Mario Golf (Nintendo 64) review
"Seamlessly meshing the country club atmosphere, the intricacies of the classic sport and a cast of characters hailing from the Mushroom Kingdom we grew up dreaming of, Camelot's Mario Golf is devoid of the excessive gimmick and glitz we might expect from a title combining two very different themes. Unlike its inferior GameCube sequel Toadstool Tour, we won't find newly invented "fast greens" where the ball skirts off as if it were on ice and poorly designed courses over brewing lav..."
Seamlessly meshing the country club atmosphere, the intricacies of the classic sport and a cast of characters hailing from the Mushroom Kingdom we grew up dreaming of, Camelot's Mario Golf is devoid of the excessive gimmick and glitz we might expect from a title combining two very different themes. Unlike its inferior GameCube sequel Toadstool Tour, we won't find newly invented "fast greens" where the ball skirts off as if it were on ice and poorly designed courses over brewing lava with obtrusive chain link fences mid-fairway. This is a title that prides itself on a refined system that intertwines enough golfing physics where a level of mastery is practically unattainable -- we'll never know with absolute confidence where certain drives will eventually rest -- while not becoming so elaborate as to alienate casual fans.
Our first foray onto the fairways will likely come on the initial Toad Highlands eighteen, where we are given ample room to land our shots on level straight-aways and uninterrupted greens. Sparse trees and tucked-away thicket serve as the expected hindrances here, with sandy bunkers and serene ponds plaguing daredevil golfers attempting all or nothing shots. We won't find warp pipes shooting us thirty yards ahead or piranha plants along the ridges ready to chomp on errant swings -- this is a golf course that is beautiful in its simplistic design, from the easily birdied first hole to the gorgeous sunset and parallel-running stream highlighting the lengthy par four eighteenth.
Reflecting back you'll be surprised at how skillfully-crafted these links truly are. Take for instance the seventeenth, a par three where we are initially blind to the pin because of a protruding, sizable hill encompassing the entire fairway. Using one of our iron clubs, we must strike skyward over the mound -- carrying over the patch of rough and glove-like bunkers placed before the green -- onto a slender strip of putting surface that leaves little room for error. Wind and weather conditions often come into play, causing us to adjust the direction and length of club respectively, as well as the uneven terrain -- crafty veterans of this course will note that the green is ten yards higher than the driver's box, being sure to use a little extra oomph to compensate for the sooner landing. What appears rather simple is more complex than it seems, yet our brain processes all the information presented so rapidly and thoroughly that we'll be done with this hole and onto the next in under a minute, never truly appreciating the ingenious design of it all. But it is ingenious.
There's more than the Highlands though; five other circuits await unlocking, and while not every hole of every course displays the expert craftsmanship of the example highlighted above (yet a fair amount certainly do), what we are granted is more than enough to set the bar, in the process incorporating varied, eye-pleasing settings. The Shy Guy Desert links are in the midst of arid desert sands, rocky formations and ancient pyramids decorating the sides, greens peaceful oases encircled by dusty soil. Yoshi's Island meanwhile takes place on exotic green grasses, colorful fruit and palm trees overhanging bleach white bunkers and checker-patterned fairway. Each newly unlocked tournament brings unique holes and wondrous settings, all while retaining a level of sophistication and realism that makes it feel like these could be real courses -- Mario Golf never strays too far from the formula it originally presents, with only the concluding of the six, where each hole is shaped to resemble a Mario mainstay, truly changing the pace.
There are plenty of options as to how we want to tackle these locales too; along with tournaments and stroke play, we can unlock new golfers as we challenge them to head to head matches in versus mode, and test our craftiness in a ring shot mode, where golden halos hang about, the objective to hit it through the rings on each hole and still make par. Issuing challenges in the versus mode still remains the main drawing point though. Even after we make our way through the ranks, knocking off Camelot-designed country clubbers like the David Duval-resembling Harry as well as the expected Mario mascots, we can go back and face them over again, using different, inferior golfers to truly test our mastery of this title.
And there are golfers blatantly inferior to others here. An energetic lass named Plum available from the start is able to drive the ball an average distance of 208 yards with her one wood, but with each golfer we unlock we move up the totem pole until we're smashing 320 yard, Happy Gilmore-esque drives with a platinum version of the game's namesake. The beauty here is that each golfer has their subtleties, some more apt to take on certain holes than others due to shot heights and the presence of a natural draw or fade to their shot's flight, each one serving a purpose in the grand scheme of things. It's fun to play the underdog and challenge golfers capable of driving fifty yards further than you, and thankfully this is a title that realizes it and doesn't aim to achieve an undesirable balance where characters lack nuance.
I've spent more time with Mario Golf than I care to admit (or could count if I wanted to). I know the drive distances and shot types of all fourteen characters off the top of my head. I can close my eyes and picture every hole of Toad Highlands, and when confronted with them in game there's no second-guessing how to tackle them. I can see the barely there breaks on nineteen-foot puts in pouring rain, I can immediately know exactly how much power to hit a ball buried thirty yards away in a bunker, and I can pick just the right club to compensate for a seventeen mile per hour wind blowing in my face on a second shot out of the rough.
I figure there's a reason I can do all this: I want to, because Mario Golf is that damn good.
Community review by drella (September 12, 2007)
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