Review: Mario Golf (Game Boy Color)

In this review, we hit the links in the Game Boy Color game Mario Golf. We find out how well this golf game plays.

This game was released in 1999. It was released in the same year as the N64 counterpart.

The storyline is pretty straight forward. People from all over have come to this tournament to fulfill the dream of being the ultimate champion. Those few who are able to be the ultimate champion are able to move on to the final goal – to defeat Mario in a tournament.

For those who played the N64 version first, the character selection works somewhat differently. Instead of picking one of the pre-made characters, you need to create your own character from scratch. If you select Mario of Luigi from the beginning, you only have access to the practice rounds. Unless you really want to play the practice course with no benefit, this ends up being a waste of time because the game affords more than enough practice chances which contains benefits.

You can pick a number of attributes during the character selection. You can select gender, left handed/right handed style, and picture. Each gender gives you a chance to select between two portraits. After this, you can jump straight into the many options the full game has to offer.

You can try a practice round on one of four golf courses available in the game. Alternatively, you can practice on an individual hole. You can even take on an opponent in a vs. match, but if you want to start the game off right, you are likely better off just heading into the Marion club. Doing so will also initiate the story mode as well.

You’ll notice right away that you can move about the entire club (after speaking to the director of course). You have access to the trophy room as well as several other rooms in the club. The north exit leads to the first course while the south exit leads to the overworld.

When you head through the north exit, you can speak to the caddie master. The caddie master will give you the option of either a practice round or going straight into the tournament. If you want to try a tournament style play, your best bet is likely the practice round first. Not only will you get a chance to get a good feel for the game, but also, you can get a good feel for the course at the same time.

Probably the biggest reason for taking practice rounds is experience points. This game allows for player progression in a way that has some people saying it’s RPG-like. For every round around the course, you can rack up pretty big experience points.

To make things even more enticing, the better you play, the more experience points you gain. The one round I scored a hole-in-one (yes, it was pure luck I did it), I netted the biggest amount of experience points. Albatrosses also net you huge experience points. What the actual breakdown is isn’t really defined in the game, but there is a big incentive to try your best even while practicing.

If you earn enough experience points, you can level up your character. When you do level up a character, you earn a point that you can distribute to your skills. There are four areas you can level up your character: your drive, height, accuracy, and meet area. Each area contributes to increasing your odds of a good game the next time around. If you level up multiple times, you simply distribute more points to your skills. This is why practice rounds help so much. It is because you can go in with more upgraded skills than you would without.

Still, even with great stats, they are not the be-all end-all to this game. You still need to rely on your skill as well. The game revolves around a power meter for your stroke. It will go from right to left at first. The further to the left you can press the “A” button, the more power that goes into your stroke. After you hit “A”, the selector will travel back in the other direction to where it started. This time, you are aiming for the initial marker. The closer you can stop it at the marker, the more accurate your shot will be. Getting both dead on will generally result in a “nice shot”. You should note that a perfect shot will give you a slight boost in distance.

Of course, the ability to work your stroke is only one factor. You also have to aim your ball. This is straight forward without wind. With the wind (which is almost all of the time), you have to find yourself compensating. Trying to read the wind speed and not over or under-compensate can be tricky at times. It’s a skill that simply requires practice to nail most of the time. Not only is their left and right wind, but also up and down wind. This, obviously, affects your distance. So, compensation for distance will also be needed.

Aiding you in your shots is the point of contact diagram. When you press “A” to make your swing, you can move your cursor on the ball with the directional pad. Up allows you to fight head winds a little more with a lower height. Meanwhile, down will give your ball a little extra loft. This will allow the ball to catch some tail wind for extra distance.

You may also notice that you can move your point of contact left or right. Most of the time, this doesn’t affect your game much. Unfortunately, you may find your ball landing in front of a tree or cactus. Depending on where you land, you can use the left and right point of contact to recover from such a blunder. You can aim the ball to one side, then use your curve ball to push the ball back closer to your target trajectory. It may not always work, but it can provide you with more options in tough situations (who knows, maybe even allow you to save par after all).

Like golf in the real world, there are a number of obstacles. Trees and cacti are one such obstacles. There are also water hazards (penalty 1 stroke), the rough (which can slow your shots), tall grass (slows your shots even more so than the rough), bunkers, wasteland, and elevated areas. Different hazards can affect the performance of your ball, so something to keep in mind.

