I really remember in my four years of working at a restaurant, the people who would religiously play Golden Tee, an arcade golf game. I’m not knocking them at all, but Golden Tee was their livelihood. They had all the high scores. I think golf video games have that sort of addictive effect. They can really suck you in, and Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color is no exception. Camelot Software Planning has attempted to merge golf and role-playing games, and they’ve succeeded. Even in the year 2020, Mario Golf for Game Boy Color still holds up.
Let’s start with the actual virtual golf game and not the RPG aspect. It’s quite good, although very similar to golf games that came before it. There are two camera angles, an overhead shot of the course, and a view behind the golfer. To complete a stroke, you fill a meter going all or part of the way to the left, and back to the right. If you get a perfect shot, you can be sure the ball is going to land where the game shows you it’s going to land, not accounting for wind. If you have a less than perfect shot, or deliberately undershoot, the ball will land not as far as where the game shows you the ball will land. You compete against CPU opponents in the single-player version, although it’s pretty easy to win. You can play 18 holes at the Marion Club (cleverly “Mario” with an “n”), Palm Club, Dune Club, Links Club (another Nintendo joke), and the unlockable Peach’s Castle. It is really fun, and considering the Game Boy Color isn’t a powerhouse game system, it is surprisingly addictive, too.
The RPG elements are light. You accrue experience points at the end of eighteen holes, and you send those experience points to improve, for example, the height and accuracy of your shot. You can upgrade your clubs, which is a nice touch; it’s a bit like upgrading your weapons and armor in Final Fantasy. When you’re not golfing, there are characters to interact with who are hanging out at the various golf clubs. Merging golf and an RPG is really unusual, and no game to date has done it quite as well. Camelot Software Planning went on to make traditional RPGs in the Golden Sun series for Game Boy Advance and DS.
The 2-player mode is actually a blast. I have a distinct memory of linking two Game Boy Colors at my friend’s dining room table when I was a kid. The most skilled golfer does win; it is fair, unlike, say, Mario Party. It’s really impressive what a quality game Camelot got out of such a limited system, although Game Boy Color is technically more powerful than the original Game Boy. I’m not sure this could have been achieved on the original.
Mario Golf isn’t perfect. It’s a little short, and, at times, a little boring. But who would have thought you could merge genres so effectively? Although more modern golf games like those in the Golden Tee series can provide a more realistic experience, there was a time when this was the best portable golfing game available. Also interesting is that no one has really tried to make a golf RPG since this game. If you’re looking for a more realistic and perhaps more exciting golf experience, see what your smartphone is capable of. If you want a golf game with some historical significance, try Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color.