NES Open Tournament Golf proves two things that are somehow both contradictory and yet entirely appropriate: Golf games have come a long way in the years since, and they haven’t changed at all. The result here is that there’s a game that is weirdly both badly aged, and eminently playable.
First up though, it is still amazing how much content is stored in this little download. There are three different courses to play though, and the game tracks player names, statistics and careers, and many modern golf games are unable to offer that much.
The courses are a fairly well designed bunch, but they are also very traditional designs. The Mushroom Kingdom designs and warp pipes of Mario Golf games are not present in this one, so people looking for something a little more exotic from a Mario sports game might be disappointed. And for the most part, the game is played from a visually dull top-down perspective. Aiming is done by inching a cursor around the screen and the only time the game switches to the player view is for the swing itself. Anyone who played Mario Gold on the Game Boy Color should feel at home here, though it’s not the most visually exciting game out there.
The main problem is that here in this game, there is no indication on where a ball is likely to land before you hit the ball. You’ll need to do the math in your own head, gauge distances and select clubs/ shot power based on how far a club can hit a ball. It takes practice and skill to become good at this game, which is both rewarding (it’s great to watch a score go from 50-odd shots over par to hitting par or birdies), and a challenge that retro gamers will likely latch onto with both hands. For players used to the more gentle guides found in modern Tiger Woods games, or the even more casual likes of Let’s Golf, this is going to be an off putting experience.
Interestingly though, the mechanics of the game don’t seem to have changed over the last 25 or so years. NES Open Golf uses the exact same three button system that every console golf game (aside from those with motion controls) since has used. Tap the button once to start the swing, once to set power, and once to determine accuracy. In fact, in one small way this game is more advanced than more modern golf games – players can also tweak whether the swing itself is fast (extra power), regular, or slow (easier to control). With some patience, this game offers an incredible sense of control over your own fate.
Of course, this part of the game is also less accessible than modern titles. Let’s Golf gives what feels like hours to hit the ideal shot swing; the bar moves in a pedestrian fashion, to say the least. Here, even when the shot power is set to “slow,” players have literally milliseconds between success and a badly faded shot into the thicket of trees.
And for that reason many players will avoid this game, or never give it the patience it deserves. It’s a pity though because this is the game that has, by far, the most modern and rich content of the ten games Nintendo gave away to 3DS ambassadors.