This review was originally published in 2008, and we’re updating and republishing it to mark the game’s arrival on Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.
After Mario’s forays into non-platform genres – you know, Karting, Picross-ing, Dr. Mario…ing – Nintendo has achieved something: put Mario in a game and it sells in spades. Soon Mario and company. began to play in sports games of various types. In the years that followed, he took up baseball, football and even Dance Dance Revolution. His very first headlining foray into the world of sports came with Mario’s Tennis on Virtual Boy, however – an inauspicious start thanks to that console’s commercial failure. Undeterred, Nintendo threw a golf bag at the plumber and pushed him down the fairway in a game that took about two seconds to imagine a title.
So Mario Golf on N64 was almost the first Mario sports game, certainly the first on a home console you’ve played on a TV, and that’s what you’d expect: Golf, with Mario. Pretty obvious thanks to that dynamite title, but it’s worth pointing out because if you’re expecting more of the dazzling spectacle from the mascot’s more recent sports outing – games that take true artistic license with the rules of the rated real-world sport – Camelot’s first hit in this particular series is a much simpler affair. It’s great fun, but you won’t be running the fairway in the speed golf version of this game.
As standard you get a number of different clubs to select from; woods, irons, wedges, depending on the terrain you are hitting. For anyone who has never played video golf, after you select a club and start your swing, a power bar will appear. A small marker then moves along the bar from right to left and you press ‘A’ when it is as far left as possible: the closer it is, the more powerful your swing. The marker immediately begins to slide to the right and you stop it as close as possible to the point of origin: the closer you are, the more accurate your shot will be. You should also pay attention to the force of the wind, which could deflect your ball from its trajectory if you don’t adjust your shot.
In addition to being able to select an “Approach” shot (to get the ball to the green when you’re close, but not quite there), you can select a “Power” shot, which flies the ball a long way. When you start a course you will only have six power shots at your disposal, however, if you use one and then get a “perfect” shot (i.e. stopping the marker at full power and with perfect precision), your powerful blow will not be used. and the ball will fly even further, accompanied by a special effect depending on the character – Mario’s ball is engulfed in flames, for example. If you’re only slightly behind, however, you’ll miss the extra distance and lose your power shot as well.
It is one of the few Mario games with non-Mushroom Kingdom playable characters. You get Luigi, Wario, Yoshi, Peach, DK, et al, but there’s also a bunch of new “human” characters to choose from, including Charlie, Harry, and the most well-known, Plum. You also only have access to four characters at the start (Baby Mario, Peach, Charlie and Plum) and to unlock all the others (yes, even Mario!) you have to beat them, one by one, in Get Character mode. . Don’t expect an easy ride either; the AI is actually quite brutal with you.
Thanks to the fact that you unlock the characters in a specific order, the game no doubt suffers from balance issues. The max driving distance of the starting characters is around 200 meters, but the later characters you unlock can all reach over 300, which means there’s absolutely no reason to use the old characters once. once you’ve unlocked better ones.
The only other stat that matters is each character’s shot type; some shoot the ball straight, but others have a “Draw” or a “Fade”, which means the ball will naturally go right or left, respectively, and then curve towards the middle. This means you have to be very careful of large obstacles such as trees, and it introduces an extra layer of strategy, but overall it doesn’t really make much of a difference.
The game however has a ton of modes to test your skills. Besides the aforementioned Get Character Mode, there is a Tournament, Mini-Golf – which lets you unleash your Putt-Putt skills – Ring Shot (shoot the ball through floating rings), Speed Golf (essentially a game mode) time attack) and a variety of counter modes, such as Stroke Play (the player with the lowest score wins), Club Slots (before each hole, you spin a slot machine, which selects only three clubs to use) and more. The main gameplay itself might be simple, but there’s plenty of fun to be had as you gain experience and unlock new courses, eight of which are in total.
The original game on N64 also allowed you to unlock more characters and transfer your player character from the excellent RPG-style Game Boy Color Mario Golf into this version, a feature that is unfortunately missing from later versions. Even without this feature, however, the first Mario Golf title remains as solid and enjoyable as it was in 1999, and while it lacks the fireworks and shenanigans that characterize Mario Sports titles in over the years (the kind of noisy energy that would most certainly take you out of the St Andrews clubhouse unceremoniously) there will be many fans of golf games for whom this more measured, less crazy approach will appeal all the more.
If you’re looking for a crazy golf game featuring Mario and the gang… you might be a little disappointed with the original Mario Golf. Aside from a few holes shaped like Mario characters, each course is truly “normal” and has no manic Mushroom Kingdom obstacles to avoid; it really is a Golf game first. However, if you like a bit more realism than more recent series entries (not much, be warned, there’s still a tie-wearing gorilla and a giant fire-breathing tortoise as playable characters!), you really can’t. fool you here. Unlocking all characters will be a long and difficult task, but you will have a great time in the process. Grab your loud clubs and pants and step onto the fairway. Before !