Hard to believe that the first PGA Tour Golf game was released 31 years ago, and whilst it made a bit of a splash on the PC, it wasn’t until conversions to the Amiga and Mega Drive/Genesis the following year that it really hit the big time. Having enjoyed its successor on the 3DO a couple of months back, I thought it time to try out the original on Sega’s 16-bit console.
Graphically, it’s pretty similar to the Amiga and you do get a fly-by of each hole combined with some professional advice before the borders expand and you find yourself at the tee ready to take the shot which adds a bit of pizazz to the proceedings. Those fly-bys are a tad jerky but for the time, pretty impressive. Once you have full control of your golfer, it’s then that you realise some changes have been made for the Mega Drive. Whereas the Amiga had simple block colours for the fairway, rough and sand traps, the Mega Drive employs hatching to denote these areas, probably due to palette considerations. Which is better? Neither really, it’s an aesthetic choice but I tend to prefer the hatching, it adds texture and serves as a more vivid warning that you don’t want to hit the ball there. Of note though is the use of the colour green. I hope you like it because with the limited colour palettes, you’re going to see a lot of it. Animation of your golfer is relatively smooth and although you could complain about having a few more frames, it’s no big deal. The animation of the ball is particularly good and, unlike the 3DO game of 1995, the camera cuts to where the ball lands after each shot. It’s a minor complaint about the 32-bit title but it is something that I like here. The courses do look pretty similar, with just the colour of the mountain backdrops providing any real clue as to which one you are on. This isn’t really a criticism as such, and to be honest, you’ll be concentrating more on the shots that the scenery. You also still get the isometric green view that takes a short while to get used to but once you do, you’ll be putting like a demon.
Sound is a stand out here, with sampled crowd noises for the tournaments and decent effects for the swing, ball movement and putting. The music, by legend Rob Hubbard, is brilliant. Fast paced and exciting, this brings far more enthusiasm than any game of golf has a right to. Certainly compared to the 3DO successor, it’s a totally different class. Ok, storage capacity on the cartridge means the sampling and compression is a little rough, but that doesn’t detract from the greatness of the soundtrack. It’s almost as if they are trying to make golf exciting whereas with later titles, they want to ape the relaxed Sunday afternoon experience of televised golf.
There are four courses present (the real-life PGA West, TPC Sawgrass, TPC Avenel and the fictitious Sterling Shores) and the same number of professional players are included in the line up as were with the computer versions. There are practice rounds and tournaments to playthrough and you can have up to four players, which makes this a great party game if you have suitably like-minded friends. There are fewer options than later titles but that doesn’t detract from the core gameplay. One way in which PGA Tour Golf for the Mega Drive surpasses the Amiga version – it’s on cartridge so the loading times are minimal, making it far more flowing to play, especially in multiplayer. Then there are the controls, which as you may have guessed have been moved to the Mega Drive’s standard pad really well. The only real change has been the use of the C-button to access the in-game menus. This is a very sensible decision as the idea of having a D-pad move a cursor in the same manner as a mouse makes me shudder. Combined with the simple three button shot meter (start swing, select power, select accuracy of strike) and this makes PGA Tour Golf very easy to pick up and a delight to play.
It’s this simplicity that makes PGA Tour Golf the perfect beginners introduction to the electronic variant of the sport. With no frippery or pauses created by the technology behind it, this is truly pick up and play. It’s not an unfair title either. With a couple of the more modern games, there seems to be a difficulty spike where you must have some in-depth knowledge to handle a specific course. Here, it’s just you and those three button presses. Yeah, you have club selections but the default choice tends to be the best for whatever lie you are in. Getting a complete golfing novice to play this title demonstrated that and by the end of the front nine, they were regularly making par, making the game enjoyable for them and avoiding the information dump and complexity of more modern golfing games.
If you can get past the dated presentation (it is 30 years since this conversion hit the streets) and the lack of golfing complexity, you’ll find PGA Tour Golf for the Mega Drive a brilliantly playable videogame in its own right. The pursuit of simulation levels of depth may have made later games more “realistic” (excluding the questionable fashion choices and freezing your appendages off because your having a “good time”) but PGA Tour Golf makes golf a fun videogame and that’s what surely counts.
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It may have been surpassed in the presentation stakes but PGA Tour Golf is probably the best golfing videogame ever created.