While the eShop already has Golf for the Game Boy available, anyone who purchased that game may now start to wish they had saved their money. NES Open Tournament Golf is a superior experience in every way. Perhaps not substantially so, but it's certainly a more rewarding way to spend a day on the links.
NES Open Tournament Golf features some familiar faces from the Mushroom Kingdom, but don't let their appearances here fool you: this is not a Mario sports game. It doesn't shake up the traditional formula, it doesn't introduce power-ups and exotic locations and — perhaps most importantly — it's not interested in courting gamers who aren't already fans of the sport. Toad may pop up to let you know that you've gone out of bounds, and Peach may cheer you on from the sidelines, but aside from that it's a straight game of golf.
It's also a very good game of golf. The controls can take some getting used to, as you'll need to time your button presses pretty precisely in order to hit the ball in exactly the way you'd like to, but it doesn't take long to master them. Once you do, you'll be stroking your way through three courses of 18 holes each, with a variety of different game modes to enjoy along the way.
In Stroke Play you will be golfing alone, attempting to earn the lowest score possible, thereby increasing your rank which is displayed on the game's title screen. Match Play sees you competing against either the CPU or a second player, taking it in turns to play. Yes, unlike the Golf on Game Boy, the two-player mode here is fully intact, and that makes for a nice selling point.
Tournament Mode is perhaps the most fun, however, as it has you competing against a multitude of CPUs (off-camera, sadly) for some prize money. Play through the course, see how you rank and collect your winnings... it's all worth it for the sight of Mario depositing his cash with a visor-wearing Donkey Kong.
The game also features some nice additional touches, such as allowing you to enter your own name instead of using Mario's, selecting your own clubs to take with you, and allowing you to practise any hole on any course, including the ability to change the wind direction and speed as player two. The single most welcome feature, however, is the automatic recording of your best performances. By visiting the clubhouse you can choose to watch replays of your most recent under-par holes, and that's a fantastic touch.
In terms of presentation, the game looks great. The animations are smooth and the music — when there is music — is bouncy and enjoyable. The colours are crisp and the graphics are clean.
There is, however, the issue of the game's small amount of content. Once you've played through all three courses, you've literally seen everything NES Open Tournament Golf has to offer. Of course replayability is built into golf as a sport, but if you're not interested in experiencing the same digital holes over and over again, there might not be much to keep you coming back.
The ranking system and prize money both go a long way toward encouraging repeat play, but that's not likely to be enough for everybody, and it's worth taking into account before you make your purchase.
If you're not already a golf fan, don't expect the sparse appearances of Mushroom Kingdom denizens to win you over. NES Open Tournament Golf takes a pretty straight approach to its subject matter. It's an approach that works, though, and there are some wonderful touches that helped it to stand out from its contemporaries. Your mileage with this title will be decided entirely upon your interest in the sport, but that's not always a bad thing.