Mario Golf
  • Genre:
    • Sports
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Camelot
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 06/11/1999
    • US 07/26/1999
    • UK 09/14/1999
Score: 80%

This review was published on 02/20/2016.

Mario Golf is a sports video game published by Nintendo and developed by Camelot Software Planning for the Nintendo 64. It was originally released in Japan on June 11, 1999, North America on July 26, 1999, and Europe on September 14, 1999. This is the first game in the now prolific Mario Golf series, but it's not the first golf game made by Nintendo, nor is it the first golf game to feature Mario. There were two other golf games released on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, one of which was simply titled Golf and the other was named NES Open Tournament Golf. In Japan, NES Open Tournament Golf was called Mario Open Golf, so some consider that the true start of the Mario Golf series. In that sense, Mario Golf on the N64 could be referred to as a sequel. Shortly after the N64 Mario Golf came out, Nintendo released another game with the same title on the Game Boy Color, but it was drastically different in that it had RPG elements added to the mix. This review will primarily discuss the N64 version, which is pretty good for a golfing game.

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Despite taking place in a world where Italian plumbers rescue princesses from giant turtles, Mario Golf stays true to the rules of real golf. That's to say, you swing a club to hit a tiny ball into a faraway hole. The idea is to get the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible. In golf, the score is signified by number of strokes, meaning a lower number is better. Just don't have a stroke. As for actually controlling the game, that's fairly simple. When you're about to hit the ball, a growing and shrinking meter will suddenly appear, and you have to properly time your button presses to get the desired size. The better the timing, the more accurate the shot will be. Getting a larger meter will also apply more power to the shot, causing it to travel a farther distance. Bigger is not always better, however, as getting too large of a meter may cause you to overshoot the ball. The whole game revolves around this one central mechanic, so it pays to get good at it. Luckily, this adds thrill to the game of golf without overly taxing the player, making for fun times.

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This game simplifies the golfing mechanics as much as possible, automating most of the more technical aspects so the player can focus squarely on hitting the ball. However, beneath the simple exterior lies a sea of complexities. Before actually making a shot, you have a plethora of options you can mess around with to influence where the ball will land. You can change clubs, give the ball backspin, and more. Generally, the game will automatically give you its recommended settings for every shot, but you're always free to change these if you think you can do better. There are also a lot of variables to account for, like the wind direction, the type of terrain, and so on. Most of this information is listed on the screen or is accessible somewhere within the intuitive interface. Also, thanks to the 3-D capabilities of the N64, you're able to move the camera around to get an excellent view of the golf course. Combined with the handy onscreen info, this gives you the ability to better estimate where your shot is going to go before you take a swing. As a result of all this, Mario Golf can accommodate both beginner and pro golfers.

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You can play as different characters, all of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some hit the ball farther while others might have greater accuracy. They've also got unique animations and voice clips, giving them a nice dose of personality. In addition to familiar faces like Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Wario, this game has a few unique characters created by Camelot, like Plum, Charlie, and Maple. In stark contrast to the Mario characters, all the Camelot characters look like standard humans, making them stick out like a sore thumb. Another oddity is that this game has Baby Mario as a playable character, despite adult Mario already being present in the game. This means you can set up a strange scenario in which Mario plays golf with his baby self. Many of the characters are unlocked in a mode called "Get Character," where you challenge the desired character in a golf match to win the right to use them. Unfortunately, you begin the game with only four characters and must unlock the rest. Further, you don't even start off with Mario, despite his name being in the game's title! Other than that, the character selection is fair.

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There are many modes of play in Mario Golf. Besides the regular mode where you play a standard game of golf, there's something called tournament mode, which has you play in a tournament against 29 other computer players. This isn't as exciting as it sounds, however, as you don't get to actually see the other players in action; you're basically just challenging a leader board of invisible opponents. If you want to actually see your computer opponent play golf, then you'll have to use the aforementioned Get Character mode, which also lets you have rematches with characters you've already gotten. For something a little more unorthodox, you can shoot golf balls through rings in the challenging Ring Shot mode. Speaking of unorthodox, there's also a mode called Speed Golf that has you compete for the best times instead of getting the fewest strokes. You can even play a round of mini-golf! On top of all that, there's a training mode that lets you practice on any specific hole from any unlocked course, and it even allows you to control the wind and weather. With all these modes, there's more than enough golf to satisfy everyone.

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Different courses can be unlocked by gathering Course Points. In order to acquire Course Points, one must simply play the game; winning random matches, beating tournaments, and doing other similar stuff will do the trick. Once enough points have been collected, you'll unlock the next course in line. Like real golf, all courses consist of 18 holes. Also like real golf, every course has something referred to as a par. Usually the par is three, but sometimes it can be four or more. A par is the minimum amount of strokes necessary to get a zero added to your total score. If you manage to sink the ball in fewer strokes than the par, then you'll get a score in the negatives. Remember, a lower score is better in golf, so having negative points is a good thing. Beyond the par requirements, courses will obviously differ in their terrain, with the tougher courses having harsher environments. There are a good amount of courses and they're all solid, but like with the characters, you don't start with many. In fact, you only start with one. If you ask me, that's kind of lame.

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After you get bored of all the single player modes, you can then choose to tee off against up to four friends. Due to the nature of golf, players take turns hitting the ball. Because of that, the game lets you pass around the same controller for multiplayer, if you so choose. Some of the single player modes can be played with multiple people, like the standard play and mini-golf, but there are a few modes exclusive to the multiplayer. One of those modes is known as a Skins Match. In a Skins Match, the player with the best score on a hole will win a star coin. If the hole ends in a tie, the star coin will be carried over onto the next hole, where two star coins will now be at stake. This repeats until a hole is won. Obviously, whoever has the most coins by the end wins. The other multiplayer exclusive mode is Club Shots. In this strange mode, players play a slot machine before each hole to determine what clubs they'll be allowed to use. This adds an element of luck to the proceedings, which may or may not be desired. Regardless, golfing with friends is more fun than golfing alone.

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An accessory called the Transfer Pak can be used with this game. In case you're unaware, the Transfer Pak connects to the expansion port of an N64 controller and has a slot that accepts a single Game Boy or Game Boy Color cartridge. The purpose of the device is to transfer data from a Game Boy or Game Boy Color cartridge to an N64 game. It came packaged with Pokemon Stadium and was primarily used to transfer Pokemon, but it can be used in a couple of other games, like Mario Golf. In Mario Golf, you can use the Transfer Pak to transfer characters from the Game Boy Color version of the game to the N64 one. The handheld version of Mario Golf lets you create your own character and then level them up to permanently upgrade their statistical parameters; these are the beings you can bring on over to the N64 game to see them in full 3-D. There are some limitations in place when using these characters on the N64 version, but this is still a neat feature.

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Nintendo has a reputation for creating games that entice players to try something outside of their comfort zone, and Mario Golf is one such game. Like Mario Kart before it, Mario Golf introduced many gamers to a genre they never otherwise would have experienced. In other words, this is a golf game for people who don't like golf games. Even if you're not the golfing type, you should still consider trying this game out. Give Mario Golf a shot.

Word Count: 1,649

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