One of my favourite team of developers ever, is Camelot. They are responsible for creating outstanding RPGs, like the Golden Sun trilogy and the Shining Force games for the Genesis/Mega Drive, just to name a few examples. However, to have them make both Mario Tennis and our today’s topic, Mario Golf, into RPGs for the Game Boy Colour was an intriguing and bizarre concept that actually made sense. Since the console versions focused on providing plenty of modes and multiplayer, it was a smart move to turn the handheld adaptations into single-player experiences. Besides, I have faith in the people who created the first Everybody’s Golf to make a fun title, and believe they would learn from their attempt with Mario Golf on the N64.
RPG with a golf club instead of a sword
The plot of this game is a simple one: you want to be the best golfer ever and take on “The golf master, Mario, being the idol of all golfers”. Mario Golf does not really present a story, but it is lovely cheesy, contains a lot of personality with a diverse cast, and has a ton of charm. Even the startup screen has your main character on top of a cliff with a golf club in hand, while looking at Peach’s castle up in the clouds. This is overall setting is an endearing parody on traditional JRPGs, showcasing that this title wants to be a lighthearted and enjoyable adventure, even if the story is not a highlighted aspect of it.
After hitting start, you can choose to jump right into a game of tournament or match play as either Mario or Luigi, which are nice ways to offer some quick rounds of golf if desired on the spot. However, the meat of the game is to make your own character and enter the main campaign. When you have chosen your avatar’s gender, whether they are left or right handed, and one of two options for looks, you are ready to begin your dream of becoming a pro golfer.
You start off the game with an overworld map made out of pathways leading to huge houses and courses, which is a neat mix of Super Mario Bros. 3’s and traditional JRPGs’ take on overworld traversing. From here, you can partake in different tournaments, challenge each of the four masters in match play, attempt at creative side quests, explore for hidden goodies or chat with NPCs for getting more insight and trivia that might come in handy.
Exploration is very much encouraged since you can find helpful or intriguing elements, like level up mushrooms or new characters, with a run button making everything fast-paced. Although, nothing is stopping you from taking on the challenges head on, if you feel up to the task. For those of you new to this sport, the clubhouse has many NPCs that will give you hints and insights on how to play, with the ability to both practice on one specific course and have personal stroke play being available from the start.
To give a quick overview of the rules of golf, you try in every field to get a ball in a hole by swinging different clubs at it with as few strokes as possible. Par will represent the expected amount of hits needed to finish a field, and there are mainly two ways to play this sport. Tournament (or stroke play) will require you to play a game of 18 fields against other competitors and hit as much under or equal to par as possible in comparison. Meanwhile, match play will have you up against one other opponent where you gain one point for each field you did less strokes in than them, and the overall winner is the one with the most points. Despite that the concept of golf is easy to grasp, you will have to be mindful of wind, terrain, which clubs are best suited for the different situations, and the accuracy and strength of your swings.
Luckily, all the required information (including even the depth of the hills), are clearly shown throughout each field, making it easy to prepare for the perfect shot. Whenever it is your turn, you get an overview of the map and are able to aim in the direction you desire to shoot towards. You will also get a recommended club to use, and while the game will always present you with a good option, you are free to change it should you feel another one is better suited for the situation. Clubs do not only account for strength, but also for beneficial on different terrains, such as sand wedges for getting out of bunkers and putters for whenever a careful tapping of the ball is required.
When your preferred club has been chosen, you will then shift camera to one behind your avatar. From here, you will see what obstacles might hinder your shot in terms of height and width, and get a bar for timing the presses of the strength and accuracy of your shot. The white line will first move towards the left, where the further it goes the stronger the swing will be. Right after timing your press here, the line will then move back towards the right to determine the swing’s accuracy. Pressing it in the middle of the accuracy point will make for a perfect shot, hitting it only over the underline will make the shot solid, and hitting outside of both will make you embarrassed when the ball barely goes a couple of yards.
All the mechanics feel great, and are further helped by the ball’s physics being believably affected by the varied terrains, shots, and wind. You also have six power shots that you can use to make the ball go further, providing some nice support for newcomers or strategic aces for veterans. For the more advanced golfers, you can also put a spin on the ball by holding the D-pad and create hooks towards left or right, or put a spin on the ball to make it roll forwards or backwards when landing. These will become important skills to learn later on, but the game has a nice difficulty curve to make sure you are ready for the challenges ahead.
Mario Golf‘s playthrough is not only made better by the good AI or the reasonable tournament scores, but also through how the courses are designed. It is impressive how many optional routes you will be able to take, and how forgiving or punishing the stages can be thanks to the varied setups like water, high hills or sand bunkers, being utilised to make interesting layouts. This vast amount of creative fields makes it easy to remember them by their structures alone, which is quite the feat for a golf title.
Doing anything significant, such as winning a match, getting under par or even just finishing a tournament, will yield XP that can lead to your character levelling up. Whenever this happens, you gain one stat point that can be put in one of four categories. These are the amount of yards you can shoot, the mid-height of your shots, if your shots are fade or draw, and one stat for both how accurate the ball will land in the area you aimed towards and the quality of your accuracy in general. Upgrading one stat will affect others negatively, but never too harshly. This is a nice way to let the player make an unique build, while also forcing them to take disadvantages into consideration.
