Back in 1963, Sports Illustrated reported on an unexpected trend: golf, the sport invented centuries before in Scotland, was becoming hugely popular in Asia. While the article notes the game’s growing popularity in Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia, “nowhere has the arrival been so successful as in Japan.” The article notes that over the past five years, “the number of golf courses in Japan has grown from 70 to over 300, a rate of four new golf courses per month.” The inevitable end result? Mario was going to play golf, and that would mark the official start of a hugely important sports game series.
While some of the originals Sports Illustrated article is outdated, with references to British Malaysia and “the Orient”, the trend has remained in full swing for decades. Business has become commonplace on the golf course, as have tight dress codes. It was not until the economic crisis of 1989 that interest in Japanese golf courses began to decline.
If golf seemed like a thing of the past when Camelot and Nintendo came out Mario Golf 64, then they would try to revive it. And if you want to relive those glory days, this sports title – which was the first of many golf, tennis and other sports games to come – is available to play as part of the Nintendo Switch Online pass.
After all, Nintendo has removed some of the biggest economic hurdles. Now players wouldn’t have to worry about stuffy country club or expensive club etiquette: Mario would bring them the links.
Any player wanting to jump in and start swinging should be warned because the game won’t tell you, but the bar on the far left is for power, and the gray bar on the right side is for accuracy.
A shot is all about getting as close to each of these bars as possible, but hitting the right bar is much more important. An underpowered shot is just that, but a miss on accuracy will result in a “Duff!” of the game, essentially sending your shot into the rough or barely anywhere.
Like many games that can feel slow to those who don’t play them, golf is made up of a lot of demanding details. Mario Golf 64 does a good job of simplifying these mechanics while leaving plenty of room for any golfer to occupy themselves. There is a variety of clubs, the ability to focus on a particular part of a hitting ball (which can alter its trajectory), a limited number of power shots, and cameras that can give the player a full view of the pitch .
The details of the game pass to a second stage during putting, where the precision bar is placed with a grid superimposed on the ground. The game features a helpful “Shh!” to let your golfer, whether Baby Mario or newcomers like “Charlie”, let you focus on wind, distance and glide paths. No two putts are alike in Mario Golfwhich can make the drama as rich as the reality.
A course goes pretty quickly once you get the hang of it. They can be done even faster in the speed course, which takes place on the same courses but with a stopwatch and the Mario Kart traffic light starting the race. With the bright, blocky graphics that would become the hallmark of the era – lots of sharp polygons and blocky trees – the game is instantly recognizable.
There are, however, a few cut corners. The level design is quite repetitive. A level called “Peach’s Castle” does not feature an actual castle. Character reactions become a bit bland after each run. But if Golf would not be the most innovative of all possible mario sports games, so it was definitely one of the most detailed in terms of gameplay. The game features a simple sport and then allows the player to refine their style into something much stronger. It’s a fun game that can easily kill some more time today.