Posted on August 2nd, 2009 4 comments
Release Date: 12/22/88
Price: 4900 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 22.52 / 30.00
Kōgien: “An uncommon gateball simulator with a rules tutorial mode that explains how to play for beginners. Two play modes let you challenge the computer or a friend.”
Invented by Hokkaido resident Kazunobu Suzuki in 1947 as a low-cost children’s sport, gateball — a team-based, more strategic take on the sport of croquet — quickly caught on among the elderly since it emphasizes teamwork and doesn’t require a lot of physical strength. All you need is the ability to hit a ball on the ground with a mallet, and you can join in any league you like. There was something very pastoral, tender in a way, about going to the park on weekends while I lived in Japan and seeing the grannies and grampsters playing gateball and laughing away the afternoon. I say “was” because now that I know the rules, I have realized that gateball is one of the most barbaric sports ever invented. Not exaggerating.
Here are the basic rules of gateball, as kindly explained in the game’s extensive tutorial (your average PCE owner would’ve needed it, believe me):
- Gateball is played between two teams of five players on a lawn with three numbered “gates,” or wickets. The object of each individual player is to hit their ball through these gates in the specified direction, then hit the “goal pole” in the middle of the field to finish off.
- The game ends when all the players on a team finish, or if the time limit expires.
Pretty simple and pastoral so far, yeah? I sort of figured out the basic idea watching the oldsters play in Japan because my family considered croquet a great lawn game and argument-starter at backyard barbecues and gateball is not that far removed. Well, it gets much nastier.
- If your ball hits another, whether from your team or the opponent, you can do a “croquet stroke” (the game calls it a “spark shot”) on the ball you hit, sending it anywhere you like with your shot. Then you get another turn.
- The field is enclosed by a boundary, and a ball is knocked out of bounds if it crosses that boundary, even if it was sent out of bounds by an opposing team’s croquet stroke.
- If your ball is knocked out of bounds, then you are only allowed to hit the ball back in with your next turn. Using this shot to score a gate or hit another ball is against the rules and makes you lose your turn.
This is where all the game’s strategy comes in. If you hit a friendly ball, you can hit it someplace that makes it easier for the ball’s owner to advance it ahead. If you hit an enemy ball, you can send it flying out of bounds — and if all the opposing team’s balls are concentrated in a single area, say the goal pole, you can hit one and then keep chaining hits together to knock every ball out of bounds in one turn.
This game’s suddenly sounding a lot more competitive, isn’t it? You had better get used to it, because the computer will use this strategy all the time. If you try to play like a sweet old spinster with an artificial hip, you will spend the entire match out of bounds. The only way to compete is to give the CPU a taste of its own medicine. Pastoral, my ass. This ain’t no sports game, it’s a fighting game. I’m amazed I didn’t see any old, bent-over Japanese men take their mallets to each other’s heads after someone went all guerrilla on their team’s balls one too many times.
Gateball allegedly has a player base of over six million people worldwide, but like shuffleboard, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who sees it as anything besides an oldster-sport. That said, this game is extremely helpful to newbies — one flip through the rule section, and you’ll have enough knowledge to hold your own against the easy level in no time. In fact, the game does such a good job simulating its sport and making it approachable for the average game-console owner that, uh, you can’t help but wonder why they’re doing all this for gateball, of all things.
There are only two gateball sims in existence on consoles — this game, and The Gateball, a 1999 PS1 budget game from D3 Publisher. This is undoubtedly the better of the two, in no small part because the Hudson Lounge Orchestra is back in action with the music here.
You can see a couple small samples of Appare! on YouTube, but instead I will link to a Nicovideo that features a full match against the toughest CPU team in the game, giving you a full idea of gateball’s barbaric levels of competitiveness.