14th to 17th centuries was the era of Renaissance men. Great minds like da Vinci, Michelangelo and Galileo were celebrated for their mastery of many disciplines including engineering, astronomy, art and music. Great men, it seemed, were not satisfied with conquering a domain. They had to branch out, discover new things, and excel at them. Gaming’s most famous renaissance man only got his start 35 years ago, but that start changed his publishing house – and gaming in general – forever.
NES Open Tournament Golf might sound like a generic title, but its Japanese release tells us what it’s really all about: Mario’s open golf. It represents Mario’s first foray into a truly new territory, giving up his castle-busting adventures to focus on the unofficial pastime of all pot-bellied Italian traders. Why plumb when you can putt?
It’s easy to think of Mario in his current Renaissance form.
Over the years he’s been a golfer, tennis pro, soccer star, kart racer, doctor and piece of paper. Is there nothing the man cannot do? It’s impressive in 2022, but its multi-faceted nature as Nintendo’s mascot wasn’t the same in 1987. When NES Open Tournament Golf When it was released on the Famicom Disk System, we had only seen Mario as the pipe-traveling, koopa-pounding plumber hero. He was the face of Nintendo, but putting him in a sports game was a gamble.
It paid off.
The sales and critical response were strong enough that Nintendo decided to try again MarioGolf for the N64. This game became a smash hit for Nintendo and cemented Mario’s legacy as a true athlete.
Chances are most of you reading this have never played NES Open Tournament Golf. So is it worth playing?
Absolutely, provided you approach it with an eye for history and a healthy dose of context. This is not Tiger Woods. It’s a relatively simple golf game compared to modern titles (including mini-games in series like yakuza), but in its time NES Open Tournament Golf was innovative. 3D graphics and a top-down perspective were virtually unheard of on the NES, and while the mechanics are simple, relatively little has changed despite the exponential increase in console processing power.
This is largely because it wasn’t the first golf game for the NES, allowing the developers to see what worked and what didn’t. Players choose a game mode (match play or stroke play) and choose one of three courses. You face off against a series of increasingly difficult opponents and in the end the game can be very unforgiving if you don’t master the controls (read the manual!).
Like modern golf games NES Open Tournament Golf begins with an overview of the hole. You see the layout, the wind, all that stuff. You aim your shot, choose your club, speed and spin before hitting a swing. Swinging the racquet requires some precise A button skills (once to initiate the swing, once to set the power, and a final tap for accuracy). It takes a while to master, which is good because it’s repetitive as hell.
What sweetens the whole experience is the Mario aesthetic. If you’re a fan, then it’s just worth seeing how series regulars like Princess Peach and Donkey Kong make cameo appearances, and the graphics and sound are as charming as anything from the NES era. Is it the best game of golf? no The best Mario golf game? Also no.
But it’s the first, and if you’ve got a soft spot for retro gaming or a love of gaming history, it’s worth turning up. No one said being a Renaissance man was easy, even if our favorite Italian plumber makes it seem so.
NES Open Tournament Golf is available with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription.