The top and bottom 7 golf video games for the original NES
Last fall, enterprising video-game coding sleuths found that programmers behind the Nintendo Switch — the company’s latest $300 device on which you can race a green-shoed sword-wielding elf against a bulbous oversized dragon— contained a secret version of the ancient Nintendo game Golf, an Easter egg hidden as a tribute to a former Nintendo CEO.
The news was cool but came with a hitch: Hatching the Golf egg required a lot of work, very specific timing, keeping your Switch off the grid and a number of other requirements that seemed awfully work-intensive for a game that 1. Arrived in 1984 and 2. Was not especially fun.
Indeed, the classic Nintendo Entertainment System was great for games in which overdramatic and cliched Italians hurled turtle shells around subterranean drainpipes, but real bad for golf. Between the years of 1984 and 1992, the original NES spawned a handful of golf-oriented video games, all of which attempted to capture the majesty of the sport and none of which, to our memory, came within a country mile of Ninja Gaiden or Metroid or even Golgo 13, and yeah, I see you out there, my Golgo 13 people.
But was that memory false? Did the games hold up better than we remembered, in our decades-old Super Tecmo Bowl-themed fog? This week we set forth to find out, using a Raspberry Pi, a customizable and probably legal device on which you can basically play every video game released between 1860 and 1993. (Indeed, the entire vast breadth of your video-game childhood now fits on an SD card the approximate size of a Wheat Thin, although of course they taste entirely different.)
With that in mind, a revisiting of Nintendo’s Finest and Only Occasionally Racially Insensitive Golf Moments:
7. Golf (1984)
The NES’s O.G. simulation, which arrived in one of Nintendo’s inaugural jet-black boxes, the kind that touted such thrilling titles as Pinball and Soccer and Baseball and Donkey Kong Jr. Math. As video games go, Golf is no Donkey Kong Jr. Math, but it meets basic needs.
Best Part: For a game built in 1984, it’s decently on point. You even have to adjust for wind, roughs and other variables.
Worst Part: Trying to mask your Christmas disappointment when you were expecting Excitebike and opened this.
What Sets It Apart: The fantastic You Suck 8-bit bass note that denoted anything going wrong on any Nintendo game from 1984-1987.
6. Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf (1988)
Did you maybe have a friend who didn’t believe video-game golf was worth taking away valuable time from games in which you disembowel castle monsters with medieval metal-spiked balls? Lee Trevino stepped in with Fighting Golf, a game whose title indicated a hell of a lot more violence than it delivered. If you were thinking like a golf version of Mortal Kombat where Trevino fired ice bolts at Ian Baker-Finch, man are you gonna be disappointed.
Best Part: The horrifying visage of Pixelated Trevino, who looks more like a black-and-white Thanos except with a more perfectly rectangular face.
Worst Part: Erm, look, we know it was 1991, but your actual choice of characters in Fighting Golf is Pretty Amy, Big Jumbo, Super Mex and Miracle Chosuke.
What Sets It Apart: Game play is a marginal upgrade of the original Golf, but with 100% more Big Jumbo
5. Bandai Golf: Challenge Pebble Beach (1989)
Bandai’s entry is a pretty no-frills affair: No famous names, no bells and whistles — just the usual aiming crosshairs and power bar.
Best Part: Offers the pleasingly cartoonish boowwwwwwweeeeee sound effect you got when you hit a home run in Baseball Stars.
Worst Part: The grammatically incorrect title: Are we supposed to be challenging Pebble Beach? Are we fighting an entire course? Do other teams roll up and challenge Yankee Stadium? Just switch the words around Bandai, jeez.
What Sets It Apart: Sadly, not a whole really lot, but at least it doesn’t call anyone Big Jumbo.
4. Golf Grand Slam (1991)
By 1991, NES golf had evolved from Blocky Mario Slapping at a White Square to Golf Grand Slam, a game seemed designed to punch you into submission with its sheer number of potential options. Whereas Golf required you to basically point at a ball and whack it, Golf Grand Slam offered a seemingly bottomless surfeit of physics choices.
Best Part: If you’re an obsessive freak, this is your jam: You pick your clubs, and then adjust your Club, Stance, Shot and Grip, and after you’ve made your decision this little red dot starts flying like an electron all over your ball, and oh my God can we just hit a ball please
Worst Part: Dear God this is SO MUCH NINTENDO MATH, by the time I got through selecting all my options, I was bored out of my mind and wanted to throw down on some Super C, ha ha yeah, choke on this bazooka, alien spores
What Sets It Apart: It offers actual golf advice! “Keep your upper body behind the ball at impact,” the game says over an actual animation of helpful tips. (Well it’s just five screens that blink past each other but it’s pretty good!) Also allows a replay, if you suck. I could have really used that in Double Dragon II.
3. Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf (1990)
Nicklaus’ entry into the Licensed Nintendo Golf Universe features both the longest title (calm down, Bear, just call it Jack’s Golf and we’d be fine) and the draw of some of golf’s most famous holes.
Best Part: Let you play Jack’s favorite holes, like the 8th at Pebble Beach, all rendered in magnificent several-color glory. Also, it probably has the most intuitive gameplay of anything here, in that it’s a nice balance between Whack a White Ball and Spend 20 Minutes Evaluating Metrics.
Worst Part: When you sink a putt, the game tells you, “Finally!” because the game is a jerk. LOOK, I’M TRYING HERE, PEBBLE BEACH IS HARD.
What Sets It Apart: Other simulations don’t make you feel nearly as bad about yourself.
2. Greg Norman’s Golf Power (1992, unreleased)
Sadly, this 1992 banger was doomed to the island of misfit unreleased games, which I imagine to be sort of near that garbage pit where Atari dumped all its unloved E.T. cartridges in 1983. This might be because the title screen technically reads Golf Power Greg Norman’s, which is grammatically lazy even from the company that writes the dialogue for Animal Crossing.
Best Part: WHOA THE ZIPPY, 1991-ERA DUBSTEP INTRO-SCREEN JAM that boings around your screen while you look at a slanty Max Headroom-ified version of a golf course. How did they never release this? I want to remix this song like now.
Worst Part: Well, how you can’t play it legally.
What Sets It Apart: Not much. By 1992, Nintendo has pretty much maxed out its golf-game playability, and for some reason the raw celeb power of Greg Norman didn’t appeal too much to the kids.
1. NES Open Tournament Golf (1991)
If you’ve been wondering where to find the game that stars Mario, Luigi and two princesses, well here we are.
Best Part: The sweet sweet graphics when the ball falls into the hole — that was some Defender of the Crown s**t right there. Also Toad waves the flag when you go out of bounds, which is adorable.
Worst Part: Apparently six hours after you’re done playing, when you’re getting ready to go to sleep, the gameplay song is STILL PLANTED FIRMLY IN YOUR BRAIN FOREVER, God that thing is a more invasive earworm than the Tetris soundtrack combined.
What Sets It Apart: Look, NES offered a lot of golf games, but only this one let involved Mario in pink stripey hot pants. We have a winner.