NES 1 Hour Review - Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf
I have been collecting videogames for as long as I can remember. While videogames have always played a big role in my life, the act of preserving games and keeping a library has become more and more important to me as I get older. The problem is that when you focus on collecting so much, you sometimes lose sight of why you are collecting in the first place. What good is a collection of games that never gets played? The most sizeable area of my collection is the NES section. I have a ton of NES games, most of which were collected from flea markets and garage sales. I decided recently that I was doing this section of my collection a disservice. While I have spent countless hours collecting these titles, I rarely, if ever, play them. Some of the games have not been picked up since the day that I tested them to make sure that they worked. These games deserve to be played and appreciated so I came up with an idea. Anyone who has played an NES game recently knows that most of these titles have not aged well. So, how could I get excited to play these games again? I decided to start reviewing them. The review system I decided on was to play a game for 1 hour and my review "score" would be based on a number of factors, most important of which is whether or not, at the end of one hour of play, I still wanted to keep playing. I have decided to let the digital goddess Siri decide on what game I should play by asking her to pick a number between 1 and 300. Tonight, she picked number 135. I then counted alphabetically through my collection to land on this title. So, without further ado, let's take a journey into the 8-bit past.
What a strange title...
The title that Siri picked for us this evening is Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf. Developed by SNK for both arcades and the NES, Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf, or LTFG as the e-sports fanboys call it, was originally released in 1988. I did not play this game when I was growing up but I remember seeing it on the shelves of my local rental shop. I mostly remember it because of the name. This name is supremely weird. With other NES titles like Arch Rivals, Blades of Steel, and Base Wars, I was totally expecting a golf game with some crazy fighting antics mixed in. After my hour with it, I can tell you that there is no actual fighting that happens in the game. There is competition, fighting the elements in order to make a successful shot, battling the AI in order to win match play, etc., but no actual combat. Instead, what I found was a golfing sim that was typical of the era. Those of you who enjoyed NES Open will know the type of golfing sim that I am referring to.
As completely expected from games of this era, there is absolutely no tutorial or explanation going into the game. The player can choose from two modes, Stroke Play and Nassau Play, a version of match play. Once you choose your mode and your character, you are off and running.
Typical of golf sims of the era, there is no indication of any of the systems as you play the first hole. You have no idea how far the ball is going to go. The first time you activate the ball striking slider, you have no idea how to time it properly. Every stroke is a gamble and with no experience under your belt, those gambles are most likely going to be losing ventures. Wind speed changes wildly between shots making flight patterns nigh unpredictable. The putting surface is covered with arrows indicating break directions, but the arrow patterns are confusing and it is difficult to tell which way the arrows are pointing. I scored a 12 on the first hole, only because the game stopped me from playing after 12 strokes with a weird version of a single player mercy rule. I was dejected. I had been playing for 8 minutes. I was not looking forward to the next 52.
Perseverance Pays Off
The next three holes were a struggle. I slowly got better at each of the systems. I became more precise with the aiming indicator, got more familiar with how far my clubs would hit the ball, learned to avoid the "Super Rough," etc. By hole 5, I had parred a hole. I felt pretty good about it because throughout the first round I played, there were some aspects of the game that never got easier. The first of these is putting. Putting is super difficult in this game, even by NES standards of difficulty. No matter how many putts I took, I just couldn't seem to get the hang of how the breaks were going to go. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the next green would mystify me and I would end up taking 5 putts. In my first 18 holes I had 5 pars and a birdie, 4 of those pars and the birdie were accomplished by chipping in. Putting in this game is a bear, but I felt myself slowly getting better at it. Another aspect of putting that is super frustrating is that there is no way to cancel a shot. In our modern era of gaming, it is commonplace to impatiently tap a button to try and speed up a load screen or skip through an uninteresting cutscene. In Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf, if you hit "A" at any time, the shot bar starts and you cannot stop it. This cost me several strokes. Also, this is one of those annoying golf games where when my ball was only inches from the hole, I would undoubtedly miss the tap in putt because I couldn't press the "A" button quick enough in succession to register a very short putt on the slider. These were frustrating features in the game, but these flaws were not atypical of golf games of the era.
This game also punishes every mistake to a comical degree. If you end up in the Super Rough or in a bunker, consider your hole forfeit and prepare for a bad score. Recovery from these sections seemed almost impossible and I was sure to lose at least 2 or 3 strokes each time I hit one of these hazards. However, I learned to avoid them. The game has a wide club selection and I was finding myself taking time to think over my club choice on each shot, thinking about whether the aggressive or conservative route would be better in the long run. In short, the game gave me options and I was using these options to try and problem solve my way to the hole while avoiding the obstacles in my way. I was not expecting to have this many thoughts about LTFG. Using the tools at my disposal and thinking carefully about each move, I was finding myself getting better and better at the game and getting some real enjoyment from it.
One Stroke Penalty
I also tried the game's other mode, Nassau Mode. In this mode, you play against a computer AI in a match play style golf contest. There is also the option to play against another human player but, since my wife had no interest, I was forced to play the AI alone. I could instantly tell that the experience in Nassau mode would have been better by playing with another human player. The AI took FOREVER to take a shot, making the 9 holes we played take more time than the 18 I played solo. The AI difficulty was also very challenging. I played well through 4 holes and was only 1 over par but the AI was scoring birdies and eagles regularly so I got smoked. Before the last hole in Nassau mode, I was presented with an opportunity to bet a certain amount of my points in order to attempt a come from behind victory. The hilarious, spelling error riddled screen prompt I received appeared below:
Spelling errors and syntax not withstanding, I could see how this would be a fun feature for local co-op play. Despite getting beaten, you could make a sizeable bet at the end and make up lost ground, meaning that any player is never truly out of the game. I did not share this experience against the vastly superior AI, but I could see the merits of it when playing with friends.
Conclusion - The 19th Hole
So, this being the first NES 1 Hour Review I've done. I've elected to skip giving a number based score and decided to give a score just based on how I felt about the experience. Here goes. The scores for Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf are as follows:
Time Played: 1:03:00
Would I Play More: YES
Overall Score: Not Too Shabby
Final Thoughts: Passable golf sim, hard putting, brutal AI, with time could master
Tune in next week for a brand new NES 1 Hour Review.