“ESPN Final Round Golf 2002” from Konami for the Game Boy Advance may surprise you.
Golf on the Game Boy always suffered from graphics and processor limitations in the past.
Game Boy and Game Boy Color, with their 8-bit processors and low-resolution screens, did a good job of playing miniature golf.
By miniature golf, I do not mean the game with castles and windmills decorating convoluted courses composed of nothing but putting greens.
In this case, miniature golf means small games with dumbed-down graphics — the kind of game that runs reasonably well on miniature game systems.
Nintendo launched the Game Boy with a golf game in 1989.
A decade later, when Nintendo released Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color, the basic look of the courses and players was not much improved.
The fairways and greens in both games were represented by lime green swirls surrounded by a sea of dark green grass.
The trees in both Golf and Mario Golf looked like doodles.
“Final Round,” however, has convincing trees. It even has properly proportioned golfers. While the greens and sand traps have not improved much in the last 10 years, the skies and backgrounds have improved dramatically.
Interestingly, the things that have changed the least are the basic gameplay mechanics.
Nintendo, and other pioneering companies such as Access Software, must have nailed the mechanics of golf right from the get go.
With the exception of the “Mouse Swing,” a PC innovation in which players control their club by rolling their mouse, there have been no lasting changes in how virtual golf is played in years.
One common ingredient is a swing meter that determines the force angle at which you hit the ball.
First the meter lets you set how hard you hit the ball.
To start the meter, you click a button.
In the case of “Final Round,” you hit the A button on your Game Boy Advance.
Once you hit this button, a needle or bar begins to move along the meter. It reaches an apex, then swings back.
To set the power of your swing, you tap the A button a second time. The closer the needle is to the apex of the meter, the more powerful your stroke becomes.
Once you have determined the power, the needle moves to a small area that determines the accuracy of your stroke.
This second part of the meter is always divided in half.
The goal is to tap your button a third time when the needle is precisely in the middle of this meter.
Tap too soon, and you will slice your ball. Tap too late, and you cut on the outside.
“Final Round’s” virtual golf bag includes five woods, nine irons, a sand wedge, a pitching wedge, and a putter.
As any golfer can tell you, there is a club for every situation and a situation for every club.
This is true in real golf, and it is true on the five virtual courses in “Final Round.”
The Game Boy Advance has two shoulder buttons along its top edge. You use these buttons to scroll through your clubs.
I have not tested “Final Round’s” multiplayer option.
As you may know, the Game Boy Advance has a port for linking. You can connect up to four Game Boy Advances with a special cable, and “Final Round” does support a four-player tournament.
But while several other games allow players to share a single cartridge, Konami has opted to require each player to purchase their own copy of “Final Round.”
This is a shame, because “Final Round” is not the kind of game that achieves million-seller status on Game Boy systems.
This is the kind of game that appeals to adults, and I have enough trouble finding adults who own a Game Boy Advance, let alone own particular games.
With the limited appreciation for adult games in the Game Boy market, I can understand why Konami would want every player to buy a cartridge.
The problem with this strategy is that it limits the number of people who get exposed to the game.