A big factor in this game is also the green itself. An amazing drive and approach are all well and good, but if it takes 4 strokes to get the ball in the hole, it pretty much nullifies all your effort to get there in the first place. The flag, naturally, remains in the hole unless you are actually on the green. While not impossible, it’s possible to get a “chip in” which is basically any shot not on the green (semi-green counts as off the green).

Generally speaking, when you are approaching the green, you need to moderate the power of your stroke. This is because it is all about accuracy at this point. While a lot of this stuff is common sense, do know that your ball does not travel very far if it’s in the rough. So, if you put from the rough, you’ll need to put a lot of power into it just to get it off the rough. So, putting is only workable on the green, semi-green, and the fairway.

You may also notice the different power in strokes. To juggle between the available powers, use “B”. One power type is the red power stroke. This stroke is generally reserved for the driving. It enables you to get stroke that pushes the ball further than what your character can drive by about 25 yards. There is a limitation, however. If you don’t get a “nice shot”, then the number of swings you have with this decreases by 1. In total, you get 6 of these available. If you use them all up before the end of the tournament, then you have to make do with your normal strokes until the end. The number resets between games.

In almost every setting, the fewer the strokes needed to get the ball into the hole, the better. The only exceptions is the crow challenge (which is all about hitting the pin and not necessarily getting it into the hole), the target game and cleaning game (getting the ball onto the target is sufficient), and the novice’s challenge (where you just need to get the ball onto the green in one stroke).

When you take on the tournament’s, the goal is to get the lowest score in the field. While you will find yourself behind on the first hole or two, note that the scoreboard also details which hole different players are one. By the time you start hole 1, some players are already on hole 8. So, this is why you may find that the leader has a score of -5 after you complete the first hole with a par of only 4.

Part of the game is to beat every tournament. If you beat all four tournaments, you’ll get a staff roll and then unlock the 5th and final tournament. Beating the 5th and final tournament will be the point where you “win” the game. Of course, there are other challenges in this game. Also, you win some bonus experience points if you win a championship over top of the regular game points you earn for completing the round. Round completion almost always nets you more experience points, but the bonus points earned from winning doesn’t hurt anything either.

One challenge is the vs. game. In total, there are 7 vs. challenges. The course champions make up four of them. If you win a tournament, you can challenge the corresponding champion for a one on one match. These matches work slightly different than the championship game.

While the goal is to complete holes with the fewest strokes, the game is completely divided up by the holes themselves. If you get your ball in the hole in fewer strokes than your rival, then you earn a “win”. If you tie, then no one earns a “win”. Meanwhile, losing, of course, gives a win to your opponent. The first person to the goal number of wins wins the face-off. Initially, 10 wins will seal a victory, but as ties occur (which they will), the number of holes left in the course(there are only 18 after all), the number of wins needed will gradually decrease. If you get to the point of the match where a hole can win it all, you may get to see the “Dormi” message. At that point, a tie or a win for the leading player wins it all.

If you beat all four pro players, you’ll earn a cut-scene. While the game can make it seem that there are only four opponents in the vs. match games, there are three additional opponents that can be accessed via the match game option in the menu. These three additional opponents (in order of difficulty), are Luigi, Wario, and Mario. Wario is the only character you can unlock here, but the experience points and a perfect slate on the status screen can make beating them all worth it.

After you complete everything in the Marion club, you can leave through the south exit. when you do, you get to access to the other cups, courses, and mini-games. Mini-games are mostly found behind areas with signs in front of them (there are features found behind them as well). Completing mini-games will earn you some extra experience points as well, so it can be worth taking on some of these mini-games even though they are rather challenging at times. New areas and mini-games open up as you win tournaments.

One final feature of note is the practice areas. If you explore enough, you’ll notice two exits where you go to leave for the tournaments. The first exit goes to the tournament while the following exits lead to practice areas.

The first thing that is very apparent is the complexity of this game. While the game may seem simple enough on first blush, there are a lot of layers to go through as you progress through the game. In fact, this game not only gives you a lot of different features to go through, it also throws an entire dictionary of terms at you. The big surprise here is that, in spite of the complexity, this game isn’t very difficult to understand once you know the basic features.

