There needed to be a good golf game on the N64. That much was certain. EA was first to try and ratify this problem with their PGA tour series. However their licensed games were foreign to kids who are the main audience for the N64. For a game to be really successful on this system it must be fun for kids but have enough of an adult appeal to sell to the older market as well. Zelda, 007, and Mario 64 are examples of how this formula works. Games that are to kiddie or too adult will fall by the wayside (see Yoshi's Story and the countless 1st person shooters). Mario Golf is the perfect melding of the two world combining an adult game (you don't see kids playing golf at recess) with a kid feel to it in order to impress adults and children alike.
Probably the thing you are going to hear the most about this game is that it is a Hot Shots Golf rip-off, and anyone who says that it right in a way. Hot Shots was the first golf game to try and simplify the game of golf while adding a fun arcade feel to it. Mario Golf does the same thing, but adds much more options and in doing so enhances the game way beyond the realm of Hot Shots.
The whole thing runs on a point system. You get a certain number of "Course" points depending on how well you play. Get enough points and you can open up more courses. Characters on the other hand must be earned by beating them in a tournament. There are tons of other in-game options as well. You can play in a ring game where you try to hit the ball through rings on the course in addition to making par. You can also play in a tournament or train. Oh, and miniature golf--you got that too. If you play with 2 or more players you can make bets with each other things like "longest drive" and "closest to the pin". There is even a slot machine game where your club choice is determined by a slot machine. One of the major problems with golf games is that they get so repetitive, but with all of these options, Mario Golf remains fun through all 18 holes.
Of course all of the options in the world don't mean squat if the play is not fun, but I have to say that Mario delivers. The engine is very easy to use but there are still a bunch of options on each hole. You are able to look at the entire course and aim the ball anywhere within your reach. There is a nice grid showing where your ball will land. There is an option of powering up your swing sacrificing accuracy, another option which allows you to pick a point on the ball to hit, and a button that throws up grass to check the wind. The control is very intuitive and has that easy-to-learn hard-to master feel to it similar to most every other golf game. The only thing that the game really lacks is graphics. Being that Nintendo is the creator of the system you'd think that they would release a game that utilized the expansion pack, but no. They continue to release game after game ridden with mediocre graphics that could be so much cleaner and crisper.
The N64 was built on fun for multiple players. With 4 imput jacks and games such as Mario Party and Smash Brothers, Nintendo is counting on friends playing on this system together. The fact that in Mario Golf you have to take turn will slow down the 4 player excitement that you will find in most other 4-player simultaneous games. However, to combat this problem Nintendo has made the game very fast and put in a lot of options to spice up play. Still, waiting for 3 other people to analyze their shots and hit the ball can be a boredom nightmare. Let's just say you better have something to eat or else waiting can get really old really fast. This is one of the few N64 games that plays much better in one or two player mode even though the computer hits a near-perfect game.
You gotta hand it to Nintendo for filling in the gaps of their system. Instead of making another Mario adventure game, they continue to produce different kinds of games that no one else seems to be making. They released a good RPG in Zelda, a good 4 player fighting game in Smash Bros. and now a good golf game. Though it is packed full of options and great play, I still think that anyone who is not really a big fan of golf, will not really be swayed.
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