We looked through the past of Mario Golf to give a retrospective on Mario's career.
When Mario Golf: Super Rush hits the Switch in June, Mario will have golfed professionally in yet another decade. While his stats are non-traditional and not tracked by the standards of the PGA and other professional golf organizations, his run of 36 years of golfing certainly stands up against the titans of the sport. It might pale in comparison to the likes of Sam Snead, one of the winningest golfers of all time who golfed professionally for 53 years. Nevertheless, Mario’s golf career deserves credit for his longevity, spanning multiple console generations. When he started, golf games were mostly just bleeps and bloops, and now they're realistic, more closely mimicking the real thing.
Mario’s storied career has had its ups and downs, successes and failures, and bogeys and birdies. We dug into his golf history to unearth some fun facts and review his past tournament appearances. Join us as we go back into the distant time of the 1980s.
NES Golf Might Not Be Mario’s Golf Debut?
Nintendo’s golf video game debut was 1985’s Golf, one of the early NES games. This game essentially laid the foundation for video game golf with the 3-click swing, where you press a button to start your swing, press another to set your power, and then the final click to get your accuracy. This game has shown its age, but there’s no way we get to Wario wearing that f***ing hat without it.
While the genre-defining control input might be the most important part of Golf on the NES, the more interesting part of it is that despite some American marketing, it doesn’t actually star Mario. I mean sure, one of the two playable characters looks like Mario. He’s wearing red. Has a mustache. Has a hat. The Game Boy port of the game even features someone who is unmistakably Mario, rocking his signature look and a nice pair of golf shoes. The historical Mario tome Mario Mania also calls out Mario as a “duffer extraordinaire” in his cameo appearance in this golf game. All of these claims, however, originate in the west.
Meanwhile, in Japan, where this game was developed (and programmed by the late Satoru Iwata - more on that later!), neither of the playable golfers were ever referred to as Mario. The main golfer showed up in the eclectic Wii game Captain Rainbow, where you had to work with the middle-aged smelly golfer, named Ossan, to help him find his missing golf club and get back on the links. He hasn’t been seen since. Fingers crossed we found out what happened with Ossan someday.
And check out Captain Rainbow. Fair warning: it’s never getting officially localized. This is a video game where Birdo has a vibrator and Takamaru wants to fuck Crazy Tracy from Link’s Awakening.
But to wrap up the Ossan talk, it was confirmed in an Iwata Asks that Ossan was one of the internal names for Mario. It literally just means “middle-aged man,” but I guess at some point, Nintendo didn’t want Mario to be limited to traditional concepts of age.
Tributes for Years
That’s not it for NES Golf, though. The game was actually included on the Switch secretly, likely as a tribute to the late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. You could only access it on his birthday - July 11 - by doing his signature “Direct” gesture with the Joy-Con. Golf was one of the first games Iwata programmed with Nintendo. Unfortunately, a system update removed the secret, but it’s still heartwarming to think that the Easter egg was put there by a team that respected and loved their boss.
NES Golf also kept showing up over the years in other forms. When Wii Sports came out in 2006, the courses included might have been familiar as the first nine holes are modeled after courses in NES Golf. That same homage appeared in Wii Sports Resort and Clubhouse Games on Switch. NES Open Tournament Golf Has More Versions Than You’d Expect
For us console owners in America, it seemed like the first Golf came out around the NES launch, and then the more Mario-centric NES Open Tournament Golf came out on the system in the ‘90s. Neat and tidy. Sequels years apart.
The actual history of NES Open Tournament Golf around the world is a little different. Following the release of the first Nintendo-made golf game, Nintendo released two golf games for the Famicom Disk System in 1987. The first one, called Family Computer Golf: Japan Course, is sort of a half-step between the first game and NES Open Tournament Golf. The player character resembles Mario more and while the visuals are still more like the first golf, some gameplay elements function closer to the evolutionary steps made in the sequel. This release also made use of a Disk System concept where players could save their high score to the disk and then submit it to Nintendo via Disk Fax machines in different stores. This also led to another variant of the game that came on a gold disk and was harder than the original game.
After that came Family Computer Golf: U.S. Course - another 1987 release. This was far closer to what would become NES Open Tournament Golf and also had its own variant that could be won by competing and winning a Disk Fax competition. Participants could also win a cartridge for Punch-Out!!, which predated the release of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and ended with Super Macho Man instead of Tyson or Mr. Dream.
