Charm certainly goes a long way in the world of video games, especially when you're talking about Neo Geo titles. Some would argue that SNK's console represents the pinnacle of the 2D age, and its games were imbued with an instantly addictive appeal that helped paper over any minor shortcomings and limitations. That's certainly the case with Neo Turf Masters, one of the most fondly-remember golf titles of the past 20-odd years; in terms of realism, depth and mechanics it is comfortably outclassed by many other golf titles, but it's almost impossible to put down, even if you're not a fan of the sport.
Coded by Metal Slug studio Nazca, Neo Turf Masters is exactly what you'd expect an arcade-based golf simulation to be like; the core gameplay is kept simple and the controls are so basic it's possible to work everything out within seconds of firing it up. You tap a button to select your swing power, then tap again to determine the height of your swing. You can tinker with the direction of your shot as well as pick a different club, and the B and A buttons allow you to add spin to the ball for curving shots around obstacles. That's pretty much all you need to know; the challenge lies in mastering all of these elements to beat the game's rather demanding "Stroke Play" mode.
You select from six different golfers - each blessed with their own talents and weakness - and step out onto one of four international courses. The objective is to work through each hole and sink the ball in as few shots as possible so you can work your way up the leaderboard and come away with the prize. Taking too many shots means you'll be penalised and have to use one of your continues to proceed - it also means you'll fall way down the rankings, making it harder to claw your way back to the top.
Despite the simplicity of the controls, coming in under par on each hole is a lot tougher than you might imagine. Wind speed needs to be taken into account, and while the game gives you data on the distance to the hole, you sometimes have to guess how much power needs to be applied. Add in little tweaks such as fading and chipped shots and it becomes clear that there's a lot more depth than you might imagine - and a lot more potential for things to go wrong, regardless of how skillful you consider yourself to be.
It's possible to take part in a Stroke Play match with a second player, but the competitive Match mode is the best option when you're looking to settle a score. As is the case with so many Neo Geo games, Neo Turf Masters is infinitely more enjoyable when you're going head-to-head with a human rival who is close enough to hear your friendly insults - the Switch Joy-Cons and portable nature of the console mean that anyone can be a potential challenger with this particular port, which also benefits from the usual raft of ACA Neo Geo features like screen filters, save state support and other under-the-hood options.
Despite the fact that this is a 2D arcade game from 1996, Neo Turf Masters still looks great, with loads of dramatic cut-scenes and some impressive digitised sprites which animate very smoothly indeed. Golf is hardly the most glamorous sport but Nazca have nailed the appearance of its sportsmen here; the cast all look like pot-bellied, middle-aged fathers, yet that doesn't make the game any less appealing. The soundtrack is slightly less memorable despite some catchy tunes; the songs which play over each hole are breezy enough but can become irritating. Thankfully the over-enthusiastic voice samples balance this out a bit, making every shot feel more dramatic than it probably is.
The prime issue with Neo Turf Masters is that it lacks longevity when played at home. Its focus was the arcades of the '90s when short-burst gaming was king; playing in this fashion on the Switch it should ensure that it becomes a popular choice in your library but don't expect it to stand up to massive, evening-spanning play sessions - it simply wasn't designed with that kind of approach in mind.
Neo Turf Masters is a long way off being the most authentic golf simulation ever made but that doesn't diminish its intrinsic appeal; the gameplay is instantly gratifying and the challenge considerable, especially if you want the satisfaction of coming top on each of the four courses. However, like so many games developed for an arcade environment it is perhaps best sampled in short bursts, either solo or with a friend; there's no career mode to speak of and if you don't see the appeal of bettering your own score or playing with other people, you might get bored within the space of an evening.