You know, I very briefly thought about making this review consist of just one sentence telling you to go buy Big Tournament Golf ($3.99) (AKA NEO Turf Masters) instead. And yes, that is exactly what you should do. That game is an incredible arcade golfing experience, and is not only the best NEOGEO golfing game but also its best sports game. Top Player’s Golf ($3.99), unfortunately, is just the other golf game on the system. The one that was around near launch. The one that had to carry the flag until NEO Turf Masters arrived in 1996. It certainly has reasons to be a worse game, but does any of that matter for today’s players when they can just grab the better one?
That’s a really difficult question to answer, and I suppose it comes down to a few things. First of all, I must admit that Top Player’s Golf is more realistic in its presentation than NEO Turf Masters is. If the over-the-top approach of the latter bothers you, there’s a chance you’ll find Top Player’s Golf more to your taste. There are also some out there who treat the Arcade Archives like a trip through history, and in that sense Top Player’s Golf certainly has a place. It was SNK’s second golf game after Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf, one of just four launch titles for the NEOGEO in North America, and as previously mentioned was the only golf game on the console until 1996. It has its merits in that regard.
Then there are people who have already played the wheels off of NEO Turf Masters/Big Tournament Golf and are just looking for a new golf game to play. You’re less interested in whether Top Player’s Golf is better than NEO Turf Masters and more in whether or not it’s a golf game worth playing on its own merits. And you know what? I think it is. It’s not the best golfing game around by any means, but it’s fine. It’s a fairly low-effort take on the sport that might be the flavor you’re looking for. At the price these Arcade Archives releases go for, I think it earns its keep.
You’ve got three modes of play to dig into here. The first two are what you would expect. Stroke Play has you take on CPU opponents in a full course of 18 holes at one of two Country Clubs. Match Play is meant for two human players and you’re obviously not likely to be getting much use out of that with this version. The third mode is a little more unusual. Nassau Game can be played against the CPU or another human, and it throws some unique challenges into the competition. Amusing enough as a bit of variety. As mentioned, you’ve got two clubs to play at, and there are four different golfers to choose from.
The gameplay itself is as simple as it gets. Set your direction, choose your club (the game will always set you up with a reasonable choice if you don’t want to fuss with this), then choose Shot. A meter will pop up, and you can press the button to start your swing. Hit the button again at the desired amount of power, and that’s it. You can choose to have a caddie make recommendations to you if you like, and that’s certainly something to listen to the first couple times you run through a course. Indeed, those crisp voices were one of the ways this game flexed the new hardware. There’s also a bit of scaling when your shot heads into the air, and the colors are certainly quite rich for the time.
So yes, it’s fine. And the simple controls do suit mobile play very well, so that’s something in its favor. You can use an external controller if you want, but it’s totally fine with touch controls. If you want to play against another human, you’ll need to use external controllers for local play. No internet. I know I say it every time, but every time is some reader’s first time. Maybe if I keep complaining something will change. All the other usual Arcade Archives features are here, including extra modes and online leaderboards. The emulation is the usual high quality.
If you’re looking for a NEOGEO golf game to play, you should absolutely buy Big Tournament Golf. If you’re looking for a second NEOGEO golf game to play, Top Player’s Golf is decent enough. Just remember that it originally released in 1990 and that the six year gap between it and Big Tournament Golf was a massive one in terms of game design evolution. This is a simple, straightforward game of golf with very few frills and practically no depth. Maybe that’s okay sometimes.