This review was originally aired in 2008 and we are updating and republishing it to mark the game’s arrival on the Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.
After Mario’s foray into non-platform genres – you know, Karting, Picross-ing, Dr. Mario … ing – Nintendo realized something: Put Mario in a game and it sells in the crowd. Soon Mario and co. began to play the lead role in sports games of various types. In the years that followed, he began baseball, football, and even the Dance Dance Revolution. However, his very first major entry into the world of sports came with Mario’s Tennis on the Virtual Boy – an unfortunate start thanks to the commercial failure of that console. Undaunted, the Nintendo plumber threw a golf bag and pushed him out onto the fairway in a game that took about two seconds to come up with a title for.
So it was Mario Golf on the N64 almost the first Mario sports game, definitely the first on a home console you played on a TV, and that’s what you would expect: Golf, with Mario. Pretty obvious thanks to the dynamite title, but it’s worth highlighting, because if you expect more from the dazzling spectacle of the mascot’s recent sporting production – games that take a certain artistic license with the rules of the nominal real sport. – Camelot’s first shot in this particular series is a much more straightforward affair. It’s fun, but you do not run across the fairway in this game’s version of speed golf.
By default, you get a number of different clubs to choose from; forest, iron, wedges, depending on the terrain you hit from. For anyone who has never played video game golf, a power bar will pop up after selecting a club and commencing your swing. A small cursor then moves along the bar from right to left, and you press ‘A’ when it is as close to the far left as possible: the closer it is, the stronger your swing. The cursor immediately starts sliding back to the right and you stop it as close to the starting point as possible: the closer you are, the more accurate your shot will be. You also need to be aware of the strength of the wind, which can send your ball off course if you do not adjust your shot.
In addition to being able to select an “Approach” shot (to get the ball on the green when you are close, but not quite there), you can select a “Power” shot that causes the ball to fly extra far. When you start a course, you only have six Power Shots at your disposal, but if you use one and then get a “perfect” shot (which means stopping the cursor with full force and perfect accuracy), your Power Shot will not be used up and the ball will fly even further, accompanied by a special effect depending on the character – Mario’s ball, for example, is engulfed in flames. However, if you are only a little away, you will miss the extra distance and also lose your Power shot.
This is one of the few Mario games with non-Mushroom Kingdom playable characters. You get Luigi, Wario, Yoshi, Peach, DK, et al., But there are also a lot of unprecedented ‘human’ characters to choose from, including Charlie, Harry and the most famous, Plum. You also only have access to four characters in the beginning (Baby Mario, Peach, Charlie and Plum), and to unlock everyone else (yes, even Mario!) You must hit them one by one in Get Character mode. Also, do not expect an easy ride; The AI is actually pretty tough on you.
Thanks to the fact that you unlock the characters in a certain order, the game undoubtedly suffers from balance problems. The starting characters’ maximum driving distance is around 200 yards, but the last characters you unlock can all hit over 300, which means there is absolutely no reason to use the old characters once you unlock better.
The only other state that matters is the shot type of each character; some shoot the ball straight ahead, but others have a “Draw” or a “Fade”, which means that the ball will naturally go right or left, respectively, and then curve back to the center. That means you have to be extra vigilant against major obstacles such as trees, and it introduces an extra layer of strategy, but all in all, it does not really make that much of a difference.
However, the game has a wealth of modes to test your skills in. Apart from 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 time attack mode) and a variety of versus modes, such as Stroke Play (player with the lowest score wins), Club Slots (before each hole you spin a slot machine that selects only three clubs that you can use) and more. The main gameplay itself may be straightforward, but there is plenty of fun to be had when you gain experience and unlock new levels, of which there are eight in total.
The original gameplay on the N64 also enabled you to unlock multiple characters and transfer your player character from the excellent RPG-style Game Boy Color Mario Golf to this version, a feature that is unfortunately lacking in subsequent releases. Even without this functionality, the first Mario Golf title remains as solid and entertaining as it was back in 1999, and although it lacks the fireworks and disgrace that have come to characterize Mario sports titles over the years (that kind of heady energy, that would definitely get you out of St. Andrews clubhouse in an unpretentious way), there will be many golf game fans, for who saw more measured, less zany approach will appeal so much the more.
If you’re looking for a crazy game of golf with Mario and the gang … you might be a little disappointed with the original Mario Golf. Aside from some holes shaped like Mario characters, each course is actually quite ‘normal’ and has no manic Mushroom Kingdom obstacles to avoid; this is very much one golf played first. But if you like a little more realism than newer series contributions (not loads, mind you – it still has a tie-wearing gorilla and a giant fire-breathing turtle as playable characters!), You really can not go wrong here. It will be a long and difficult task to unlock all the characters, but you will have a good time in the process. Grab your clubs and loud pants and get on the fairway. In front of!