Sports games aren’t popular with collectors because everyone thinks they suck. But there are some hidden gems out there to enjoy — and their lack of popularity means you can pick ’em up pretty cheap, too! Let’s explore this unloved genre!
Let’s Tee Off!
I find it quite interesting that while a lot of people continue to work on the assumption that sports games, on the whole, suck, golf games tend to be regarded as the kind of sports game that doesn’t really suck — at least not quite as much as the rest of the “genre”, such as it is.
I think part of this may be down to the fact that golf is regarded as an inherently uncool sort of sport, and thus video gamers — who, at various points in history, have been unfairly maligned as also being rather uncool — find certain aspects of the culture surrounding it quite relatable.
Or it might just be that there’s been a bunch of kick-ass golf games over the years, many of which liven up the musty old sport with some distinctly arcade-style mechanics. And one of my absolute favourite in this regard is a little-known Dreamcast number known as Tee Off.
Tee Off (known as Golf Shiyou Yo in Japan) was released by developer Bottom Up at the tail end of 1999 in its native country, then brought west about a month later by Acclaim. It was reasonably well-received on its original release, with its review scores tending to average around the 75% mark or so, but it was rather quickly forgotten about by a lot of people.
Which is a shame, because it’s absolutely great — and its cheesy, ridiculously cheerful presentation is all the more welcome in the bleak world we live in today.
In Tee Off, you take on the role of a participant in the World Tour Tournament Golf championship, hoping to prove who is the very best golfer in the world. And you and your fellow competitors aren’t stuffy old geezers in plus-fours, either; the game takes great pains to point out that while golf was once considered to be a gentleman’s sport, in the world of Tee Off, everyone is welcome to participate, regardless of their background. As you might expect from a Japanese game, this makes for a seriously colourful cast of characters, each of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Tee Off’s gameplay is as most people have come to expect from a golf game these days, making use of the standard “three tap” system. Tap the button once to start the power meter, a second time to set your power and a third time to determine your accuracy. Tee off adds a few little twists on this formula by allowing you to shoot at more than 100% power, and its accuracy mechanic involves stopping the meter in a small white mark on the curved gauge.
Since the game unfolds in full 3D, like most modern golf games, you have a fully flexible camera to help you make your shot. You can spin the camera around and look at the area where your current club is likely to land a shot at 100% power; you can rotate left and right to adjust your aim, and you can zoom in and out to survey the hazards around you.
The game’s interface is friendly and helpful; clubs indicate their maximum yardage, and a lie indicator tells you roughly how much of the power of your shot will get through to the ball, indicating that, say, you’ll need to hit harder that normal in the rough or a bunker, while fairway shots will generally go about where you aim them.
All this may sound very familiar if you’ve played a golf game in the last 20 years, but where Tee Off really shines is in its arcade-style presentation. Take a shot and the distance the ball has travelled is indicated in huge Sega-style numbers. The background music sounds like tracks from Sonic Adventure that hit the cutting room floor. And helpful sound cues provide feedback as to how your shot is going — for better or worse.
The visuals are simplistic, but this means that they run at a fair old lick and animate very smoothly, and the character designs are likewise simple but appealing. The one area where the western version lets itself down somewhat is in the dub — none of the dub voices fit the characters at all, and no attempt has been made to make any of them sound as if they’re from their supposed country of origin.
A small child prodigy golfer from Scotland named Julian, for example, has the voice of a fully grown American man; not exactly a dealbreaker when it comes to a game like this — characterisation is limited to a few utterances during nice shots and in response to various final scores — but it is a bit jarring!
On top of providing a solid golf game that will take you some time to master, Tee Off also includes a completely separate game mode called G-Ball, which is a take on Japanese croquet or “gateball”. Here, up to four players can compete against one another on a cyberspace-themed course in an attempt to knock their ball through several gates, then hit a central post.
It’s a simple but highly competitive game — particularly with all the ways it’s possible to interfere with your opponent’s balls (fnarr) — and a welcome addition to the Tee Off package, particularly since we have very few adaptations of gateball here in the west. Check out Konami’s PC Engine Mini if you want to try another one!
Tee Off is a great game that I suspect will make quite a few converts of people who haven’t played many golf titles in the past. A combination of Tee Off and Mario Golf 64 certainly made me a fan of the sporting subgenre back in the early ’00s — so if you’re looking for an interesting, unusual and downright fun addition to your Dreamcast collection, Tee Off is definitely a worthy pickup.