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Old 08-15-2012, 02:12 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The Mario Underdogs: Defending Mario Golf Game Boy Color

Apologies to any golf fans out there, but it's not the most gripping sport on the block -- despite what titles like Lee Travino's Fighting Golf would have you believe. And golf video games rarely raised the heart rates of those who played them; the 1995 Simpsons episode "Marge Be Not Proud" distilled the essence that era's golf games with Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge, a gentle, lukewarm experience that paled in comparison to the pulse-pounding excitement that something like Bonestorm had to offer.

Since their humble beginnings, golf games have revolved entirely around stopping a little meter multiple times --and for the most part, this central mechanic hasn't really changed. After putting out Mario Golf for the Nintendo 64, the team at Camelot (makers of the original Shining Force trilogy) even seemed to grow tired of the repetitive nature and limited input of golf games, even if said games happened to dress themselves in the colorful world and characters of the Mario universe. So, with the Game Boy Color version of the N64 hit, Camelot decided to throw the sport of golf into the world they knew best: RPGs.

These days, Mario sports games are kind of a known quantity; typically, they offer a choice of Nintendo characters (with several unlockables), possibly some power-ups from past Mario titles, and that's it. Sure, maybe they drop a few extra modes in for fun, but the ideas in these games rarely stray too far outside of the box. In what must seem like an outrageous move today, Mario Golf GBC doesn't even let you play as the beloved cast of characters (not in its main mode, at least); instead, it placed you into the role of four newly created characters, who each seek to take down the various Nintendo-ites that rule the country club courses.

The game looks like a slightly less-dated version of the original Pokemon, the popularity of which might have inspired the addition of RPG elements -- after all, those kids sure seemed to love 'em on the Game Boy. Mario Golf gives you a typical overhead view with squat characters, menus and dialogue boxes, and a world that offers a moderate amount of exploration. NPCs located throughout the map test you with unique challenges, which actually teach useful techniques that come in handy during tournament play. Of course, you can't have an RPG without a focus on grinding for levels, so challenges like these dole out experience points used to boost stats. Having a real incentive to keep playing does a great job of cutting down on the tedium of stopping a bunch of little meters for minutes on end. Plus, upping different attributes actually produced an immediate improvement, and level-ups were spaced just close enough to keep them coming while keeping them rewarding.

Camelot later injected RPG elements into the GBC's Mario Tennis, which eventually led to Game Boy Advance sequels to both games -- with Golf GBA's box openly proclaiming "Role Playing Golf!" (And with a soundtrack by Tales of/Star Ocean composer Motoi Sakuraba, to boot.) This trend didn't last long, however, as Camelot's golf and tennis games completely skipped the DS and the Wii (save for the Wii port of the GameCube's Mario Power Tennis), only to return this year in a format much more like the console versions. And while these more Mario-focused games offer the same solid game play, the lack of the features that made their predecessors unique leave these sequels feeling more like downgrades. Oh, the price we pay for accessibility.
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