Pebble Beach Golf Links (1995, T&E Soft for Sega Saturn)
I think Pebble Beach Golf Links was the very first Sega Saturn game that I saw in action, at the Richfield, Minnesota Funcoland store where I had frequently visited and even worked for a short spell (to this day, I cannot remember if I’m still technically employed there, and have dreams where I suddenly remember I have to finish my 20-year lunch break and get back to work). I was not impressed. Fortunately, after I had bought my Saturn and started collecting games, I picked up this game and was quickly won over. Within a few weeks, this became a very popular videogame at the house where I lived, sharing space with several other college students, many partygoers and a blender that was constantly grinding out pina coladas. I loved that house. Those were great memories.
What do I love most about this game? I think it has to be the music. The synth-based chiptunes are very catchy, bouncy and relaxing. The songs are very similar to music you’d hear on the Super NES in games like SimCity and Final Fantasy and Donkey Kong Country, but with the digital clarity and dynamics of Compact Disc. The Saturn’s sound processors are given a major workout and it’s all such a wonderful bliss-out. Mind you, I was always playing while downing those pina coladas by the pitcher, and always with twice the rum as the recipe requires. It all contributes to the wonder color of summer and autumn 1995, which were very warm and sunny. The music brings me back to those days of being 22 years old and free as a bird.
Pebble Beach Golf Links offers only one 18-hole course, which was still the standard in those days, but it’s one of the greatest golf courses ever created. Gameplay options include stroke, skins and match play, practice, and watch mode. The main options are the Pebble Beach Open, which is spread across four days, and Tournament, which skips the qualifying rounds and gets straight to the action. Up to four players can compete, although for some reason the tournaments only allow three players. You can also create your own custom golfer and save your stats, which becomes very useful over time. Crowds will cheer as you break a personal record, such as longest drive or longest putt, and your handicap will automatically adapt to your performance.
The best feature in this game, of course, is the inclusion of PGA golfer Craig “The Walrus” Stadler, who appears in true Sega Sports fashion. He provides strategy tips on all 18 holes which are delivered in a very breezy, improvisational style that doesn’t sound at all scripted. It’s also very helpful advise, which is a tribute to the programmers. Stadler also plays along in the tournament modes, where he shows off his chops and offers a friendly competition. This is where the funniest moments occur, as Stadler frequently cuts in with pats on the back and cheerful digs. Sometimes he just comes off as a real jerk, especially when you completely botch that double bogey. “You need to practice a LOT MORE.” Hey, shut up! Hmm, I should probably practice my comebacks a little more. Maybe another shot of rum will help with that.
Gameplay is standard for the genre, which means it plays nearly identically to every golf videogame since Access Software’s Leaderboard Golf. You rotate your position, choose your club, adjust your foot stance, then use the curved power bar to make your swing. You can adjust gameplay options to simplify the golf swing if you’re having trouble avoiding those sliced shots, which helps a lot. You’re going to have your hands full navigating through these very challenging holes, which are full of sand traps, tall trees, the Pacific Ocean…and have I mentioned the heavy crosswinds? Yeah. Get used to having the winds suddenly kick up to over 20mph. Don’t let Stadler see you knock your shot into the ocean. You’ll never hear the end of it.
I really enjoy the look of Pebble Beach Golf Links, with its vivid colors and lush greens and blues. Yes, many of the digitized graphics would become very blocky at times, but that’s to be expected. The digitized golfers look terrific and are well animated, especially Stadler. I think this is the best looking golf game for the system. For comparison, just look at Electronic Arts’ PGA Tour Golf ’97, which was dreary, grungy and grey. Actua Golf has nice polygon graphics but a shoddy frame rate. World Cup Golf has an interesting pre-rendered look that is unfortunately sterile and lifeless.
T&E Soft, the software developers, are best remembers as the creators of the Hydlide RPG series and about a hundred golf games. They released four other golf titles for the Saturn, three of which never left Japan. They’re worth collecting if you’re a fan of Pebble Beach and want to play some other courses. But none of them have Stadler. So what’s the point?