Before we start out this post, I would like to apologize for the gap in posting there. It turns out life obligations can sometimes trump the amount of time it takes to play and write about 16-bit games for an audience of nearly two dozen people, but in my mind Pre-Sonic Genesis has never really been dead; it just suffers for not being the priority I’d like it to be. Updates will still happen sporadically, and video content may or may not come along when I finally find a format that I am happy with. But until then, enjoy the first double feature in Pre-Sonic Genesis’ brief and sporadic history!
The unfortunate reality of sports games is that without a comfortable level of abstraction, the struggle to strike a balance between accurate simulation and playability inherently make older games obsolete. It’s the same reason that Tecmo Super Bowl will continue to be fun to pick up and play in the future while most Madden fans will look at a late-model copy of their franchise with the same excitement that a dog can muster for celery. This makes the vast majority of older sports games difficult to bring yourself to objectively care for, so I am combining two small entries on two mediocre stabs at golf and motorcycle racing respectively
Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf
The last golf game I really sunk time into was Tiger Woods 2005, which beyond being my first experience with online gaming on a console (I was the fill-in for a foursome against three men playing as Tiger Woods with the names WEEDKING69, DOCTORSMOKER420, and POTKILLA187. I was represented by Justin “The Hustler” Timberlake [his in-game nickname because I swear to God I am too lazy to make that up] and my game disc was scratched so the only song that played on the menus was “I Like The Way You Move” by OutKast feat. Sleepy Brown) was a fairly easy experience that mostly just required you to look at pretty scenery and press the analog stick at right moments, perfect for the POTKILLA187’s of the world. Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf doesn’t play so nicely. A game for people who might actually refer to themselves as duffers without hanging their head deeply in shame, Arnold Palmer strips any semblance of player aid and gives the player just enough options to never want to touch the game again (as an aborted front 9 with Pre-Sonic Genesis research assistant Mary proved by demanding we stop playing after sinking her second +7 in a row.) The result is a relative rarity in the world of golf games – a game more frustrating than the sport it is based on. A tenth of a second delay in a button press will send a chip shot flying out of bounds, and there is nothing stopping you from accidentally firing the ball into orbit by using a 1 wood on the greens. By stripping any sort of mercy or help from the game, Arnold Palmer becomes a Randian struggle between man and finely manicured grass.
In defense of Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf, I am entirely unaware of a better looking golf experience available at home in 1989. Access Software wouldn’t release the superlative Links: The Challenge of Golf for another year, and even then it wasn’t until the genre-defining Links 386 before the visuals surpassed what is seen here. The 3d landscapes take a surprisingly long time to load, but all look fantastic for the time. There are three full courses available, and a full-fledged(-ish) tournament mode featuring rudimentary RPG statistics as befitting a game of the late 80’s. However, without lots of practice, you are unlikely to get anywhere with the computer players posting consistently under par. Should you for whatever reason persevere, you are rewarded with better clubs and a lingering regret towards your accomplishments. at least beloved friend of Sega fans everywhere Opa Opa makes a surprising cameo as the selection marker for four completely average music tracks. And in a daring move towards brand cohesion, Arnold Palmer’s role is pretty much the same as Tommy LaSorda in his titular baseball game – limited entirely to the box art. The game is functionally similar in Japan , but without the ostensible star power of the elderly that Sega of America was banking on to propel the freshly debuted Sega Genesis to success.
I have a confession to make: A good reason this article was delayed (another day, not the four month delay that preceded that) is because I threw myself into Super Hang-On trying to divine out the possible appeal. By 1989, the Pole Position formula was looking long in the faux-3d tooth. Even though this was Sega’s big gimmick in the arcade scene, the only reason Super Hang-On stood out was that that the controller was a reasonable facsimile of a tiny motorcycle. Beyond that, the game play is not functionally different than that of my beloved Out Run, but without the aesthetics that make that the superior game. Since Sega had the good sense to hold off on a home port of Out Run until it was outside of the scope of this blog (it was two releases after Sonic the Hedgehog, which will be reviewed when this ill-advised project limps to a close sometime in 2093) the real appeal of the game was not necessarily that it was another luxury car racing game, but that it felt like a timed vacation. Sure, there were check points, but the focus was more on admiring the scenery and the Casiopea inspired soundtrack (A relatively obscure act here that would go on to influence a good number of the more famous Sega soundtracks). Racing a powerful car was part of the thrill, certainly, but not the reason you sunk 50 cents into the sports-car cabinet. It wasn’t a race or a game, but an exhilarating experience that just happened to have timed check-points. Even the music (with the possible exception of the moody Outride a Crisis) hardly feels like it’s trying to do anything other than drown out the apathetic engine whine.
While Super Hang-On is an attractive game in the arcade, the home conversion loses most of the flair, with comparatively tiny sprites and muddy sound effects. The sense of speed is also kneecapped, leaving the entire game a mediocre shadow of the arcade original and what has to have been an ill-advised purchase even in 1989. The game’s sole saving grace comes in the form of Original Mode. Original Mode features item upgrades, assigned rivalries, and a progressive system of selling out as you work your way from being sponsored by a pizza chain that pays humble amounts even if you lose to selling your soul to GIANT OIL COMPANY for multi-million dollar pay-outs per win (and nothing for losers, as losing is a word that doesn’t exist in the GIANT OIL COMPANY STANDARDIZED THRALL DICTIONARY). The only real issue lies in the fact that your bike is awful in Original Mode, a lumbering pile of idling steel compared to the sleek nitro-fueled hummingbird of the arcade. Sure, you can get the bike up there by repeating the same few courses over and over again to slowly build up a sizable purse, but most interested parties will most likely take the same stance Sega did with this port and just not bother.