N64 Review: Mario Golf
Review by: Namek (namek@sm128c.com)

Game Info

 System: N64
 ESRB: Everyone
 Genre: Sports
 # of Players: 1-4
 Size: 192 Megabits
 Developer: Camelot
 Publisher: Nintendo

 Controller Pak: No
 Rumble Pak: Yes
 Transfer Pak: Yes

 Release Date:
 US: Jul 26, 1999
 EU: Sep 14, 1999
 JP: Jun 11, 1999

Screenshots:

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Final Score:
9.5/10

Golf is essentially the world's best multiplayer game. Somehow, hitting a white pill around a grassy course perfectly captures the spirit of competition, while still being a game that friends can play and still expect to be friends when the game is over. Why? Well, it probably has something to do with the fact that, despite being on the course at the same time, one isn't really competing against the people they're playing with. Like a troop of knights setting forth to slay a giant, green dragon, when a foursome takes to the links each player is taking on the same foe: the course itself.

Still, it is especially satisfying to have great round while your friends search for their ball all day long. These aspects turn golf into some sort of competitive / cooperative hybrid, where, if all the players have a great round, the competition can be fierce, but if one player struggles, his opponents understand, knowing that they have each struggled as well, and probably will again at some point.

Mario Golf, without a doubt the best golf effort on the N64 to date, perfectly captures these aspects of "the great game".

Unlike most golf sims, Mario Golf is presented in a high cutesy, cartoony manner. The golfers themselves are classic Nintendo characters, such as Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, and Yoshi. These characters will no doubt draw a younger crowd to Mario Golf, but what they'll find upon picking up their controller is a solid golf sim. The developers of Mario Golf, Camelot, have created a golf game that will not only delight younger players with its cute graphics and charming sound, but will also keep older gamers playing through a solid sim foundation.

The game's graphics, while being cute and cartoony, are impressive none-the-less. Camelot went to great lengths to make sure that no fog was used on any of the courses, and the result is quite spectacular. Even with no fog, however, the game doesn't suffer from any pop-in or framerate drops. The developers have maxed out the power of the N64 in order to allow golfers to view the courses from every possible angle without any fog or graphical pop-in, and the result is truly amazing.

Mario Golf's many courses also contain nods to classic Mario titles. For example, one course is a desert scene straight out of Mario 2 (the US version), and each golfer has an individual animation for extra good shots, such as Mario's ball turning into a fireflower fireball. These little touches will be endearing to younger players.

Despite these wonderful graphics, Camelot didn't skimp on gameplay. The game's physics engine is fantastic. Whether players are driving through a harsh rain or a driving wind, the ball will react appropriately. The game takes every aspect of a player's lie into account when determining ball flight, including the depth of the grass and even the slope of the lie. For example, when hitting from a downhill lie, players tend to push the ball, and must adjust their aim appropriately.

This attention to detail also serves to give Mario Golf a fairly steep learning curve. Unlike the mediocre Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics, one cannot simply jump into Mario Golf and expect to shot 4 under par. Fortunately, the game contains a learning mode where new players can perfect their shots before setting out onto the course. This mode should not be overlooked, because players won't get the most out of Mario Golf unless they can perform well on the links.

Despite its great graphics and physics, Mario Golf's audio is merely middle-of-the-road. The music is classic Nintendo fare, meaning overly cheerful in every respect, and while this is technically a matter of personal taste and not a design flaw, the music can get very annoying.

Perhaps more of a design flaw is the game's lack of a decent play-by-play announcer. The pathetic Waialae's one redeeming quality was its interesting announcer, and there is little doubt that had Mario Golf included a similarly great announcer, it would have made the game a bit more exciting. Still, the game does include a lot of speech from the characters themselves (even a little bit of taunting) and so the lack of an great announcer doesn't detract as much from the game as the inclusion of a bad announcer would have. Overall, the game's lackluster audio can easily be ignored amongst all the great features that the game includes.

At first glance, one may feel like Mario Golf is a little short on features. After all, when one first turns the game on, the one-player game only offers four golfers, and one course. However, by playing through the "get character mode", gamers can open up additional characters, and by playing through the other modes in the game, players earn experience points for great shots, the accumulation of which will eventually open new courses. When all is said and done, Mario Golf offers an amazing 6 courses (plus 2 mini-golf courses) and 16 characters (plus four more that can be accessed via the Game Boy Color and the GB Transfer Pak).

After playing Mario Golf for a while, one will realize that it is anything but short on features. The game offers more ways to play golf than one would ever expect. The game comes with all the normal golf games, such as stroke play and match play, but also offers several mini-golf courses, a unique speed-golf mode, as well as a "Pilotwings-inspired"hit-the-ball-through-the-rings mode. All of these modes add up to tons of replay value.

Even though all these modes make Mario Golf a great game for just one person, the game shines even brighter when more than one person is on the course. Just like real golf, Mario Golf was made for multiplayer. In fact, the guys at Camelot say that they specifically designed Mario Golf on the N64 as a multiplayer game, while the optimized Mario Golf on the GBC for solo-play.

Speaking of Mario Golf on the Game Boy Color, Mario Golf will make extensive use of the GB Transfer Pak when it is finally released (yet another reason for Nintendo to release it early?). Not only will players be able to unlock an additional four characters via the GBC version, but they'll also be able to create their own golfer, and import the character for play on the N64 version.

In an interesting RPG-type twist, these custom golfers will gain experience points that increase their ability. These features will give extra replay value to a game that is already going to be hard to put down.

Despite its young slant, Mario Golf is a great golf sim, and, while it can't (and probably shouldn't) be compared to the likes of Links, it is certainly the best golf simulation on the N64. As a result, the game targets an extremely large audience, from the younger Mario fans to the college crowd to the weekend golfer looking for something to do on weekdays. And, somehow, Mario Golf manages to please everyone. This game's high replay value makes it an easy-to-recommend purchase for golf fans of any age.

-- Namek (namek@sm128c.com)

Bottom Line: Mario Golf is the type of game that gets a sports genre back on it's feet by providing new ways of excitment instead of the original old ways of winning, like games such as NBA Jam and NFL Blitz.