Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mario Golf (N64) Retro Review

Retro reviews are reviews that are for games from last generation and prior. April is chockful of these, and I hope you're enjoying this look back at some notable titles. Today we're checking out Mario Golf for the Nintendo 64. I missed out on the Game Boy Color version which could sync up to the N64 game via the Transfer Pak. You'd unlock two or three new characters for play. Regardless, let's walk down to the first tee and see how Mario Golf fares!

Hit the links with Mario and company


Mario may be a simple plumber, but he's far from a slouch. In between excursions of besting big bad Bowser and rescuing the princess from harm's way, he gets a lot of exercise whether he's racing around the Mushroom Kingdom, playing tennis, or even playing a round or two... or twelve-- of golf. The original Mario Golf hit the Nintendo 64 in the late nineties, and it would become a great franchise in Nintendo's impressive arsenal of sports titles. Get ready to tee off and learn why.

Mario Golf sets itself apart from other goofy golf games of the past with a huge lineup of modes and things to do. As you play through the various modes and play rounds of golf, you earn experience points at the end of every round. These experience points add up and allow you to play on new courses-- six in all. There's a wide amount of modes to earn experience in from tournament, versus computer, match play, ring golf, speed golf, mini golf, and many more.

Many modes await you in Mario Golf!

Tournament play is what you'd expect. You play eighteen holes of golf, and you try to score big to stay on top of the leaderboards. While you play your round, you earn special birdie badges for shooting under par on a given hole. There's 108 birdie badges to collect in all (six courses times eighteen holes). Gathering these badges is the only way to unlock two of the better golfers in Mario Golf, Maple and the ultra-powerful Metal Mario.

The other way of unlocking characters is through facing off against the computer in match play. In match play, the player with the best score on a given hole wins that hole. The player with the most holes won wins. You start off Mario Golf with a paltry selection of golfers to hit the links with. As you beat new golfers, you unlock them to your repertoire of playable characters. The problem with this mode which otherwise makes it hugely rewarding is that there is sharp difficulty spike between playing Yoshi and playing Wario. Against Yoshi you'll be five up easily on him, but against Wario it's much more of a challenge. Other than this which could frustrate younger more inexperienced players, this mode is perfect.

Other modes include ring golf where the goal is to drive your ball through the all the rings on a given hole and stay at par or better. There's thirty-six separate holes in all of ring golf, six for each course. This mode will test the mightiest of golfers as the ring locations can be dastardly to try to hit through much more get par or better. This mode is the only way to unlock Donkey Kong without the use of cheats. Then you have speed golf which pits players against the clock to see how fast they can get through a course, mini golf which is played on a course shaped like the letters of the English alphabet, and traditional skins play.

The courses themselves are designed really well. The early courses have little in the way of rolling hills, complicated greens, and sloped fairways. Latter courses have a multitude of these as well as hazards like lakes, bunkers, and out of bounds locations. You'll pitch balls in the Toad Highlands, play a round in Koopa Park, chip out of the sands of Shy Guy Desert, go for a tropical escape in Yoshi's Island, play above the clouds in Boo Valley, and play on holes resembling various Mario characters in Mario Star. The courses quickly go from realistic to fantasy which a perfect mix for players.

Yoshi prepares his shot versus the wind.

Mario Golf plays like your traditional goofy golf game. It uses the three-click system. One button press starts the gauge, the second press sets the power of your shot, and the third press sets the impact. Of course, there's a myriad of factors that goes into preparing a shot. There's wind velocity, current slope, lay of the land, the current lie, among others. Golfers can use power shots to get extra distance from their shot. You only have a finite amount of power shots to use, so you'll want to use them wisely.

If it's not already obvious, driving and chipping is only half of the equation when playing golf. There's the whole short game side of the sport to worry about. In Mario Golf, putting is as simple-- simple to learn, not simple to master-- as one would expect from a title featuring Mario. A grid on the green shows where the green is sloping and in what direction, too. The game displays how far away the hole is from the player's location, much like when driving, chipping, and doing anything else for that matter. Now all it takes is for your aim to be true and a good putt for the ball to go inside the cup.

Get an eye-in-the-sky view of
the action to help plan your shot.

Mario Golf is a game that will take most players dozens of hours to complete. There's experience points to earn, courses to perfect, characters to defeat, modes to master, and multi-player matches to be had. Multi-player can be played with stroke play, match play, skins play, and mini golf. Players can humorously cheer and taunt one another's shots pending they're using separate controllers. Overall, it's great fun alone or with friends.

Mario Golf plays without much fuss. There's little in the way slowdown, and the framerate is stable and stays at a good clip. The early 3D models aren't much to look at nowadays, but they're still pretty clean and crisp. They do their job well enough. The soundtrack is masterful by Motoi Sakuraba who is best known for his work on the Tales Of and Star Ocean franchises. The music is very memorable, and I defy you not to hum along. The package still holds up well today which can't be said about a lot of Nintendo 64 titles.

Ultimately, Mario Golf, like its graphical package, still holds up rather well. This goofy golf game is perfect for beginners and veterans to enjoy with its lenient difficulty and perfect controls. While few other games have come along and bested Mario Golf such as Hot Shots Golf Fore, Mario Golf still remains one of the best goofy golf games in its genre without a doubt. The charm is there, the fun is there, the challenge is definitely there. The only question is: are you going to be there?

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]


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