Wednesday, July 11, 2012

At Random: Mecarobot Golf (SNES, 1993)

Grabbing randomly among some recent flea market finds, I came up with Toho Co. Ltd.'s Mecarobot Golf for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, released in 1993 in the United States.  The game made its original Japanese appearance as Serizawa Nobuo no Birdie Try, or Nobuo Serizawa's Birdie Try, on the Super Famicom.  Nobuo Serizawa was a Japanese pro golfer in the 1980s and 90s, so this is actually a mundane console golf game, dressed up with robots for sale in the West where Mr. Serizawa was relatively unknown.  The title screen originally featured a digitized image of Serizawa, replaced here by Eagle the Robot:

Sorry, did I say it was "dressed up with robots"?  As it turns out, Eagle is the only robot in evidence here.  If I hadn't researched the origin of this game, I would have been really puzzled about why there are so many humans willing to play support roles for the Mecarobot Golf tournament -- the groundskeeper, preparing the course on an early, foggy morning:

The sign-in official:

And the player's own onscreen avatar, competing with the lead robot:

Gameplay is -- wait for it -- par for the course.  We pick a bag of clubs, and select a hole to play.  We use the traditional three-click console golf control mechanism -- one button press to start the swing, one to set the maximum power, and one more precisely timed to hit the ball with a bit of left or right bias if we like.  Like most of these games, the swing presents the primary challenge here -- the power bar indicator sweeps back and forth pretty quickly, and I found it easiest to just hit the button three times as fast as I could; this usually gave me a reasonable distance and a fairly straight shot.

The SNES hardware's unique Mode 7 was always useful for rendering backgrounds in zooming, rotating perspective, but its fundamental flatness doesn't suit this golf game very well.  The software uses interrupt-driven parameter changes to lend some rolling inclination to the green, but the display changes so slowly when the ball is in flight that all of the technique's low-resolution, non-anti-aliased chunkiness shows.  It's not that the green looks bad, so much as that it looks out of place next to the relatively detailed golfers and GUI elements.

Things improve a bit when we get to the putting green -- the course layout is nicely done without obvious tiling, and the putting interface works well, with a similar three-press mechanic.  The display zooms in for a closeup when we're close to the hole, with a nice digitized ball-in sound, and it's easy to just miss the putt if we're too hasty with our actions.

And then we go on to the next hole, in the standard manner.  

As a golf game, Mecarobot Golf is not bad -- it's generic, but comprehensive, with a variety of holes to play and clubs to use, and it plays acceptably well.  It also has a driving range mini-game, and a family multiplayer tournament mode if we would rather play against other human beings.

But dang it, I wanted more robots!  Or at least, I wanted to play as a robot with super cybernetic swinging powers and laser-guided hole sighting and rocket-fueled flight from the tee to the green.  I don't think this is an unreasonable expectation for a game called Mecarobot Golf -- especially because it was produced and released by Toho, the movie studio behind Godzilla and Rodan!  Where's Jet Jaguar when you need him?  Didn't these people ever play SNK's Neo*Geo Super Baseball 2020?

Ah, well, such is not to be.  Instead, we get to play as an ordinary golfer, while the only robot around trundles around on foot just like we do, and dispenses basic advice about the course.

At first I was distressed over the obvious waste of advanced cybernetic technology here, but then I figured out what's really going on -- Toho has just dressed Nobuo Serizawa up in a robot costume.  Domo arigato, Mr. Nobuo.

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