ball to get it to go where you want, and avoid the course's hazards.

When you get to the green, you only hit the button twice - which determines the speed of the putt. Aiming is controlled by crosshairs you move around with the joystick. Arrows point in the direction that the green is sloping, and how steep it is.

What makes VS. Golf so appealing is that it takes golf and boils it down to the essentials. The high complexity of many golf games is replaced by solid arcade-style playability. Although not action-packed, it makes a nice diversion from more standard arcade fare. There's enough challenge with learning the club distances, how to compensate for wind, and how to play each hole to keep you busy for a while.

VS. Golf is based on the golf game for the Famicom/NES, but has much better sound, and one vital improvement - VS. Golf always tells you how far you are from the hole, so you can make better club selections. (Hint: if you're within 30 yards, get out the putter and give it a good whack.)

The game is a pay for play affair. The better you play, the longer your quarter lasts. If you can play under par, you can get through 18 holes on a dollar.

Missing Ingredient

While VS. Golf may never have taken off as a popular arcade game regardless of what they did to it, there are two key elements it really needed. The first is some sort of high score list (or in this case - low score). There's absolutely nothing to tell who got what score for each hole, or who shot the low round, or even what the lowest round is. Golf is all about stats, and this denies wannabe Tiger Woodses their bragging rights.

The second ingredient it's missing is more courses. VS. Golf varies the order that the holes are played in, but after a while you learn all of them, and long for new challenges. There are different holes in the various VS. Golf ROMsets, but they aren't all available in one place. Additional courses would have really helped this game's longevity.

Thanks to Jeffrey Carl at ServInt for providing the space for CinemArcade


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