The Famicom's second attempt at this sport since Nintendo's original Golf in 1984, Golf Japan Course is basically a quick update to the classic 32k effort. Load the disk up and you get the above title screen, showing Japan flying around above a continent-less planet, which was just about what the economic situation was around this time too, actually. If this software was released today, I wonder if Japan would be portrayed in the Underworld or something.
Hit Start and you get to choose what kind of game you like to play. There's the usual stroke and match options, of course, as well as a few mysterious menu choices I'll get to later. Start a game and fireworks go off above the cheering gallery crowd; is my entering the golf course that big a deal? Eh? If I get fireworks then Tiger Woods will probably start demanding parades and F-15s doing fly-bys.
Getting back to the point
The whole thing resembles the old Golf with better graphics and some bincy bouncy background music, which is a good thing in my book in comparison with US Course and the later cartridge version. The entire hole is there for you to see without having to press a bunch of buttons. Start brings up a shot of the green and your scorecard; hold down B and move the pad up and down to choose among your 13 clubs or left and right to change your swing speed. Unlike certain other NES efforts this game moves along extremely quickly, and you can play an entire round in about a half hour.
That swing speed is the main "new" feature of the Disk System Golfs. Adjustable from 1 to 3, you can make Mario huft golf clubs around his body like my grandmother or create an artificial tornado with every swing, like the aforementioned Mr. Woods. You can make your shots zoom across the fairway or shoot almost straight into the air depending on your speed. It's also vital for long putts; you won't have a chance to make one unless you switch from speed 1 to something faster.
My main beef with this game is how hard it is to hit a good shot. If I wanted to slice the ball all around the course like John Candy I'd go play a round in real life, you know? The tiniest derivation from the white line in the shot meter is rewarded with the ball flying into the water or into the rough, especially if the wind is at all strong. Most of the holes are maniacally devised, too, most of them designed so that if you hit a full power 1-wood shot off the tee it'll go into the water unless you hit it absolutely perfectly. Some of the later holes are totally insane, with OB areas in arbitrary places making things thoroughly unenjoyable. Still, it's better than Golf, and as there's zero Japanese anywhere this will be a little fun for anyone into this sort of thing.
Now about those menu options
Along with the Disk Writers used to put new games into disks, there were also machines called Disk Fax in certain stores (the Golf manual lists them all). You could put the blue FDS disks into a Disk Fax and the disk's saved contents would be sent via modem to Nintendo in Kyoto. What's sent? Well, after you finish 18 holes you have the option of saving the score from the game. If you had a particularly excellent round, or if you had a hole in one somewhere, then it was worth it to save your game, put your name and address onto the disk via the Name Entry feature, and go off to the Disk Fax. The contest deadline was April 30th, 1987, about 2 months after game release.
The top 100 scorers out of all the contestants received a special plaque with their names on it, and a special golden FDS disk containing an even harder Golf course. 4900 other competitors, out of the hole-in-one hitters and so on, also got the golden disk by being picked via lottery. Naturally, this disk is among the Holy Grails sought after by Japanese FC collectors; most of them are probably already accounted for and they go for about $200 or so when they show up on sale. Hopefully one will be read in eventually...