There are basically two good golf games available for the Neo Geo. Top Player's Golf was released in 1990 and is a solid and playable golf game in and of itself, but Neo Turf Masters, which was released 6 years later, is clearly a much more refined and enjoyable golfing experience. The game features some very playable game play mechanics and features four different golf courses to choose from. But even with the serious lack of a great golf game on the Virtual Console, is Neo Turf Masters a game that deserves your hard-earned Wii Points?
Golf games were fairly standard during this time period so don't expect a lot of realistic variety in the way the game plays. You can choose to play either a one or two player outing. The single player game is basically just a stroke play round, whereas the two player game can be either match play or stroke play, depending on which you choose at the beginning of the game. You'll also get your choice of four different golf courses to play as well. Once you've chosen the type of game and golf course, you'll be taken to the first tee.
Using the joystick allows you to choose which golf club you want to use for your current shot, as well as adjust the flight path of your shot. You can also use the "B" and "C" buttons to add a draw or a fade to your shot. Once you've chosen your club and direction of aim, you then press the "A" button to stop the power meter at the desired club swing speed. This will start the height gauge moving that controls how high or low your ball trajectory will be. If you get too high or low, you'll likely miss striking the ball entirely, so you have to be careful how you adjust this part of your golf swing. When the gauge is where you want it, you then press the "A" button again to begin your swing. Putting is executed in a similar fashion, with only a putting swing gauge to worry about. Much like real golf, you'll have to worry about trees, sand, and water hazards on most of the courses if you're to have any hope of getting a score of par or better on each hole.
The control system itself is very well laid out and intuitive. It won't take you long to come to grips with using the various swing gauges, and it's then that you can begin to experiment with the draws and fades that you can put on your shots. These come in handy on tricky holes where the pin placement is in a hard-to-reach location. You can also use them to avoid trees or other hazards that get in your way. The physics of the game are not terribly realistic, and at times you'll lip out of the cup for no apparent reason at all. While this is a minor annoyance and one found in most golf games from this era, gamers who've become accustomed to the ultra-realistic golf mechanics of today's golf titles might find this game a bit too cheap at times. Other than this small gripe, Neo Turf Masters stacks up quite well as an arcade-style golf game, at least for those who can keep their expectations on a realistic level.
The visuals in Neo Turf Masters were quite an accomplishment for its time. The game made use of a very realistic digitized golfer that looked and animated just like a real golf pro. This was a very impressive feat back when Neo Turf Masters first made its arcade debut, and still holds up quite well even by today's lofty visual standards. The golf courses themselves are also quite impressive in their look and design. Each course has its own distinctive visual style and the developers even managed to make each and every hole on these courses look different from one another. While many are similar in layout, they each have their own unique visual touches and varying hazards to make them stand out. This ultimately gives the game a much broader scope than many golf games from this time period.
The music and sound effects are a mixed bag in Neo Turf Masters. The lounge music that plays during play is adequate, but it's certainly not anything to get excited about. The fact that it blends into the background so well is a testament to just how little a part the music actually plays in the overall audio/visual presentation. The announcers in the game are also a little on the annoying side. The Japanese female announcer is one that will particularly get on your nerves after only a few holes played. It would have been nice to have the option to turn this announcing feature off. As solid as the other areas of the game are, it's a bit of shame that more time and effort wasn't placed on the audio portions of the game.
If you're a video game golf fan that's been desperately searching for a golf fix on the Virtual Console, Neo Turf Masters is a game you should at least check out. It's certainly not on a level with a Hot Shots Golf or Mario Golf title, but it's a nice trip back to the 16-bit era of gaming where golf simulations were just beginning to become more popular and playable. This game lacks some of the serious simulation elements found in more realistic offerings, but if you're just looking for a fun arcade-style golfing experience without a lot of bells and whistles, Neo Turf Masters might be just the game you've been waiting for.