When the Game Boy Advance came out in Japan earlier this year, Konami was the most prominent of the system's third-party developers, releasing a whopping eight games at launch. One of these launch titles was Golf Master: Japan Golf Tour, a golf game featuring real-life Japanese pro golfers. For its stateside release, Konami has given Golf Master a quick makeover and a more relevant US license, and the result is ESPN Final Round Golf 2002. While it's certainly not the best portable interpretation of the sport, it will serve to satiate GBA owners looking to hit the links.
Following standard operating procedure, Final Round consists of the core game types video golf players have come to expect: tournament, stroke, match play, and training. In the single-player tournament mode, you take one of 14 fictional pros through the game's five different tournaments in linear order. The stroke mode lets up to four players compete in an 18-hole game for the best overall score. The match play mode, which is strictly a two-player affair, scores the game based on holes won. Both of these modes require separate copies of the game to be played on multiple GBAs, but if you don't have the need to constantly monitor your competitor's game, they can be played on a single Game Boy Advance as well. Considering the turn-based nature of the sport, this simple feature does miracles for the playability of Final Round, and it makes you stop and wonder why this isn't a standard feature in all portable golf games.
The actual gameplay in Final Round will be instantaneously familiar to anyone who's played a video golf game before. When you're on the course, the common timing-based three-click mechanic is used--one button press to start your power gauge moving, a second to stop it at the desired power level, and a third to determine your shot's accuracy. You can also influence the ball's spin once the power gauge is rolling, giving you the ability to add a few extra yards to your long game or bring the ball to a more immediate stop when you're making your approach. Once you're on the putting green, the three-click system is simplified down to two clicks by dropping the third accuracy click. A well-balanced short game is something that has eluded video golf games throughout history, and Final Round is no exception. Erring toward the easier side of the difficulty margin, the game will rarely require you to spend more than two strokes on the green. In fact, you'll occasionally spend no time on it at all, as sinking a shot from the fairway is not an uncommon occurrence. Still, the overall play in Final Round is tight, if a little easy and simplistic.
The game's presentation hasn't changed much since its previous incarnation as Golf Master: Japan Golf Tour, which is to say, it looks like a middle-grade SNES game. While graphics are admittedly not the linchpin of a good video golf game, Final Tour's graphics leave something to be desired. While Golf Master: Japan Golf Tour featured real-life pro golfers portrayed in a superdeformed style, Final Round is populated with realistically modeled fictional golf pros that are simply designed and could use a few extra frames of animation. The game's five different courses are just barely different, with little graphical variation between them to help you discern one course from the next. The game's sound fares significantly better, with a soundtrack of catchy Japanese elevator/lounge music and understated ambient sounds appropriate to the level.
While it's true that Final Round is currently the only golf game on the Game Boy Advance, the game is worth checking out regardless. It may prove to be too easy for the more experienced player, but with 90 holes of golf and a good multiplayer game, Final Round makes for a more-than-acceptable portable golf game.