Mario Golf is a sports simulation game released on the Nintendo 64 in mid to late 1999. It was developed by Camelot and published by Nintendo. Mario Golf is considered to be one of the first Mario sports games that Nintendo released (not counting the golf game released on the NES) and hence started the modern series of Mario Golf as well as the equally popular Mario Tennis games. While the controls and mechanics for this game are a little complex, the golf courses are all quite unique and provide an increasing challenge as you play through the game.
Mario Golf initially only allows you to play with 4 characters on a new save file if you are playing in single player mode. However should you wish to play with other people, the game gives you access to three-quarters of the roster which includes a variety of characters from the Mario universe as well as a selection of human characters created by Camelot who have not appeared in any Mario Golf game since and once you unlock all the characters you get 14 in total with four additional characters if you have the game boy colour version of Mario Golf and have transferred your characters to the game using the Transfer Pak. Each character has one of three golfing styles and differing max distances that they can cover which affect where the ball will land and how far it will go when playing through the courses. To unlock the characters in single player mode you have to beat the silhouetted characters in Get Character Mode where you have to win against your opponent by obtaining ten gold medals by getting a lower stroke score than your opponent. Initially the computer characters make really sloppy and obvious mistakes but as you gradually beat them the computer character’s golfing game starts to become more precise and efficient and they make little to no mistakes though I find it hilarious that a lot of the computer AI seem to struggle with the par-3 holes which could be a coincidence or a programming oversight. This gradual difficulty curve would align well with someone who is playing the game for the first time as they would gradually learn how to master it. If you are struggling with the later characters there is a training mode where you can take on the courses one at a time to improve your golfing game on the courses you are struggling on. However Get Character mode is not the only way to unlock characters. Both tournament mode and ring shot mode provide alternative ways of unlocking characters which encourages players to try out the game’s content fully. This is a great game design choice.
Tournament mode pits you against 29 other computer characters in a competition to get the lowest score possible to earn a bronze, silver or gold trophy for placing in 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively. After each hole you are put on a leader board to see how you compare to the other computer characters. At the end of each tournament you obtain a certain amount of experience points which go towards unlocking the next course. There are a total of six courses in this game and each of them is more challenging than the last. You start off in Toad Highlands where there are open fairways, not many entry hazards, low weather conditions and relatively easy putting sections and eventually head to courses like Boo Valley where a combination of high winds and rain can send the ball in any direction which make it challenging to get below par. You constantly have to pay attention to the weather conditions in the later courses which provide a decent challenge especially when you start collecting all the birdie badges which are necessary to unlock a few characters in the game.
Ring shot mode involves shooting your golf ball through rings and scoring par on six select holes on each course. What sets this apart from the other two modes is that it sometimes forces you into entry hazards like sand or rough grass to be able to go through the rings and score a par. This allows you to improve your golfing game dramatically as knowing how to get out of entry hazards and still scoring at par level can help you make a comeback in tournament mode and get character mode. Personally I spent hours on a few of the later ring shot holes as I had to get the ball to go into a certain area at just the right angle and spin to score a par. It also helps you get up and close with some of the harder holes in the game so that when you play them against other players you know every detail of the course which helps to get a low score. My only criticism with this mode is that there weren’t more ring shot courses available but that might be just personal preference. If you complete almost all of the 36 holes you unlock a special character.
Other single player modes include speed golf where you try to get the lowest time possible on each of the courses; stroke play where you play a standard match of golf to get the lowest score and mini-golf where you can practice your putting on two specialised putting courses. In multiplayer mode both stroke play and mini-golf are available as well as skins match which is similar to the single player Get Character mode but instead of getting a medal for beating your opponent at a hole you get a point and the player with the most points win. Lastly there is the Club Slots mode which has the same premise of Skins match but three clubs are chosen at random and you can only use those three clubs to get through the course which provides an interesting challenge and competition for both players. These different modes in multiplayer provide a fun way of playing golf and testing your skills against another player though adding a multiplayer version of the speed golf mode would’ve been great.
Graphics and Sound:
The courses in Mario Golf 64 are all unique and each of them is vibrant with colour. In Toad Highlands you have clear fairways that take you through small green forests whereas Shy Guy Desert is surrounded by yellow sand dunes and cacti. The courses are designed appropriately around their themes. The music that accompanies the courses is often relaxing (it is a golf game after all) but not very memorable. The music track in Yoshi’s Island is particularly annoying as you have Donkey Kong shouting in the background and often at a time when you need to concentrate on shooting the ball, I can’t count the times I’ve been putting on the green or trying to get out of an entry hazard when at the last second my concentration is broken by Donkey Kong’s sound effect in this course and I end up messing up my shot. This being put aside, overall Mario Golf’s courses are aesthetically pleasing while being accompanied by a mostly relaxing soundtrack.
The controls and mechanics in this game can take a while to pick up. When you take a shot you are presented with a horizontal line at the bottom of the screen with a silver rectangle that goes across the line from left to right when you press “A.” To get the best shot possible you have to press “A” when the moving silver rectangle aligns with the silver rectangle on either side of the line, if done correctly you should hear a Mario coin sound effect and the rectangles will both be shining and you will get a “Nice shot.” You can also press “B” before hitting the ball to get a power boost to your shot, you can only do this six times unless you get a perfect shot. While putting on the green the “B” button can also change to three different types of putting ranges: short, medium and long. You can also use the control stick/joystick to control where the club will hit the ball which is represented by a red dot. Unfortunately you cannot pre-set this and have to do it while you are lining up the shot with the “A” button which can make it sometimes difficult to line up a perfect shot as your attention is divided. It may have been better to pre-select the spin on the ball using the D or C pad instead. Should you need to change the club size for any reason you can do so by flicking the control stick up and down before lining up a shot. You can also use the “R” button to check where the ball is likely to land before you make an attempt to line up a shot. Mastering where to hit the ball will be helpful in later courses where you need a bit of extra power or spin to get up a hill or to avoid wind effects.
Conclusion: Overall Mario Golf 64 is a vibrant and fun golfing game with many hours of interesting and challenging gameplay to be had. Each of the golf courses has its own unique feel and theme to it and while the soundtrack isn’t by any means memorable, it is still a pleasurable experience to be had by all.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10
Interesting Fact: The Japanese and US version intro themes (NTSC) are different to the Australian/European opening themes (PAL). Here are the links provided below so you can check it out for yourself.
NTSC Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcyYyD64tO4
PAL Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWtoGPxGO6s