I mentioned at the start of this review marathon that golf is one sport that's very conducive to video games. The reason I mentioned before is that real golf is a very expensive and time-consuming activity. Another reason why golf is great for video games is that the set-up of the sport itself leaves plenty of room for gonzo concepts that would never show up on a real course. There's plenty that can be added to the concept of whacking a ball toward a hole. So, let's start with adding ninjas.
Ninja Golf grabs attention thanks to the name alone. How the hell do you mix Tenchu with Arnold Palmer? The concept is simple. You are put on a nine-hole course in full ninja regalia, looking like Tiger Woods cos-playing as Ryu Hayabusa. You aim your shot with the map at the bottom of the screen while a constantly moving dot projects where the ball will land. You drive with the left button and start running right to get to your ball. While running to the spot where your ball landed, you have to fight off the Foot Clan as well as various other foes depending on what hazards your ball passed over. You can kick high and low and can even obtain shuriken to throw. When you reach the ball, the process repeats until you reach the green where you have to sink your putt in the strangest way imaginable. I guarantee that this is the only golf game in existence where "sinking a putt" involves throwing shuriken down a dragon's throat in the style of the bonus stages from Shinobi.
When I got done laughing my ass off at the sheer ridiculousness of the premise, I started playing and had an absolute blast! Both elements of the game work great. The golf course is laid out well, and some golf standards still apply like how you lose distance when shooting out of a bunker. The side-scrolling beat-em-up works great, too. While low-lying enemies like gophers and cobras can get a cheap hit here and there, the fighting is overall very solid, though it is also very tough. You even get bonus points at the end of a hole based on how many strokes it took to reach the green. Though there is only one course, the fact that you can get a different beat-em-up experience based on where you hit the ball eliminates repetition.
Ninja Golf also impresses with its visuals. The characters are large, highly detailed, and animated well. The side-scrolling is smooth with some great use of parallax scrolling. The fights with the dragon at the end of each hole look so glossy, you'd find it hard to believe you're not looking at a Genesis game. However, like with Midnight Mutants, the sound really suffers due to the outdated sound chips used in the Atari 7800. I ended up having to mute the TV after awhile.
With a name like Ninja Golf, one would expect the game to be a mix of oil and water; however, this is definitely peanut butter and chocolate. I had an absolute ball playing Ninja Golf. It's truly one of the hidden gems that got missed mainly because it's only on the Atari 7800. Give it a shot, and see how much fun bucking tradition can be.