Do you have to know what a slice, fade, Dormi, or a dog leg is to understand the game? Not really. While you can learn a lot of golf lingo in the process, trying to insert tonnes of lingo is not really a necessity here. The complexity in the game itself doesn’t necessarily hurt the game that much because you tend to find things as you explore. Each element is easy to figure out and just adds to your understanding of the game. It’s actually quite impressive how shallow the learning curve is, really.

Having said that, there are some rough moments to go through as you try and understand the game. This has to do with layout. There are a lot of rooms in the Marion club to go through. This might be find for an adventure game, but this is a golf game,so simplicity might have been better. Almost everything you need to access in the club is located on the upper right hand side of the space.

Even more annoying is that the tournament is located at the far middle north of the area. It took me a bit to figure out where to go at first. It just seems to odd to me that the critical areas require so much walking.

What is more odd is the fact that the practice area is tucked away in the corner of the golfing area. In every golf course I’ve been to, things like the driving range and pitching range is highly visible. The first hole, meanwhile, took a bit more walking. In fact, the practice area is so well hidden, I didn’t know of its existence until I saw the first staff roll at the end of the game. I think the visibility of the practice area could have been better. In fact, swapping the entrances alone would have solved the problem because you’ll see the entrance by the time you enter your first round of golf no matter what. Heck, have a fork in the path right away to make things easier. So, this could have been better placed.

Another problem I have with this game is the way pitching is handled. Every other type of stroke is handled exceptionally well. The pitching, meanwhile leaves a lot to be desired whenever the camera zooms into the green. Your marker goes flying off the screen and you have to make do with the moving ball marker to indicate direction (even when you change the power of your stroke, this tends to be problematic). I left a fair bit to be desired.

Having said that, there is a lot of features in this game that is worthy of praise. The biggest one for me is the ability to improve your character. Like real life, you improve with practice. In this game, as long as you try hard, you’ll be rewarded. Doesn’t matter if you are just doing a practice round or taking on the field, the game rewards you for effort (as long as you are using your custom character of course). If you lose in a tournament, you still gain experience for your effort. So, if your skills didn’t carry you through the first time, maybe leveling a few of them up will permit you to win the next time around. So, a brilliant feature if you ask me.

The mini-games work very well to break up the gameplay. Even if some of them are almost impossible to win at times, at least you get to do something slightly different (that still rewards you for success). I thought this broke up the gameplay nicely.

In addition, the amount of content found in the game is impressive. I found myself playing this game for close to a week just to push through all the necessary content to win the game. Even after I won, I knew there is plenty more game to be had after. Just repeating courses will continue to net me experience points to improve the character. So, even when you win, the game encourages you to keep playing to improve your stats. Because of some of the great features and design, I would have no problem continuing this game in all honesty.

Generally speaking, there are a number of small flaws in this game. The seemingly hidden practice courses, the pitching, and some other overall layout issues. I found them all to be small issues that do little more than add a few grains of sand to the gears. The levelling up features, the amount of content, and the overall playability in spite of its complexity really stands out here. I could very easily see myself playing this game long after beating the story mode. So, it’s a really well done game in the end.

The graphics are also pretty impressive. With the third person perspective mode, and the general layout of the courses themselves, I found myself having flashbacks to playing Mean 18 Ultimate Golf. While there is some perspective issues, it’s still impressive what this game can deliver. Probably the only flaw I found in this game is the way some of the characters were drawn. While the logos were fine, some of the actual sprites left a lot to be desired. Bowser almost looks unrecognizable even. Still, beyond that, it’s hard to find fault in the graphics here, so very well done.

The music is a pretty strong element in this game. The tournament music in the Links course is my favorite (especially right before where the music loops even though it’s not exactly golf music). The sound effects are also very well done. The sounds added for the golf ball flying through the air works surprisingly well. The other sound effects thrown in for different hazard and different kinds of characters speaking work very well. So, a very solid job here.

Overall, this game offers a lot of solid gameplay. Though there were some layout issues like practice locations and club layout mixed with issues in pitching, there’s plenty to praise about this game. The positives include the ability to improve characters skills, the ability to handle complexity while still keeping the learning curve low, and the amount of content. The graphics, while not perfect with how some of the characters are drawn, are quite impressive – especially with the perspective shots. The audio is also very well done. So, overall, a highly recommended game.

Overall
Furthest point in game: Won all the tournament trophies, beat all vs. opponents, and beat all but 3 mini-games.

General gameplay: 22/25
Replay value: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 88%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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