Mario Golf is a great spin-off and it remains a fun title nearly a whole decade later.
Try to stifle your surprise, but Mario Golf is a golf game featuring various characters from the Mario universe. Well, sort of. You see, the game was developed by Camelot, the team who had previously found success with the excellent Everybody's Golf over on the PlayStation (and recently released the similarly fantastic We Love Golf! for the Wii).
In The Swing
Essentially, Mario Golf was a version of Everybody's Golf with Mario characters and courses added, but a number of other human characters were also made available in case you were a die-hard Everybody's Golf fan and weren't really interested in Mario and his mates. So although there are 14 playable characters in the game only nine of them are Mario characters. Let's face it though, hardly anyone's going to be playing as the likes of Plum and Charlie when you've got classic characters like Yoshi and Wario to choose from.
The control system is basic stuff, but after a couple of years playing numerous Wii golf games which have tried all sorts of fiddly motion controls, it's actually refreshing to play with proper old-school controls again. Taking a shot is as easy as pressing the A button to set a power meter going, pressing it again to set the power, then pressing it a third time to set the accuracy. Swing too early and you'll slice it to the right, swing too late and it'll hook to the left. Simple yet effective.
Don't be under the impression that the straightforward controls mean Mario Golf is an easy game though. Far from it. Unlike most other golf games which start with relatively easy opponents and get harder as your skills improve, Mario Golf is challenging from the word go. If you're new to golf games, expect to get absolutely hammered until you completely master each hole.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind. Though it can be very difficult, it's never unfair. Any mistakes you make are your own and not the fault of the game's mechanics. As a result there's a real sense of satisfaction when you finally get the hang of things and start winning tournaments and unlocking things, since you feel like you've achieved something.
Speaking of unlocking things, there's a lot of that in Mario Golf. When you start the game you only have four characters available: Baby Mario, Peach and two non-Mario characters. To unlock some of the others you have to challenge them to a round of 18 holes and beat them. On top of that there are another five courses to unlock, some of which are fiendishly tricky.
Unfortunately though, it's impossible to unlock every character in this version of Mario Golf since four of them could only be gained by transferring them over from the Game Boy Color version of the game. This isn't a huge deal though, since these characters are only more non-Mario ones.
Get In The Hole!
In terms of value for money, Mario Golf is one of the best games currently available on the Virtual Console. For your £7.70 you have absolutely heaps of different gameplay modes and challenges, and if you're the sort who likes to complete a game 100% you're going to be playing this one for weeks. As well as six different tournaments there are other game modes such as Speed Golf (where you're scored based on how quickly you can finish a round), Ring Shot (where you have to par a hole while also hitting the ball through a ring in mid-air) and Mini Golf (where you only have a putter and play on courses shaped like letters of the alphabet). On top of all this, each hole in Tournament mode earns you a badge if you get a birdie on it. If you get birdie badges on every single hole in the game (that's 108 holes), you unlock Metal Mario, the game's final character. Needless to say, this takes a while.
Mario Golf is an absolutely cracking title which is still immensely playable today, nine years after it was first released. Golf fans should snap it up right away, because there will never be a better simulation of the sport on the Virtual Console.