Golden Tee Golf (iOS) Review


Believe or not, I’d consider myself a fan of Golden Tee Golf. While I don’t play very often—nor do I specifically seek it out—I’ll hardly ever pass up an 18-hole game if I see a cab in the wild.

I usually don’t play mobile games, seeing as how most of them are awful. But when I heard there was a mobile version of Golden Tee on the market, I was tentatively interested, even if the title’s free-to-play nature wasn’t exactly reassuring.

To paraphrase Eugene Jarvis, most mobile games feel like a monetization system with a game thrown on top. I didn’t know if I could trust a company partially known for producing casino games (GROSS!) to craft a reasonable phone game experience.

Now, six months or so after its release, I’m ready to give Golden Tee mobile a fair shake. Do I think it’ll be good? Maybe so. Maybe not. That’s what this review is for, isn’t it?

Golden Tee Golf

Developer: Incredible Technologies

Publisher: Incredible Technologies

Release date: October 28, 2019

Gameplay

Golden Tee Golf plays more or less exactly like its arcade counterpart, albeit reformatted for a mobile interface. This is a major plus considering how poorly the rest of the experience holds up.

Upon booting up the game, you’ll be thrust into the game’s unskippable tutorial that plays out, almost note-for-note, like every other mobile game tutorial ever. Seriously, all the hallmarks were there, from the female narrator speaking through text boxes to the gloved finger showing me how to perform incredibly simple actions.

Although I did, in fact, pick up the basics of gameplay, I also felt like I was being trained like a dog to respond to the monetization system. The tutorial kept dangling free cosmetics at me—something I knew would be sold to me piecemeal later on.

Once I got into the real game, everything felt really nice. Gameplay-wise, this is probably the best approximation of the arcade game we could’ve possibly gotten on mobile. Everything you’d expect from Golden Tee is here.

The overarching goal in the campaign is, of course, to get your ball in the hole by taking as few strokes as possible. Golden Tee mobile does a fair job of mixing up the flow by offering boosts, mulligans, and a variety of clubs and balls to assist you in reaching this goal.

Since I don’t know much about golf, I mostly just used the clubs the game suggested to me, with a few exceptions made by my personal judgment. There’s a large selection of clubs available, so you’ll have plenty of leeway when plotting out strategies for each hole.

What I absolutely refused to use were boosts, mulligans, and different balls. Why would I deny such variety, you may ask? Because these items are expendable and cost real money to replenish. I promise you I wasn’t throwing any cash at a silly mobile game. That’s not my style.

Your performance on holes and in challenge levels is rated on a scale of one to three stars, something we’ve come to expect from phone games by now. As basic as this scoring system is, I suppose it’s just part of approximating the Golden Tee experience for the mobile space.

In typical Golden Tee fashion, the course design is pretty dang brilliant. You will see a lot of boring green grass, yes, but that doesn’t mean the actual mechanics of each hole aren’t interesting. I adored how the terrain—and sometimes, even weather—worked against me in my golfing exploits.

There’s a real sense of challenge here, especially if you’re not an experienced player. While I could plow through most of the novice-level holes, I sometimes struggled as I progressed deeper into the game. I definitely appreciated the gradually sloping difficulty curve.

I’d even contend that, from a gameplay perspective, this is truly an above-average experience. The mechanics feel much more involved than the usual “twiddle-your-thumbs-while-you’re-bored” App Store fare.

Golden Tee mobile functions well enough to get me excited about the game of golf, despite how much I hate sports in real life. That’s a real testament to the developers’ skill. Much to my chagrin, that’s about where the positives end.

Content

Golden Tee Golf would boast a decently solid selection of content if so much of it weren’t being pawned off to the player at any given time. One look at the main menu makes it immediately clear that this is yet another mobile game built around its own dastardly economy.

Let’s start with what doesn’t suck. You’ve got four primary game modes: Challenges, Head to Head, Contest, and Campaign. I got a lot of time out of these modes, as they’re each surprisingly substantial.

