The background to the game is that the year is 200X (yes, that confused me too), and the various PGAs of the world have banded together to form a World Golf Association, with three main competitive blocks, America, EurAfrica and OceAsia. Each of the players in the WGA can compete in all three blocks, and fight it out for the Triple Crown. You can control one of six golfers, each with a different level of ability in each of the key areas. For instance, the British lad Thomas Stewart has superb technique and control, but the power of his shots lets him down, meaning he's good for intermediate players, while the resident yank George Spinner is average in each category, making him perfect for beginners. The Brallian, Fernando Almeida, lacks any sort of skill or technique, but can smash a ball like nothing you can imagine. Naturally only experts should apply. The other three players all vary slightly from one another - your choice of player is very important, and as you progress, you may choose a new talent to wield your clubs. The game is split into three courses, one from each block. That's America, Japan and Germany. All three courses are quite tricky, but America has the most easy holes. As a single player you can choose to play these holes in one of several ways. Either you can have a simple game of Stroke Play, basically a practice mode, try and improve your Handicap in a critical environment, or take part in the Triple Crown tournament and attempt to win the grand trophy. Should you choose the latter, you'll need to beat three separate tournaments, placing quite high in the preliminaries before winning each final. It's a tough draw and not recommended without a lot of Stroke Play and Handicap work to get you used to it. The courses themselves are often fiendish in design, with doglegs, bunkers, water hazards and tight spaces between Out of Bound areas. The hole length and style is often varied from game to game, making the tournaments exciting, as a very powerful player like Fernando may dominate the long 500 yarders, while Stewart can quite easily Birdie on a short 150 yard water-hop. My only concern with the design of the courses is that they aren't contoured; there's no sloping at all, they're all dead flat. To anyone who plays golf, this will seem ridiculous - a lot of the sport's trials and tribulations come in defeating inclines and staving off the challenge of gravity. To play golf in a field is somewhat depressing. To add insult to injury, the greens slope and curve just as you would hope, so we know the game is capable of doing it, but the designers decided not to include slopes in the main. The graphics are perfectly suited to the format, it must be said. Cutesy super-deformed characters waddle around in an anime-style, and it feels like a very Japanese game. The colours are vivid and the animation is smooth, with the ball growing and shrinking depending on its height, perfectly discernable against any background. In a game like golf, making sure your ball is clearly visible is of the utmost importance. On the whole, the game's graphics are very consistent. It reminds me in essence of Nintendo World Cup on the NES in the mid-80s; a lovely, cartoony game with perfect definition..
When you step up to the tee, your display shows you information on the hole length, the wind direction and the area you intend to play toward. You can select an appropriate club here too, by moving the D-pad up and down. A club is usually preselected, but if you're not happy, it's your prerogative to change it. Once you're happy with the direction you intend to play, you move onto the shot screen, where you can select to play forward, or to hook or slice the ball instead. If you hook the ball will often stay low and bend left, but slicing frequently sends it up into the wind and veering right. Unless you've cocked up the previous screen and want to take the brunt of the power off the shot, you'll usually opt for the forward stroke. Once you're ready, tapping A starts your power bar - when it reaches the level of power you're happy with, you press it again to set, then contend with the accuracy bar, which bounces up and down, the idea being to hit the bar in the centre to insure a firm stroke through the ball, rather than a miss either side. The power bar is a very clever idea, especially coupled with the other statistics on-screen. You're shown the maximum distance attainable with the club in-hand, and the distance to the pin, then you gauge the amount of power you need and hold the button down for as long as is appropriate! If you get it right, your shots will be very accurate, and gradually you'll learn how to take wind direction and speed into account. It's a very detailed and intuitive system. Ultimately, the control system has been finely tuned, and it's very simple to get the hang of. When you step up to take a shot after a few holes, you'll be perfectly at home with the game. Perhaps there are too many screens to click through between shots, but you don't really notice it. Turf Masters is also one of those games where it pays to keep the volume at an appreciable level. The happy little tunes that accompany the action aren't quite as endearing as those that accompanied Mario and co. in Mario Golf on the Gameboy, and the sounds of bashing balls aren't as satisfying as they could be, but it's a far cry from the clicks and bleeps some games seem to think constitute a soundtrack and effects library.
It Takes Two
Multiplay is in, courtesy of the Link Cable. Should you have a friend who also owns this game, you're in for some exciting action. Three options are available; Stroke Play again, Match Play and Trading. Stroke Play is basically just a practice, with the two plays hurtling round each course trying to finish with the lowest amount of strokes. Match Play allows you to pick a course and fight it out for the most hole-wins. Lots of sensible rules have been added to aid progress, such as the ability to forfeit the hole should you fall several shots off the pace. By winning Match Play consistently, you win Clubs of Legend; or big, bad golden golf clubs that have exceptional prowess, such as a 3 Wood that can smack the ball 270 yards. Trading mode predictably gives you the opportunity to swap these clubs with your opponents. Once you've gotten hold of a decent set, you can actually use them in the other modes. This is great fun, since there is very little that can beat them off should you make proper use of their abilities. VS Play modes are really what helps Turf Masters retain its long lasting appeal. It'll take a lot of gaming to uncover all of the Clubs of Legend, and the challenge is definitely one worth taking up. In a way, despite the somewhat slow, plodding pace of golf, shaving an extra shot off your handicap or beating a friend to the pin on a deciding hole is so much more exciting than blowing some nameless enemy away in a shoot-em-up. The game requires skill, finesse and at times patience and forethought, a lot more talents than most games require you master.
If you can still get hold of a copy of Turf Masters, for heaven's sake do it now. It's my favourite game on the console at the moment, and if you can persuade a friend to pick up a copy at the same time, the experience will be all the more rewarding. Release Date - Out Now