The next sports game released on the Neo Geo is Top Player’s Golf, made by SNK. Golf games, as were baseball, were pretty popular and numerous in the 80’s (“Golf” for the famicom is the best selling sports game and is one of the best selling games on the console). SNK previously made the oddly named Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf (or simply Fighting Golf in Japan) for arcades and the NES. So putting a golf game this early on the Neo Geo is pretty sensible.
At the main menu, you can choose to play in 1 or 2 player mode. Then you can choose to play “Stroke play” on your own or play “Match play” or “Nassau Game” with the CPU or a second player. Then you pick from 4 different golf players (who are fictional and not based on real golf players) to play as. Then you choose between the Top Player’s Country Club or the SNK Championship Golf Course (the harder of the two). Finally, you choose whether to have a caddie assisting you throughout the game or not. Though even if you decline, she will appear at the start of each course to lay down some advice while showing you an overview of the current course. I do like that in between each menu selection, you get to see some nice natural scenery. That and with the jazzy music gives the game a pleasant feel.
When playing on the golf course, you can choose which golf club to use, though usually the game auto selects the most appropriate one. You can choose “COURSE” to pan over the course.You get an option “CADDIE” where your caddie can give you suggestions for your next play. She also tells you the current yard distance to the hole, which is annoyingly the only way to learn that information. Though if you chose not to get a caddie, that option is then replaced with your current distance to the hole. It might be a faster way to get that info, but you do miss out on having quaint humorous conversations with your caddie. When you’re ready, you choose “SHOT” to shoot the ball.
Rather than strictly adhering to the power/accuracy sliding bar introduced in “Golf” for the NES (and used in pretty much every golf game ever made), Top Player’s Golf uses a slightly modified sliding bar, one that is a bit simpler. Your typical golf meter requires 3 button presses: 1st to move the mark along the bar, 2nd to mark the strength of the shot, and 3rd to determine the accuracy of the shot (whether it’s a straight shot or a shot that veers to the left or right). In Top Player’s Golf, the bar is segmented into 4 sections. And you only need 2 button presses instead of 3. Accuracy is only a factor with strong shots. That means that for weak shots, you can expect them to always go straight. You can also add an after touch to the ball, a topspin to make it go fast and low, or a backspin for high and slow.
It’s important to learn and master these mechanics as the course design tends to be quite unrealistic and hard. Expect plenty of water hazards and sand bunkers right around the green. And the CPU is no slouch either, usually getting no less than a par on each course. Once you do get on the green, putting is simple, as the green only breaks (i.e. tilts) in one direction uniformly. Though I noticed that chipping in from right outside the green seems much easier than putting. So maybe missing the green might not be too bad after all.
Overall, there’s nothing too out of the ordinary. But I noticed that there were a few elements here that were simplified from Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf. In SNK’s previous title, the Power meter is the same standard one introduced in “Golf”, and the green actually breaks in several directions on different locations. Also, there were discernible differences in how each of the four characters play, which doesn’t seem to be the case in Top Player’s Golf. But here, I do like that you can chat with your caddie, on topics about which club to use, what’s the best strategy to avoid OBs, general life lessons, or setting up a lunch date. It does add a bit of character to what would otherwise be “just another golf game”.
Top Player’s Golf would remain the only golf game on the Neo Geo until Neo Turf Masters in 1996, the second and last golf game on the system, pretty minimal compared to the numerous soccer and baseball games on it.