When talking about sports video games in general, many people tend to overlook the arcades. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me since the arcades produced some of the most popular sports games of all time. Think NBA Jam or NFL Blitz for the two biggest examples. Golf had also been a fixture of the arcades thanks to the Golden Tee series, which is typically the only arcade game that can be found in a bar. However, Golden Tee wasn't the only major arcade golf game. SNK provided one in the form of Neo Turf Masters which can also be found for the Neo Geo home console. Whether you want to drop the money for the massive cartridge depends on how much you enjoy pain.
The Neo Geo produced some of the best-looking 2D games ever, and Neo Turf Masters is no exception. The visuals are bright, colorful, smoothly animated, and incredibly detailed. Every frame of the game is a work of art. The sound is a little more hit-and-miss. While the upbeat music is just fine, the vocal performances are annoying. Whether it's the fake-sounding reactions from the players or the Engrish from the announcer, I just wanted to hold up a "Quiet, Please" sign to get the game to shut up.
The mechanics are fantastic. The game uses only the stick and three buttons; yet, the control always feels perfect. Also the interface should be the model for all 2D golf games to follow. All the necessary data only take up about the bottom inch of the screen, and aiming is easy with the onscreen course map. Two button presses for two gauges get the ball flying, and there is even an indicator on the putting gauge to prevent overshooting. The only irritation in the mechanics is a hold-over from the arcade: an arbitrary time limit for each shot. Otherwise, the interface couldn't be more solid.
Unfortunately, all this great stuff is shot down by the terrible course designs. I didn't expect the game to be easy; after all, this is an arcade port, and arcade games were designed to suck quarters. However, the course layouts are so unfair, I wanted to break the controller over my knee. Whether talking about the German course which had too many trees guarding Par 3 greens or the Australia course which had fairways thinner than Calista Flockhart when she did Ally McBeal, avoiding going into the water or out-of-bounds becomes nearly impossible.
Neo Turf Masters pisses me off. This is a golf game that should have been perfect for a very fast-paced golf fix. Instead, it becomes the kind of torture that can only appeal to the kinds of masochists who actually broke their fingers beating Ghouls N Ghosts. Unless you have an abnormally high pain threshold, just stick to Golden Tee.