This review originally went live 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-platforming genres — you know, the Karting, the Picross-ing, the Dr. Mario…ing — Nintendo realised something: put Mario in a game and it sells by the bucketload. Soon Mario and co. began starring in sports games of different types. In the years that followed he took up baseball, soccer and even Dance Dance Revolution. His very first headlining foray in the world of sport came with Mario’s Tennis on the Virtual Boy, though — an inauspicious start thanks to the commercial failure of that console. Undeterred, Nintendo threw the plumber a golf bag and shoved him out on the fairway in a game which took approximately two seconds to think up a title for.
So, Mario Golf on N64 was almost The first Mario sports game, certainly the first on a home console you played on a TV, and it is what you’d expect: Golf, with Mario. Pretty self-evident thanks to that dynamite title, but it’s worth highlighting because if you’re expecting more of the dazzling spectacle of the mascot’s more recent sporting output — games which take some real artistic license with the rules of the nominal real-world sport — Camelot’s first shot in this particular series is a much straighter affair. It’s great fun, but you won’t be running across the fairway in this game’s version of speed golf.
As standard, you get a number of different clubs to select; Woods, irons, wedges, depending on the terrain you’re hitting off of. For anyone who has never played video game golf, after selecting a club and beginning 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’s as close to the far left as possible: the closer it is, the more powerful your swing. The marker immediately starts sliding back right and you stop it as close to the origin point as possible: the closer you are, the more accurate your shot will be. You need to pay attention to the strength of the wind, too, which could send your ball way off course if you don’t adjust your shot.
Aside from being able to select an “Approach” shot (to get the ball on the green when you’re close, but not quite there), you can select a “Power” shot, which makes the ball fly extra far. 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 (meaning stopping the marker at full power 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 is engulfed in flames, for instance. If you’re only slightly off, however, you’ll miss out on the extra distance and lose your Power shot, too.
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’s also a bunch of previously unseen ‘human’ characters to pick from, including Charlie, Harry and the most well-known one, Plum. You only have access to four characters at the start, too (Baby Mario, Peach, Charlie and Plum) and in order to unlock everybody else (yes, even Mario!) you have to beat them, one by one, in the Get Character mode. Don’t expect an easy ride, either; the AI is actually quite rough on you.
Thanks to the fact you unlock the characters in a specific order, the game arguably suffers from balance issues. The starter characters’ maximum drive distance is around 200 yards, but the final characters you unlock can all hit over 300, meaning there’s absolutely no reason to use the old characters once you unlock better ones.
The only other stat that matters is each characters’ shot type; Some shoot the ball straight, but others have a “draw” or a “fade”, meaning the ball will naturally go right or left, respectively, and then curve back to the middle. This means you have to be extra wary of large obstacles such as trees, and it does introduce an extra layer of strategy, but all in all, it doesn’t really make a huge difference.
The game has a ton of modes to test your skills in, though. Aside from the aforementioned Get Character mode, there’s 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, which selects a mere three clubs for you to use) and more. The main gameplay itself might be straight-laced, but there’s loads of fun to be had as you gain experience and unlock new courses, of which there are eight in total.
The original game on N64 also enabled 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’s unfortunate missing from releases. Even without that functionality, though, the first Mario Golf title remains as solid and enjoyable as it was back in 1999, and while it lacks the fireworks and shenanigans that have come to characterise Mario sports titles over the years (the kind of raucous energy that would most certainly get you turfed out of the St Andrews clubhouse in unceremonious fashion), there’ll be many golf game fans for whom that more measured, less zany approach will appeal all the more.
If you’re looking for a crazy game of golf featuring Mario and the gang… you might be a bit disappointed with the original Mario Golf. Aside from some holes shaped like Mario characters, each course is really quite ‘normal’ and doesn’t feature manic Mushroom Kingdom obstacles to avoid; this is very much a golf game first. However, if you like a little more realism than more recent series entries (not loads, mind — it still features a tie-wearing gorilla and a giant fire-breathing turtle as playable characters!), you really can’t go wrong here. Unlocking all the characters will be a long and difficult task, but you’ll have a great time in the process. Grab your clubs and loud trousers and get on the fairway. Fore!