Computer golf games have historically been divided into two groups: overly fussy, technical simulations that present too many options for club choice and wind direction, and are consequently not fun to play, and arcade games that are too simplistic for hardcore golf enthusiasts, but relatively easy to use and learn. Mean 18 intrepidly attempts to bridge the very large gap between these two worlds...and falls flat on its face doing it. Some elements of play are easier than others, but the overall game interface tends to be cumbersome and awkward; I certainly didn't want to return for another round after testing these greens.
Mean 18 presents a standard 18-hole golf game, which is certainly sufficient for all but the most diehard golf fanatic. There are apparently several courses, but I could not choose any option beyond the standard "Pebble Beach" course. It's difficult to believe, in any case (and given the poor quality of the main attraction), that any of these other courses could possibly offer anything of interest to the average gamer.
Mean 18 is best compared in gameplay to its popular predecessor, Leaderboard Golf, and features most of the traps, hazards, and features of that game. Unlike Leaderboard, however, the "options" menu is extremely clumsy, and it's very difficult to change clubs to adapt to the unique conditions of each hole. I gave up in frustration after the third hole and stuck with one club for everything, with predictable impact on my overall gaming score.
A scorecard reflects results at the end of the game, but few will likely have the fortitude to reach that erstwhile humble goal.
With its clever overhead and multidirectional perspectives, and in-game "zoom" features, it's clear that Mean 18 was Atari's attempt to introduce innovative and advanced graphics displays into an XE sports game. Something surely went terribly wrong in development, however, because Mean 18 has been left with the ugliest gaming environment ever seen in an XE game.
Nothing in this game's graphical environment really seems right. The colour palette is excruciatingly bad, the graphics are blocky and ugly, and the "zoom" feature is jerky and unpleasant to use. All of these problems are, however, minor flaws in comparison with the game's biggest glitch: all screens are individually drawn in Mean 18, and it takes the game an eternity to plot each one. Leaderboard Golf also suffers to some extent from this problem, but that game is lightning-quick in comparison with the slug-like plotting of this game. I actually had time to walk to my kitchen, pour myself a drink, and walk back to the computer before the computer finished drawing one hole late in my first game. It's an infuriating, hair-pulling, head-beating-against-the-wall flaw that will dissuade all but the most patient -- or masochistic -- from completing a game.
Golf is not supposed to be a loud game, and the lack of sound effects, in-game music, or other auditory nonsense is most welcome. It's certainly the best feature of this otherwise grating and unpleasant game.
Sunmark deserves much credit for dredging up this one from the lost depths of the Tramiel vaults and making it available to 8-bit enthusiasts everywhere. Sunmark deserves even more credit for packaging Mean 18 with MIDIMaze, enabling players to acquire this gaming dog as a free bonus for purchasing a truly extraordinary and revolutionary game (MIDIMaze). Mean 18 truly lives up to its title: it's a punishing, brutal title that probably would have tanked upon release. Among Atari's many questionable policies in the late '80s, it seems as if their decision not to give this stinker a commercial release was one of their soundest.
(64K, joystick required. Approx. $40 from Sunmark as bonus to MIDIMaze)