One of the biggest problems with writing games reviews is that what seems to be both relevant and topical at the time of writing can, when the review is published a week later, seem out of date and even downright boring. As I write this review, I have just finished watching the U.S. Open Championship, so my enthusiasm for reviewing three golf games for the Amiga has never been more obvious; I just hope that when you read this, golf will not have been over-publicised.
Something that has always amazed me is why golf is such a popular computer conversion. The games do not feature any sequences of nail biting action, and yet on the Commodore 64, Leaderboard was the top selling game in 1986. As the Amiga market is following closely in the footsteps of the 64, it is not surprising that three of the first sports conversions are golf games, although they do vary wildly in quality.
In the U.K., two of the games I am reviewing, Leaderboard and Mean 18, are sold by U.S. Gold, and the third one by one of their main rivals, Activision. Each of the three games is a conversion, with Activision's Championship Golf and Mean 18 both being released first on the IBM PC, and Leaderboard being converted from the Commodore 64.
What is surprising about these three games is that they all take a completely different approach to producing a golf game. Leaderboard can only really be described as an arcade golf game. It takes the basic ideas behind golf, simplifies them, and turns the game into one that depends as much on dexterity as it does on tactics.
Once loaded, Leaderboard gives you the choice of how many players will take part - between one and four - what course you want to play on - from the four provided - and what level you want to play at. Provided with the minimalistic British packaging, it is a comprehensive guide to both the game and the four courses, and on the Amateur level (where the ball is not affected by book, swing or wing), it is possible for even a total beginner to get round the courses without too many mistakes.
For anyone who has never played golf before, Leaderboard provides an excellent introduction. It is one of the most playable sports simulations yet, and even my golf-mad dad found the game simple enough to spend a few quiet hours fiddling with the mouse. In comparison with most games on the Amiga, the graphics are not spectacular, but they are good enough to reflect all the action, and that is the most important. The sound too is uninspiring, but surprisingly the lack of audio-visual stimulation is not seen to detract too much from the game's overall enjoyment level.
The next game on the tee is Mean 18 produced in America by Accolade Software. Accolade have a reputation for producing outstanding games which led me to expect great things from Mean 18, especially in terms of graphics.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. The game is one of the most direct conversions I have ever seen, with the graphics and animation differing very little from the IBM original; and when you consider that the IBM only has half the resolution and colour of the Amiga, this is a pity.
The game plays in the same way as Leaderboard, with the power and hook/slice being achieved by accurate tapping of the left hand mouse button, although the level of control the player has is relatively minimal, bar choosing the right club and aiming the ball roughly in the right direction!
What Mean 18 does have and others do not, and in many ways this is what makes it bearable rather than totally appalling, is a construction set. This allows you to design holes, or even a complete course, so even when the four courses provided become too easy and predictable the game will not have lost all its interest.
One of the best features of Mean 18 is the greens which, unlike Leaderboard, are shown from above, with a map of how and where the ball will deviate from its chosen path, thus giving the player a better chance of holing out.
One look at Activision's Championship Golf is enough to leave the other two way back on the fairway. It is obviously the work of a dedicated Golf fan. There is none of the 'hit hard and hope' tactics that the other two employ; this game must be played for some time and you must be prepared to be constantly frustrated in attempts to do well.
Unlike the other two games, CG only has one course - Pebble Beach, although apparently more will follow. Also unlike the other games, CG can be played entirely from the keyboard, a relic from the old days where IBM thought a mouse was a furry thing that cats ate. Apart from that, I was very impressed with the programming and design of the game.
Graphically, it is superior to both Leaderboard and Mean 18, with each hole shown from an aerial view, a long view, and various others of the players' choice. Coupled with this is the general artwork and background which is really outstanding, and well worthy on the Amiga.
In play, the game proves tough to get into (whatever the manual says about it), but it is worth it when you finally understand what you are attempting to do. Rather than using dexterity to achieve success, CG requires you to input all the correct angles, clubs and footing positions (yes, if your feet are placed wrong you could find yourself swimming for the ball!) prior to the shot being taken, and although the computer automatically makes recommendations, it can take quite a while even to get the ball on the fairway, let alone a hole!
Overall, each of the three games has good and bad points, and I am quit sure that different people would prefer one game more than the others. Mean 18. It may have a construction set, but I found myself continually harping back to the poor quality graphics, especially when compared to Championship Golf. Leaderboard is the most simple to learn, and in many ways the most playable; but its simplicity is deep rooted, and I can see this leading to boredom very quickly, and on a game costing £24.99, this is bad news!
So CG holes out in the lead. It has depth, good graphics and sound, and plays very well. It is also the only one of the three games that even begins to tax the Amiga in any way, and that alone should recommend it. Again, at £24.99, it is far too expensive, but unfortunately that seems to be the price on which the big companies, in all their short-sighted wisdom, have settled.