First released back in 1996, both as an arcade cartridge and a home cartridge on the Neo Geo system, Neo Turf Masters was a fast paced, two player golf game made by Nazca, who are also known for their Metal Slug game. Neo Turf Masters has had a long and storied history, being converted and gracing such consoles as the PS2, Wii and PSP, alongside the well remembered Neo Geo Colour handheld (I personally don’t remember this thing!). Finally showing up on the Xbox One, how have the intervening 21 years treated the game, and will it hold up today?
Straight off the bat, on loading the game you are presented with four options for how you would like to play. These are Original Mode, either in Japanese or English, Hi Score Mode where you have just one continue and you have to advance as far down the course as you can, and Caravan Mode, where a five minute countdown is put on the screen and you again have to get as far as you can in those five minutes. But don’t be fooled, the timer is still running during all the end of hole cutscenes.
Having chosen a mode, it’s then time to choose who you’d like to play as, from a choice of six likely looking golfers. These are Young Hero from The U.S.A., Technician from the United Kingdom, Veteran from Australia, Shot Maker from Germany, Power Golfer from Brazil and Putt Master from Japan. Each character has different stats, so selecting the correct character can have a big effect on your game. I found myself usually choosing the German chap, as his stats are largely on the good side and he seemed the most balanced of the six on offer.
After this, it’s all about selecting your course. There are only four on offer, all fictional and based in either Germany, Japan, the U.S.A. or Australia. Each one offers a different challenge, with Germany seemingly set in the Black Forest with the amount of trees scattered about the place, and the Japanese course throwing you into idyllic settings with Mount Fuji in the background. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of difficulty rating for the four courses, each one starts off easy and gets progressively harder as you hammer through the holes.
The gameplay doesn’t have a massive amount of explanation attached, so I’ll do my best to explain what you have to do. To shape your shot, you can use the left stick to select the direction the shot will go in, but hook and slice are controlled by using two buttons, one to hook your shot and the other to slice. This takes some getting used to, but it can really help when the wind is playing up to hang the shot in the breeze, then have it hook around onto the green and glory. Or more likely into a water hazard or bunker, but maybe that’s just me?
Once your shot is going where you want it to, the power settings are easy to use. You’ll see on the right hand side of the screen a shot power meter, going between 0 and around 110%. Simply press the X button when the power is where you want it, and that’s how hard you will hit the ball. The second part of the meter concerns how the shot is hit, with you having to choose between Low, Nice and High shots. Obviously, in windy conditions, keeping the ball low helps, and if you are right behind a tree (like I usually am) then a high shot might help you clear it. When you get to the green, there is a simplified version the of the shot meter, which is a bar that gradually fills up until you press X, with the power the game recommends helpfully highlighted as a white square. Again, you may need to move the shot depending on the shape and layout of the green, which is easily seen as the contours of the green can look like a relief map of the Himalayas.
As you progress through, the arcade game roots really begin to shine through. Finishing each hole gives a count of the number of holes that you can attempt, displayed at the end of each hole – at least that’s what I think it means. If you get a birdie, then the number of holes you can start goes up by one, and I assume an Eagle would increase it by two, but I never yet got one in order to test this theory. Getting a par on a hole reduces your “hole count” by one, a bogey by two and so on. If you end up more than three over par, the game forces you to abandon the hole and then you’ll need a new continue in order to carry on. And yes, sadly I know this from experience, a ball Out of Bounds forces you to retake the shot and adds one to your score for that hole. The Out of Bounds areas are not that easy to see on some holes, being merely a shaded area, but that’s just a minor complaint.
So this, then, is the totality of the game, trying desperately to sink birdies to stay in the game, especially in Hi Score mode where only one continue can be used. In practice, this is actually good fun, and the score chasing modes are surprisingly addictive, with that “one more go” appeal that would have helped arcade players keep shovelling 10p coins into the slot all those years ago.
For all its fun, it’s unfair to judge this game by modern standards, especially in terms of sound and graphics, as it’s really not the point of the remake. This is unashamedly retro, a direct appeal to gamers of a certain age to remember the halcyon days when weak gameplay couldn’t be hidden behind flashy graphics and explosions. There are some interesting vocal recordings in the game as well, which was a surprise to me as I didn’t remember digitised speech this far back. Each character’s name, the name of the country you choose and various other bits of speech are all present and correct, but my personal favourite bit is when the game announces, with glee, “ON THE GWEEN!” when your shot makes it to the green. It reminds me of “WISE FWOM YOUR GWAVE” in the original Altered Beast back on my Megadrive, when I was just a nipper. Ah, nostalgia. One thing that does not have a place in this day and age though are the occasional bout of slowdown, which in a game based on timing is a big issue. It weirdly affects the soundtrack too, with the music sounding like it has been put through a mangle, underwater. It’s a rare occurrence, but when it turns up it can have a big effect on your game.
The achievements in ACA NEOGEO Turf Masters on Xbox One are a piece of cake to unlock, if somewhat flaky. In my first playthrough of Normal Mode, I’d unlocked around 50% of the available achievements, making it a good investment for cheevo hunters. The flaky side diminishes this somewhat, however as, for example, in Caravan Mode, there are achievements for getting to hole three, four and five. I have unlocked the one for hole five, but not the others. How can I get to hole five without completing three and four? Only this game knows the answer. A brief search of the interweb reveals a lot of chatter about this issue, so hopefully it will be patched soon.
In conclusion then, this is a game that hasn’t aged well. Put it next to EA’s Rory McIlroy title, and it looks dated and sad. But give the game a chance and the polished gameplay from all those years ago starts to shine through, and fun can be had in spades. For only £6.39, I have to say that it’s very good value, and well worth the investment – both monetary and in terms of time.