Way back in 1963, Sports Illustrated reported on an unexpected trend: golf, the sport invented centuries prior in Scotland — was becoming hugely popular in Asia. While the article notes the game’s rising popularity in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, “nowhere has the arrival been such a smash hit as in Japan.” The article notes that in the last five years, “the number of golf courses in Japan has jumped from 70 to more than 300 — a rate of four new golf courses a month.” The inevitable end result? Mario was going to golf, and it would mark the official start of a hugely important spinoff series of sports games.
While some of the original Sports Illustrated article is out-of-date, with references to British Malaya and “the Orient,” the trend stayed booming for decades. Business became commonplace on the golf course, as did tight dress codes. It wasn’t until the economic bust of 1989 did interest in Japanese golf courses start to wane.
If golf seemed like a faded past when Camelot and Nintendo released 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 more sports games to come — is available to play as part of the Nintendo Switch Online pass.
Nintendo removed some of the biggest economic hindrances, after all. Now players wouldn’t have to worry about stuffy country club etiquette or expensive clubs: Mario would bring the links to them.
Any player eager to jump in and start swinging should be forewarned because the game won’t tell you this, but the bar on the far left is for power, and the gray bar on the right-hand side is for accuracy.
A shot consists of getting as close to each of these bars as possible, but hitting the right bar is much more important. An insufficiently powered shot is just that, but a shot missed on accuracy will bring on a vocal “Duff!” from the game, essentially sending your shot into the rough or barely anywhere at all.
Like many games which can seem slow to those who don’t play them, golf is composed of many exacting details. Mario Golf 64 does a good job of simplifying these mechanics while still leaving enough for any golfer to fuss over. There are a variety of clubs, the ability to focus on a particular part of a ball to hit (which can change its trajectory), a limited number of power shots, and cameras that can give the player a full lay of the land.
The game’s details move into a second stage during putting, where the accuracy bar is placed with a grid overlaid on the grounds. The game offers a helpful “Shh!” to let your golfer, be it Baby Mario or newcomers like “Charlie,” allowing you to concentrate on the wind, distance, and downhill trajectories. No two putts are alike in Mario Golf, which can make the drama as rich as the real thing.
A course plays through pretty quickly once you get the swing of things. They can get done even faster in the speed course, which plays out on the same courses but with a timer and the Mario Kart traffic light starting the race. With the bright and blocky graphics that would become the trademark of the era — lots of sharp polygons and blocky trees — the game is instantly recognizable.
There are some cut corners, however. Level design is fairly repetitive. A level called “Peach’s Castle” doesn’t feature an actual castle. The character reactions get a little stale after every course. But if Golf wouldn’t be the most innovative of all the eventual Mario sports games, then it certainly was one of the more detailed in terms of gameplay. The game offers a simple sport and then allows the player to finetune their style into something much stronger. It’s a fun game that can easily still kill some time today.