There are 36 challenges broken into novice, advanced, expert, and pro difficulty levels. These are short, fun diversions for the usual golf beat that help squeeze some more life out of the base golf mechanics.

Head to Head mode allows you to challenge your friends or join a “League Matchup” to compete for score online. Even though I didn’t battle rivals in real-time, comparing my numbers to others’ was still a good change of pace.

Contest mode also pits you against other players, this time in competition for a pool silver and gold currency. I tried this mode once and was every bit as bad as I thought I would be. This one’s for the pros.

The Campaign mode is where the real meat of the experience lies. There 54 holes divided in six courses: Hawaii (Front 9), Iceland (Front 9), Las Vegas (Front 9), Hawaii (Back 9), Iceland (Back 9), and Las Vegas) Back 9). Like challenges. each course can be played on novice, advanced, expert, or pro.

These four game modes together make for a positively huge lineup of activities, an accolade I can’t deny this title. Based on my estimation, it'll take me a good, long time to complete all there is to complete. (I haven't yet.) You, too, will likely derive good value out of knocking everything out in succession.

As nice as all this sounds, the content is severely hampered by a lack of replayability. That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to play holes again. On the contrary, it means the game actively discourages it.

You see, in Golden Tee mobile, replaying completed holes in the campaign costs silver, the game’s “free” currency. If you so much as dare to go back into previous holes to improve your score, the game will penalize you, and the only way to earn that silver back is by completing new holes (or watching an advertisement).

This is the title’s great paradox. Once you’ve burned through everything, you can either replay levels at a slower rate or spend real cash to more quickly accrue currency. It’s a yucky system—and part of why Golden Tee mobile fails so miserably despite its otherwise high-quality content.

Most of the content that should serve as unlockable bonuses are instead made available to purchase for real money in the game’s shop. Strap your seatbelts, folks. This is where things get nasty.

This game commits essentially every microtransaction in the book. You can purchase DLC packs of every make and model; cosmetic items in the form of apparel; gameplay-altering items in the form of clubs and club upgrades; boosters in the form of timed silver coin and experience multipliers; disposable items in the form of tees and balls; and literal freaking loot boxes in the form of chests.

Adhering to the mobile game status quo, the shop and purchasing process are dolled up to be as sleazy and psychologically manipulative as possible. Never before have I felt more patronized than when I collected my first (and only) free chest. I’m practically gagging just thinking about it.

If you’re feeling particularly primed to worship the freemium gods, you can also watch advertisements for other cruddy mobile games to earn even more useless junk. Golden Tee mobile’s monetization system is about as pathetic as it gets.

Not only is everything for sale, but most of it’s also on a timer. Those desperate for useless digital goods have to fork up cold, hard cash within a certain time frame—often three to four days—or risk losing the opportunity forever. It’s sick, it’s twisted, and it’s all perfectly standard for the FOMO-fest that is mobile gaming.

Buying all the DLC packs made available to me would cost an insane $16.95. I’d understand purchasing Golden Tee mobile outright with no additional monetization for $16.95, but shelling out that much for a rotating lineup of valueless trash is ludicrous.

(Quick aside: If anyone who worked on this game is reading this review, I’d like you to know that no matter how normalized they may become, microtransactions will never be truly acceptable. Some of us remember what gaming was like before developers nickeled and dimed their players.)

It’s all too telling that the game’s age rating on the App Store clocks in at a whopping “17+” for “Gambling and Contests.” Golden Tee mobile isn’t your friend, unless your friend conditions you to give him your money before every week is up.

To give the game some credit, I should disclose that you receive silver and expendable items as reward for most accomplishments. However, something about microtransactions even being there makes my blood boil.

Golden Tee mobile could have been a fantastic package if it weren’t for all the premium garbage laden on top of the real content. Unfortunately, it seems that Incredible Technologies was too hungry for all the tasty “recurrent user spending” they could worm out of their playerbase with a “free”-to-play model.

Controls

Good news for Golden Tee fanatics: a touch screen is a very suitable substitute for a proper trackball. While I’m not a technical player by any means, it seems to me that any swing you can make in the arcade can be replicated here.

