Retrospective: Nettou Golf - a Golfing Hidden Gem for Dreamcast

Given the plethora of Golf titles available on virtually all Sega systems leading up to the Dreamcast, it’s somewhat of an oddity that, even with the Dreamcast's shortened lifespan, there was only a mere three golf titles released worldwide, one of which was a sequel. 

Tee Off was the only golf title released in PAL regions (meaning a poor showing for the home of Golf itself!), as well as NTSC, and isn’t a terrible game. While its name change (from Golf Shiyouyo) and cover reworking completely belie its cutesy presentation and characters, it's still a reasonable enough effort. Its sequel never left Japan.

Whilst there were stories and news reports that Sega had been in the process of converting their arcade title Virtua Golf, no real evidence that this was actually in the works exists from what I can see. For more information about Virtua Golf, check out Dreamcast Today's article.

There was another golf game, however, that is probably not as well-known by many. Step forward Nettou Golf.
A Dreamcast version of this with a trackball controller would have been incredible. 
Nettou Golf isn't well-known to us Dreamcast gamers in the West due to its Japan exclusivity, but, in my opinion, it’s rather good, and surprisingly playable without needing an English translation of any sort. The fact it was published by Sega themselves (it was developed by Data East) is vaguely curious to me considering its lack of a worldwide release. Given that the name derives from "NetGolf", because the game had online capabilities, it's even odder considering Sega's global touting of online play as a big marketing push for the Dreamcast, but it was apparently decided we weren’t considered as a territory for the game. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity at the very least given how little in the way of a translation would have been needed to cover a game in this genre.

As previously mentioned, Nettou Golf is very accessible despite the language barrier. Not only does Google Translate do a very competent job of allowing you to understand the menus and modes, but I discovered this handy site (pictured below), that despite now being defunct, appears to be a couple's attempt to provide others with enough understanding to functionally navigate through certain less heralded Japanese games that were likely never going to get a localisation of any kind. They only translated seven games prior to stopping, but luckily for us, one of them is Nettou Golf.

As this is a golf title, it follows a fairly conventional layout for menu and options.
The Gameplay of Nettou golf is interesting in that it changes up the standard click-to-start, click-to-stop swing method, seen in Tee-Off and virtually every other golf game I can think of up to this point. Instead, it settled on moving the swing of the club to the analogue stick. Once you have picked your aim direction and club you pull the stick down from its starting position to begin to move the shot gauge, then let go at the right moment. This does take some getting used to, especially as pulling the stick back wonky will result in a hook or a slice. Once you get to grips with the controls, they are very intuitive for the most part. Putting is the same method although I initially found this very difficult to make short putts due to the speed needed to start and almost instantly stop.
The game has you start with seven characters, with an eighth to unlock (more on that in a moment) each one has a distinctive colourful style that anyone who has played the likes of Mario Golf or Everybody's Golf (aka Hot Shots Golf) will be familiar with. To me, characters like the hulking Schwarzennegger-like Cowboy and the British punk lady seem quite odd stylistically for a golf game, but at least each one is unique and recognisable. Without the ability to read or translate the game's instructions to any successful level, I can’t offer anything further on why they are designed like they are. Each one has a variety of expressions for introductions, celebrations and showing dissatisfaction when you mess up a shot.
Cast of characters from the back of the manual.
Along with the difference in visual style, the golfers are all fairly different play-wise, meaning players should find one that suits them. For example, the cowboy can hit the ball the furthest but has the fastest meter for putting at a distance, while the British lady can’t hit the ball as far but performs significantly better in bunkers and on the rough. I've found all of them useful except what seems to be the beginner character with the Sakura hat, whilst being the most forgiving when it comes to every type of terrain, her lack of power seems to constantly leave you too far short of the greens to actually be successful with her. 
Yes, he is doing some kind of happy twerk dance.
There is a eighth and final character which I am yet to unlock, and it seems you need to qualify for the final tournament to do so. Currently, I have only managed to win the first two after about seven to ten hours of play. It may be quicker for someone with a better ability, but I haven’t found what could be considered the grinding aspect of the game unenjoyable either. Anyway, when I uploaded a gameplay demonstration to our YouTube channel, someone commented to tell us they'd unlocked the mysterious eighth character…and its none other than Segata Sanshiro!
Shout out Vaughan B.
Courses and Modes
With the online mode obviously now defunct, the bulk of what you will play in Nettou Golf will either be the Tournament, Tour or Practise. Practise doesn’t really seem to offer anything worthwhile. I had an explore wondering if completing the practise events yielded any unlockables, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. 

I can see at least one set of different irons to select within the game but can’t decipher what you actually need to do to unlock them. As a mode, practise offers up a driving range which allows you the chance to hone either your driving or aiming at the four mini greens dotted around, as well as a chipping mini-game that awards you points based on how close you get to the hole, and that's pretty much it. Basically, it's a real driving range but without the crushing depression that you've paid 5 quid to hit balls onto a field.
Fancy whacking balls into a fence? No me neither.
The main game and modes sees you creating a player license that tracks your progress throughout the game. Tournament mode can be played with one to four players. The only event initially unlocked is the beginner event, which is 18 holes on the easiest course. It has no entry fee, meaning unlimited tries. I found myself struggling in the first two rounds of this but now I have the controls and mechanics figured out I find I can routinely win the event even with the odd disastrous hole thrown in.

The next tournament is the same course again but against much more difficult AI opponents, meaning you can’t afford to waste shots on the 11th hole by trying to hit the ball at the excellently-rendered pelican that calls the fairway home.
You can just make the glorious-looking bastard out in the background there.
Progressing through the other tournaments requires you to win or place highly in the previous to unlock. Risk equals reward with these - the entry fees are higher but the rewards for winning are greater. A nice feature of the game is that it allows you to save mid-round (after the ninth hole) which is a welcome addition as it means you can play longer courses in parts, or just spilt up the game should life demand your attention elsewhere.

Away from the tournament modes, there are the variations of local multiplayer that I have mostly ignored. The tour mode is something I have not reached the requirements to enter, as the first stage has a 1000 point entry fee, and it also requires me to have won some standard events. The upside of this is that it definitely proves that Nettou Golf does have a lot of longevity to it.
In conclusion, Nettou Golf is a bright and vibrant Golf title that is inexpensive to import if you want a physical copy, and very accessible to play for non-Japanese speakers. Whilst it would be great to one day have the online aspect back, I'd still suggest that most people should give the single-player or local co-op a try, especially if you have played Tee Off. If you want to see the game in action check out the video below that we posted on our YouTube channel back in 2020:
Have you played Nettou Golf? It you have, let us know what you thought of it in the comments below, or via our various social media channels.


Ortega said...

I love golf games (especially those made by Clap Handz), but I rather use buttons to drive instead of stick. It's very annoying to me.

Lewis Cox said...

Great article, Kev. The Everybody’s Golf PS4 servers got shut down recently so I’m looking for another colourful golf game to fill the hole. I think I’ll give this a try.

Tom Charnock said...

Nice - I don't think I've played this one to be fair. I wish they'd have made the golf bit in Sports Jam into a full blown golf game...

Unknown said...

Doesn't this game have a second part? I believe I have it, also for dcm

Lewis Cox said...

@unknown - you may be thinking of Golf Shiyouyo 2 (aka tee-off golf 2). Golf Shiyouyo also had an add-on disc released.

Janino296 said...

Will add it to the collection:) thanks