Although, I would have liked to have the option to display numbers for all the stats instead of bars for some, but I will not deny that the latter helps to showcase how balanced they are. This was also possibly done in order to invite newcomers to the concept of RPG, but a more detailed option would have been appreciated for veterans. What is fantastic about this implementation of RPG elements though, is that they are more of a bonus. If you feel up to the task, you can always rely on your own skills to progress or improve your stats should you feel a slight support could help, which is a wonderful setup. The matches and tournaments can be long, but thanks to the ability to save at any time, you never have to fear for whenever your batteries are dying.
With all of these great mechanics and the amount of content included, I am surprised that it only takes about five hours to get through this title (much less if you are already into golf games). It could have used one more tournament course and one more champion to feel slightly more fulfilling, but this is only a minor issue. Mario Golf is simply engaging and satisfying by being a sweet and impressive mix of two turn-based genres. With creative levels, fast-paced exploration, and by demanding strategic and steady play, this iteration of golf is easy for anyone to enjoy.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
Benefits from being in colours and pixels
It is somewhat impressive that this game is called Mario Golf, yet the only things that are visually resembling the world of the Mushroom Kingdom constantly, are the cartoony art style and one secret tournament course that is quite the imaginative one. That being said, this title is still brimming with personality and just like the system enhances: brings plenty of colours with it. You will play on a beach with palm trees everywhere, shoot the ball through a dark forest, and even visit a desert that reminds me of old western movies.
Due to the impressive use of pixels, it is easy to distinguish what is a hill and what might be rogue grass or the fairway, making this a technical marvel for the handheld. I also love the characters’ unique looks that fit this setting, with simple designs that still have clear traits about them, like a muscleman with an unique hairstyle. Despite that the traditional cast from the Mario universe, such as Yoshi and Bowser, are not present much early on, they feel more exclusive due to Mario’s reputation as the master of all golfers. It is a clever way to make them into legends you might meet one day if you are training hard enough.
Whenever not on the green, you are presented with characters that are minimalistic representations of their original looks, where they move with two frames of animation (even when standing still) and pulsate to signify a response. It is quite the cute nod to the JRPG inspiration Mario Golf takes, and the areas outside of the courses you visit are just as beautiful as the rest with heavy amounts of colours, different environmental elements depending on where you are, and clear structures to make them believable.
Nothing here are as creative as they could have been in a title containing Mario characters, but it is all still solid enough to be charming and memorable. I want to highlight the quality animations in the cutscenes after any finished field as well, since they are different between each character and how well or poorly you did it. These are wonderful ways to personalise the cast, and the small pictures for showcasing where the ball landed, are also a nice detail for adding some flavour to this golf game.
The soundtrack is quite the upbeat one that provides a nice and relaxing atmosphere. It still uses plenty of different theming within this, such as a calm track with plenty notes with little variation for the clubhouse, a more darker and warmer track for the overworld, and each tournament and match play has their own melody and mood. There are also some nice remakes thrown in, such as a neat take on the classic Super Mario Bros. theme, and the underground theme from the same game plays whenever you are able to get a birdie while you are on the green.
The same composer for the N64 version is behind this title’s music too, but it seems like he got more to work with this time for creating a memorable and uplifting soundtrack, as the melodies are longer and more varied within their structures and tones. The sound effects are solid with not much more than that to say about them. The ball has a sound going from low to high depending on its altitude, the swings of the clubs have nice effects to them, and the rest are just as strong and well implemented. Although, I will give the game that it is quite creative and cute to have the dialogues of the NPCs being in different pitches to signify their voices.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Who in this land needs my putting skills?
Besides the tournaments and beating the four champions, there is a a lot of content included in this cartridge. As you play the game, you will unlock side quests to take on, which are quite creative and rewarding. My favourite example of them, is the one where you have to clean up all the balls in one field by hitting them close to the hole, but only have 10 seconds for each ball because the quest-giver is impatient. This is fast-paced, but still focuses on testing your accuracy under pressure, creating an exciting challenge.
All the other quests put a similarly lovely twist on the traditional golf mechanics, making every single one entertaining and intriguing. While I do not really see any reason to unlock characters when my avatar is the best one thanks to his upgrades, it is fun to play against them in match play, with a preferable favourite of mine due nostalgia alone being Wario. However, finding unique clubs to try out is a fun way to experiment with your playstyle, and adds some nice replay value to this title.
There are also the star challenges that will require you to beat certain fields in interesting ways, such as using specific clubs and so on, which are all imaginative and difficult. If exploration and side quests are not your thing, you can always jump into free play for match-, tournament- or practice play for some quick rounds of golf. Should you be very invested in the art of this sport, there is even a huge golf dictionary included! It is almost humorous to think that Nintendo included essentially the bible of golfing.
As mentioned in the review of Mario Golf for the N64, you can connect this game to the console version through the transfer pak, but due to the problems I had with that instalment, it is more of a novelty than anything worthwhile. The handheld version of Mario Golf includes a solid versus mode for two players through link cable, but it is strange that you cannot play this title with more people using only one Game Boy Colour. No form for hotseat mode for even stroke play is just bizarre to not have, but that is the only problem I have in this single-player experience.
Extra Score: 8/10
This pocket-sized RPG is a clever concept that is filled with fantastic details and makes for an exciting game to always have nearby. It takes the best from what golf can offer in its own right, provides the charm from traditional JRPGs, and sprinkles the style only Nintendo could offer. For anyone, even if you do not know what a bogey is or tremble in shame when hearing it, you will have a great time taking up the golf club in the name of role-playing.