Posted on September 22nd, 2009 4 comments
Maker: Data East
Release Date: 3/3/89
Price: 5200 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 20.79 / 30.00
Kōgien: “The first golf game for the PC Engine. Features three modes: single-player stroke play, a score-based match game, and a four-day tournament for a cash prize.”
I intended to just sort of zip right this title — Dungeon Explorer, one of my favorite games in the entire PCE library, is next chronologically and I wanna play through it again — but there’s a remarkable amount to say about this heavily-overlooked title, the first one Data East produced for the system.
Winning Shot is the first PC Engine golf game ever released. Golf video games, already a staple on computers, became a major trend among Japanese consoles in the late 1980s. It’s a good fit for consoles — a genre that lots of people can play together, that emphasizes careful strategy over fast reflexes, that appeals to adults just as much as the kids that were still the PCE’s main audience at this point. There’s also the fact that, to the average Japanese person, golf is less a pastime and more a symbol of the genteel life — if you play it avidly, it follows that you must be stinking rich. Lots of people have golf clubs and practice at driving ranges, but few can actually afford to play at a club, and public golf courses aren’t all over the place like in suburban America. Golf is a luxury over there, no doubt, and the government even taxes you around 800 yen per go for playing it — the only sport “honored” this way in Japan. (Gov. Schwarzenegger suggested a similar golf tax late last year as part of his plan for plugging California’s budget hole, sending the Glenn Beck types into a frenzy.)
Despite the fact that the PCE had a gateball game before its first golf sim (part of the reason I ♥ this console so much), the genre is nonetheless extremely well-represented in the system’s library. In fact, not two months after Winning Shot, three more golf games — Ganbare Golf Boys, Power Golf, and Naxat Open — hit PCE store shelves in succession. In 1989 alone, the console had six golf games released for it, reflecting how much of a fad this genre was among publishers. It had legs, too — even during the later Super CD-ROM era, PCE owners got to enjoy sims like Power Golf 2 (1994) and Go! Go! Birdie Chance (1996).
This being 1989, though, Winning Shot takes a pretty orthodox approach to the sport. Shown entirely from an overhead view, the game has three basic modes: stroke play with you and your friends, competitive match play against humans or the CPU, and a four-day tournament, complete with a ridiculous 48-character-long password to save your progress with. You have six golfers to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses, and you’re allowed to customize their names and parameters any way you like if the defaults don’t work for you. (The object of the tournament is to win the most money, not necessarily to be first. Like in real Japanese courses, there are a lot of bonus cash prizes for winning nearest-to-the-pin contests, or for scoring a hole-in-one at any point.)
Begin a game, and the first thing that’ll strike you — assuming it was 20 years ago, anyway — is the sheer size and beauty of the golf course. PC Engine games around this era were rarely much different in terms of design from their contemporary Famicom competition, but they made up the difference by adding extra coats of detail to the visual package, an approach that had its good and bad sides. The course in Winning Shot is huge, and you need to scroll around each hole to see all of it, relying on the mini-map on the lower-right to target your shot. Fire it off, and the view scrolls to keep up with the ball, whipping you past the hole at high speed — a nice effect for the time. (Golf on the Game Boy, which I was utterly addicted to the year Winning Shot was released, is also like this.)
Being in the “second generation” of golf games released for Japanese consoles, Winning Shot’s gameplay is pretty well refined. The game automatically chooses an appropriate club and angle for you at the start of each shot, although its choices naturally don’t account for wind or any hazards in your way. I get the impression that the wind doesn’t affect the ball as much as in other games — it needs to get pretty damn windy before it seems to alter the course of the ball any. Reading the greens can also be tough, since the only layout guide you’ve got to work with is the arrow shown in the screenshot above.
A lot of golf games from around this era — and Naxat Open is one of them — feature extremely silly courses that not even the most mean-spirited architect would design in real life. Winning Shot, by this standard, is pretty realistic. There’s one hole dominated by a long, thin island that runs nearly the entire length from tee to green, but otherwise the obstacles are mostly faithful to what you’d see in a real course, with most holes offering an easy path and a more challenging route for pro players. Hole 15 is tough — there’s a sheer cliff about halfway through, and the game has some odd collision detection when it comes to trees and such, so if you land a ball in the wrong place, you’ll wind up consuming strokes bouncing the ball off this cliff face over and over again in a desperate struggle to reach the top. It’s a bit humorous to imagine this happening in real life. There would be a mob of cursing middle-aged men every Sunday morning.
Overall, though, the game’s pretty simple and easy to grasp no matter how old or slow you are. You can follow the computer players’ lead and generally not go wrong with that; once you practice enough, getting below par on every hole isn’t so difficult. This makes Winning Shot a quintessentially “HuCard-like” game — easy to pick up, easy to enjoy with others, and also kinda-sorta pretty.