Making the Grades
Just what are people, young or old, in the midst of winter's icy grip supposed to do when those golf clubs keep calling their name? Cancel appointments for the week and fly somewhere warm? Skip school and head for the nearest indoor golf venue? Nintendo's Mario Golf may be exactly what the doctor ordered for someone exhibiting these symptoms of spring fever (and since the doctor always seems to be on the golf course when you need him, he should know).
Don't let the cartoon atmosphere fool you, this game will appeal to a wide range of golf enthusiasts. Whether you are a newcomer to the game or a legend in your own mind, this golf simulator will provide the appropriate challenge and entertainment... for those unaware of the difference between a sand wedge and two slices of bread, the computer takes over as caddie, lining you up for the best shot and suggesting which club to use; whereas a seasoned pro can take control over club selection, change stance according to wind direction, and adjust the point of contact between club and ball (lower for more height, higher for greater distance).
Upon assuming the identity of a well known Nintendo character, you take your place on the tee box and examine an impressive three-dimensional aerial view of the current hole. A ground-level tour of the hole is also available, allowing a closer look at the ups and downs of the terrain. Both of these views are essential in determining where your shot should land (and where the big bad water hazards, bunkers, and trees eagerly await your unsuspecting ball). Current wind conditions are indicated in the upper right corner of your screen and should also be taken into consideration. Now it's time to smack that little ball around the fairway -- three simple taps of a button and the ball takes flight. Get a good shot away and you'll even see the tee fly into the air, get a bad shot away and well... let's just say it could get ugly. Various camera angles follow the ball's trajectory, and your on-screen display provides up-to-date information including distance from tee to pin, distance from current ball position to pin, height difference between ball and target, and the ball's current lie. Once you hit the green, it's time to dust off your putter -- but pay close attention to the grid showing any uphill or downhill slopes (it's important to get a good read or the ball will act as though it has a fear of heights, unwilling to fall into the hole).
With the capability of accommodating up to four players, along with the choice of a variety of play modes, this game should hold your interest for a long time. If you feel up to the added challenge, you could enter a tournament, play in a skins match, or test your accuracy in ring shot by hitting the ball through a series of rings hovering over the fairway. Playing in get character mode allows you to unlock other characters including Mario, Wario and Luigi (these all-stars are more powerful and able to hit the ball much further than characters available at the start of the game). After a hard day on the links you might choose to unwind with a quick round of mini-golf -- a fun way of testing putting prowess while banking shots off perimeter walls.
I've always enjoyed the traditional game of golf, especially when one of my children accompanies me as playing partner. Mario Golf is an excellent simulation game and, with a theme refreshingly free of violence, could make for some friendly parent/child competition (and it's a whole lot cheaper than flying somewhere warm). The game also provides opportunities to brush up on rudimentary math skills while calculating relationships between club choice, power, and distance. And to those who haven't yet developed a mastery of the Nintendo controller, just remember that old saying... a bad round of golf is better than a good day at work.<