Moving on from the Famicom Disk System, NES Open Tournament Golf came out on NES in 1991 and that was that....or was it? It wasn’t. There’s more. In Japan, the game was called Mario Open Golf and was way harder than the Western release, featuring new holes and also more difficult ones. Another version of this game came out in arcades on Nintendo’s PlayChoice-10 machines and was called, in America, Mario’s Open Golf. This is similar but not identical to the NES version, largely because while the PlayChoice-10 featured ports of NES games, it actually visually displays the games differently.
So, to recap, there are at least eight different versions of golf games made by Nintendo during the NES era.
Before They Were Playable....
At long last, Mario and Luigi were actually fo’real playable in NES Open Tournament Golf, but that was it. Just the two Mario Bros. Other characters did appear, though. Peach and Daisy are their caddies - something that probably wouldn’t fly in the 21st century. More bizarrely, Donkey Kong is an accountant? I mean, I guess his kid did learn math...
Finally, before we move past the NES, one of the first games that Zelda uber producer Eiji Aonuma ever worked on was NES Open Tournament Golf. He did some sprite work on the game before moving on to his main quest of working on Zelda games.
Quest for Camelot
Mario Golf debuted on Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color in 1999, demonstrably being more like the Mario Kart style of Mario spin offs as it had multiple playable characters, including Peach, Bowser, Wario, and Yoshi. Both versions were developed by Camelot Software Planning, a company that is known nowadays for being long attached to Mario sports games. But at this point, they were better known as the Shining Force devs. The Shining series was a relatively prolific RPG franchise published by Sega in the ‘90s that showed up on Genesis, Game Gear, and Saturn. It actually has a Switch entry called Shining Resonance Refrain, but a lot has changed to that series in the past 20 years.
Before Mario Golf, Camelot developed Hot Shots Golf, or Everybody’s Golf as the series is called now, on PlayStation. The experience with golf and RPGs paid off with the Game Boy Color version of Mario Golf, which was renowned for the RPG story mode where you took a player-created golfer and teed up against Mario and the gang.
Camelot stuck around Mario sports for years after this, working on future golf and tennis games. Also relevant to Nintendo is their trio of Golden Sun RPGs. Maybe after they finish Super Rush, they can revisit that series.
Online Golf in 2001
Another Mario Golf game hit Game Boy Color, but it never left Japan. Mobile Golf is a weird footnote in Nintendo history as it is a portable online game that came out in 2001. It’s functionally similar to Mario Golf on Game Boy Color, with a story mode that continues the RPG style. Where it gets wild is that you can use an accessory - called the Mobile Adapter GB - that would connect online to a mobile network and let you play online. Connecting would also unlock Mario characters to play as, including the Wrecking Crew star Foreman Spike.
One of the Last Quality Nintendo Games in America
Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour was the next Mario Golf entry, featuring a lot of Mario Sunshine references, including a playable Petey Piranha and Shadow Mario. Like a lot of GameCube games from this era, it’s sort of faded from the canon, but Toadstool Tour is still a very good game.
For the purposes of this video, there’s really only one fun fact aside from the cute Pikmin cameo. Toadstool Tour was the last quality Nintendo game released in America. No wait don’t hate it’s true! You see, back in the 1980s when consumer trust in video games was eroded after the 1983 crash, Nintendo placed the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality on all of their approved and licensed video games. For some reason, Nintendo of America just made it the “Official Nintendo Seal” in 2003. Toadstool Tour was one of the last games to have the quality distinction in the USA.
The Dark Ages
It’s hard to have fun facts when the golf releases dry up. Maybe Nintendo slowed down on Mario Golf releases because Mario Golf: Advance Tour - the 2004 Game Boy Advance game - was arguably the peak of the series. Seriously, when people talk about how good the RPG modes are in Mario sports games, it’s largely because of this game.
The real reason why Nintendo took a decade to come out with another Mario Golf is likely because, in 2006, they released their most successful golf game of all time in Wii Sports. We already went over the fun fact of that game, that some of the holes are 3D versions of ones from the original NES Golf game.
Mario Golf: World Tour came out on the 3DS in 2014, featuring Camelot returning to Mario Golf after a decade without skipping a beat. It had solid online functionality and had 21 playable characters, including the 4 DLC characters.
With Mario Golf: Super Rush due out in June, we will have to see whether or not Camelot still has it. 22 years have passed since they first took Mario out to the links. Will they stay under par? Or stumble into a triple bogey? Who knows, but this will assuredly have less variations than NES Open Tournament Golf.