Genre: Sports Developer: Access Software Publisher: Virgin Games Players: 1-6 Released: 1994
The Links franchise holds a special place in my heart. I first played Access’ Software’s golf masterpiece on the IBM-PC when I was so young I couldn’t spell. Upon discovering that there was a Links for the Sega CD, it was one of my first purchases when I finally bought the controversial add-on a few years ago. So how does this questionable port fare? Let’s hit the links and find out!
The experience begins with an FMV flyover of Torrey Pines South. While I commend the production values of Virgin for incorporating CBS television footage, I was slightly disappointed not to hear the epic theme of the original Links in glorious Redbook audio. Thankfully the game also features commentary by Ben Wright and golf pro Steve Elkington. Before each hole Steve provides actual tips and strategy, which helps to make the FMV segments seem a little more worthwhile.
The only included course is Torrey Pines South, take it or leave it. One of the best things about Links on the PC was the additional courses you could mail away for. There was a great deal of support and many courses were released. Back when it was a very pro-“Copy That Floppy” society, they were distributed quite freely. While there is a course option on the main menu of Links for the Sega CD, it simply prompts you to insert a course disc, which was never produced. Presumably it wasn’t cost effective for Virgin to pursue the extra courses, which begs the question of why the function is even in there, except as a misdirected marketing gimmick.
When it comes to gameplay, Links for the Sega CD has all the features that a PC gamer would be familiar with. The iconic C-swing is there, but oddly it appears on a wood grain bar that runs along the bottom and left-hand side of the screen. Not exactly a major detriment, but a severe deviation from the simple Doom-like status bar of the original. You might wonder how much space you need for a golf game, but it really takes away from the atmosphere. A golf game should feel spacious and open, not cramped in a corner. It’s almost backwards; the FMV is full screen, but they made the playfield smaller.
Links is a very simple game to play. Hold B to move your marker for where you ultimately want to send the ball, hold the A or C button to start your swing, release at the top of the C graphic, and tap again at the bottom of the C. Sounds confusing if you never played the game, but it is a very simple and accurate way of depicting swing control. While the C swing looks the same as the PC game, it is extremely delicate in the Sega CD version. It is a finer-than-pixel-perfect affair, you can land on both the top swing marker and the bottom swing marker perfectly and swing short fifteen yards because of variation within that pixel. The seasoned Links pro will merely find this annoying, but a newcomer to the series may have some trouble getting his swing down right.
To help the player there is an option to practice driving on any one of the holes on Torrey Pines South. You get five drives, and then it tells you your average. This feature is basically ruined by the fact that every time you make a drive it loads a screen that shows your previous drives and average, and then has to redraw the entire course before you drive again. It’s actually faster to make your drive, write down the distance and take mulligans because you don’t have to reload the whole course.
Something I didn’t expect to see was a player creation ability, where you can set your player’s clubs, name and gender to an expansion cart or the Sega CD internal memory. One of the things you have to set for your players is whether they are a pro, amateur or beginner. While it might convey the idea that Pro is for more experienced Links players, in fact the opposite is true. You should only play with the beginner if you really know what you’re doing. The pro golfer can get a drive as far as 295 yards, the amateur about 265 yards and the beginner about 235 yards. Because of the super touchy C swing system in this version, that means you can absolutely crack it straight down the middle and still need a good bounce to make it on the fairway on some holes as a beginner. The only advantage is that the beginner player is immune to all wind conditions, and the game automatically selects the best club for a situation. If you choose pro, it defaults to D2 unless you are on the green.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a saving grace in the graphics. Links for the Sega CD has to be one of the most bland, uninteresting looking games released on a 16-bit console. From the aforementioned two-tone wood grain that surrounds the screen, the player and course itself are horrendous. Basically, it all looks like on big, green, poorly dithered mess. The trees look exactly the same unless you are close, so there is no sense of depth. Unless you turn on the grid, you really don’t see any sloping or shading and the water in this game looks pitiful. Torrey Pines sits on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and there is only one shade for water? It looks like a blue wall at the edge of the green. Compared to the beautiful roaring ocean, complete with surf on the PC, this is completely unacceptable.
The sound, or lack thereof, is equally as bad. Being on a CD format demands Redbook audio, and the only sound effects when you are playing is the occasional loud chirp of some birds, the sound of hitting a tree and the sound of the ball going into the hole. The in-game commentary is extremely annoying as well, especially when playing a one player game. Links supports up to six players at once, but even if it is a one-player game, every shot has “Player One” announced. The commentary can be turned off, but still it is a nuisance. Even worse is the lack of the infamous “looks like you hit the tree, Jim” sound bite from the PC version. How they team at Papyrus Software and Virgin managed to leave out such an iconic and memorable element is a mystery.
Links: The Challenge of Golf has an odd distinction in that it is the only golf game for the Sega CD. While it is becoming quite the challenge to play the older versions of Links on modern machines, for people who want a taste of the franchise pre-Links LS, the Sega CD version is not an appropriate representation.
While the potential and budget seemed to be available for the game, very many small flaws really brought this title down. Important to note is the compatibility with the Tee-V Golf peripheral and Sega Mouse. Just a few more gimmicks to add to the FMV, commentary and “additional courses” that make this port a bogey.
SCORE: 6 out of 10