The basic controls are extremely simplistic and function remarkably well. Pull one finger back and then swipe forward to swing your club. Drag two fingers across the screen to adjust your position. Tap one finger twice to reset your position. Tap HUD items to select and toggle them.

Swinging took a bit of getting used in that I had to determine what swiping speed was necessary hit the ball certain distances. That being said, the HUD provides an indicator to gauge the power of your shot.

The variety of swings at your disposal are still representing by certain “A, B, C” and “1, 2, 3” combinations, so you won’t have to worry about getting used to a new system. This should a very familiar experience for coin-op players.

I would be severely reaching if I had to come up with any criticisms of the controls. While golfing may feel better with a trackball or a batting stick—shout-out to my homie Skins Game—a touch screen is just as sufficient.

Graphics/Presentation

I can say with certainty that Golden Tee Golf ran like butter on my iPhone 8. Even at max graphics settings, this dude didn’t stutter once. No matter how much I may dislike this product, I can deny it was effectively optimized.

The game doesn’t look half-bad either. The developers achieved what appears to be near-total visual parity with the arcade release. Granted, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Golden Tee’s visual style—the characters look lifeless to me—but I can’t, in good conscience, ignore this achievement.

The presentation feels like Golden Tee should. The HUD contains all the familiar elements formatted for a touch screen. The fonts, colors, and artwork all exuberate that epitomic Golden Tee Live style.

I really like the game’s flashier elements, as well. Being rewarded with exciting visual stimuli for striking a massive drive, nailing a deep putt, or earning an epic score makes for satisfying feedback.

An easy to overlook but still crucial element to mention is the lightning quick loading times. I haven’t played a mobile game in ages, so maybe this is commonplace now, but it certainly took me by surprise. Jumping into a hole is a speedy process.

The only major criticism I have is that, in spite of everything emblematic of Golden Tee on display, the presentation still comes off like every other mobile game ever. All the familiar hallmarks of a cheap cash grab screamed at me from the main menu and beyond.

While some argue that following the standard breeds familiarity and therefore a better quality-of-life experience, I’m more of the mind that such a design lacks originality. I want Golden Tee mobile to be its own thing, standing out from the pack. I’m mixed on whether it achieves this or not.

That being said, Golden Tee Golf is still a fine-looking game. I’d be straight-up lying if I told you otherwise, regardless of my many criticisms in other departments.

Sound/Music

For the sake of fairness, I’ll gladly admit that I like the sound design just fine. The music and sound effects may as well have been ripped straight from Golden Tee Live 2020, given how faithful they are.

I’ll admit that I would’ve better enjoyed a soundtrack comprised of more than one song. The main menu music is the only music at all. Gameplay consists of serene golfing ambiance. This is a fine choice, mind you; it’s just not my personal preference. Your mileage may vary.

That being said, the aformentioned “serene golfing ambiance” is done really well. As with real-life golf, you’ll find yourself immersed in the subdued applause of spectators, the gentle splash of waves in surrounding bodies of water, and the satisfying “wop” of sending your golf ball into the sky.

The only major issue is the lack of the snarky announcer from the arcade version. I’m not sure why this omission was made, but his absence is extremely noticeable. There’s less character to the experience, ya know?

Golden Tee Golf for iOS and Android is not a bad game. In fact, from purely a gameplay standpoint, it’s probably the best possible translation of the arcade hit to the mobile phone platform.

Sadly, the absolutely insiduous monetization system kills any chance this had of bringing me—someone who strongly dislikes mobile games—into the mobile market. I simply can’t stomach the grossness of it all.

I’m sure there are plenty of diehard virtual golfers dying to throw cash at this economy—otherwise, it wouldn’t have an average user rating of 4.9 out of 5 on the App Store—but I’m clocking out, man. I can’t deal with this any longer.

As much as it pains me to say it, there’s no way I can recommend Golden Tee Golf mobile to you aside from burning through the single-player levels. You’re better off playing the actual arcade game, buying one of the old plug-and-play units, or waiting for Golden Tee GO.

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