Reviewed: July 29, 2008
Released: July 9, 2008
When I heard that Activision was doing a golf game I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. This is one publisher that is not known for sports titles unless you count Tony Hawk or poker. And when it comes to XBLA games, theyíve only done one; Doom, and that was two years ago. Ultimately, my curiosity overwhelmed my skepticism as I prepared to tee off with Golf: Tee It up!
The first thing that will cross the minds of anyone who has ever played a PS2, PSP, or PS3 is that this game looks remarkably like Hot Shots Golf, both in overall theme and character style. But that is where the similarities end. Golf: Tee It Up! is a fairly shallow experience that seldom feels like a golf game at all. Sure, you are using clubs to smack a white ball around 36 holes but everything you have ever learned about golf, either in real life or in video games gets tossed aside so the designers can force their wacky arcade brand of gameplay into the mix.
The first thing you need to do is create your golfer. Choose a male or female character then outfit them with extremely limited optionsÖso limited in fact that when you randomly match-up with other players online you will often be wearing the same outfit. One random foursome had all of us wearing the same denim vest and pants. Hairstyles were different but at first glance it was like winning a slot machine. Hopefully, more clothing options will become available as future content, but I doubt I would pay for an expanded closet.
Your limitations continue as you head to the golf course of your choiceÖboth of them. Thatís right, only two courses; one in a tropical Caribbean setting and the other in the woodsy Scottish highlands. Coming to grips with the limited character creation and course options is a bit easier when you factor in that you are only spending 800 points for this game, whereas most games of this caliber run 1,200 points. Hopefully, more courses will become available soon because it wonít take you long to master the 36 holes provided.
As far as fundamental gameplay, Tee It Up plays much like every other golf game in the history of golf games, at least until they all started going to those analog swing styles. Here, we have the simple 3-tap system, once to start the swing meter, once to set the power, and a third tap to set the accuracy of the stroke. You can also tap B to engage a boost power. This increases the potential shot distance as well as the speed of the swing meter and it causes the power meter to shake, making an accurate shot nearly impossible.
Where Golf: Tee It Up fails is in its scale. You can smack the ball and the distance counter says it went 250yds, but visually it looks like a 70ft chip shot. You never get the feel of any true distance in the game, which ultimately makes the entire experience feel like mini-golf with fairways and hazards. The physics are also horrible. Sand will stop the ball instantly, even when you roll onto it, and the leather-like surface of the fairway doesnít allow for any realistic roll after the initial impact.
To further enhance the wacky arcade style of gameplay is the gameís main hook, the Focus feature whereby you can steer the ball while in flight or rolling on the ground. You are given 4 seconds of focus time per hole and any unused time carries over to the next hole. If you donít like the direction your ball has taken you can simply steer it in a new direction until the timer reaches zero. While you canít make up for huge errors you can easily curve a bad chip shot into the hole or steer around a rock or tree. You can also use your Focus time to preview a putt. This must be how Jediís play golf.
Naturally, this Focus ability is going to generate some totally unrealistic scores (like 54 under par for 18 holes). In some awkward attempt to balance your godlike gameplay abilities the designers have created some insane holes; some that actually have a PAR 6 attached to them. Other holes are so difficult the fairway is merely patches of grass in a massive expanse of rough Ė almost in the same ratio as sand traps to fairway in a real golf course. You also find that patches of fairway are often stretched so far apart you cannot even reach them with your best club and a perfect stroke.
I found the entire experience extremely unrealistic and frustrating for about the first day of play, but then I changed my mindset and told myself this was merely an arcade game using golf as a loose core concept, and then it became a lot more funÖeven more so when I headed online to start playing in some random foursomes. Online, you can play stroke, cup, or match play in versus mode or team up for two-on-two. I was hoping for a ďbest ballĒ style of play in the team mode but it is merely the best score gets posted to the card. You can choose to play 9 holes, a full 18, or have the game randomly select a few holes for a very quick match. Sadly, if even one person drops out of the game, either purposely or a dropped connection, the game is over. I had about 25% of my online games end this way. Obviously, this makes 18-hole matches a risky endeavor.
You can also enjoy four-player local matches. The menu system makes it easy to create a character or choose an existing one, then choose from stroke, cup, or match player in either versus or team play. You can even have multiple players on one system play online.
There is a scoring system in place that keeps track of how well you are playing. If you hit good or great shots this score advances. If you end up in a trap or in the rough you lose everything you have earned for that hole up to that point. The bonus points for each hole are tallied between holes for the final match total. This score is used to determine the winner if a tie occurs. Itís also a great way to track how skillfully you have been playing.
Golf: Tee It Up! looks good for what it is, an XBLA game. I didnít expect it to match Tiger Woods but I also didnít expect it to look significantly better than Sonyís ill-fated next-gen attempt at Hot Shots Golf on the PS3. For color, clarity, and design, this game blows Hot Shots Golf away. Sadly, it lacks in just about every other category.
Even though there are only two 18-hole courses the designers did a good job of mixing up the details to create some unique holes. The Caribbean course is easily my favorite, with cool skies, deep blue water, and lush tropical greenery. Itís like being on vacation. The Parkland course is more of a skill course with twisty fairways and plenty of trees and traps to lower your score.
My biggest complaint with the entire game is the texture detail, especially for the grass. There is simply no texture other than this green leather-like surface for the fairways. There is no dimension to the tall grass or even the sand. You can land the perfect drive in the middle of the fairway and not only does it smack the grass with a leather-like thud, it rolls like itís on sticky leather. The lack of any grass texture is only emphasized by the highly detailed blades of grass you see in the load screens.
There isnít much to talk about here. You have the intro music and some chessy tunes in the menus but once you hit the links you are left with the sound effects of club striking ball and either the leather smack of the ball hitting a fairway or green or a powdery ďpoofĒ if it lands in the sand or a wet splash if you end up in the water.
There are some nice environmental effects like wind, birds, and even some ocean noise on the Caribbean course. Itís just a very bland soundscape limited by the nature of the game and the course designs. There is no speech from either the characters or any type of announcer. The game does support voice chat but nobody seems to talk much while playing.
There are 12 Achievements, the first 10 I earned my first day of play without even trying. There are 2 secret achievements, one that requires you to wear bunny slippers, and the only one that takes any real dedication is the Achievement that requires you to swing a club 1000 times. I earned that one a few days later after much online play.
There really isnít any established end to this game. Obviously, once you beat par on both courses youíll hopefully want to improve your score and possibly work your way up the online leaderboards. You can also go online for ranked and unranked matches, but with only two courses you will likely master this game or get bored with it in less than a week and probably wonít come back until more content is available.
Personally, I would have rather paid 1,200 points for 3 or 4 courses upfront. There just isnít enough content here, even for 800 points. For the same money you could get 3D Ultra Minigolf Adventure which also comes with 36 holes that are far more entertaining than these, and a course editor so you can make more.
While I ultimately had fun with Golf: Tee It Up! it just seemed that it required too much effort to enjoy. You really arenít playing golf as much as you are mastering the art of Focus and post-shot physics. Itís almost as if the designers created a shoddy golf game then tried to compensate for the poor physics by allowing you to manipulate your shots. Itís amusing but itís not golf and with only 36 holes to entertain, your 800 points will be better spent on something else.