When you think of world-class sports games, you rarely think of Nintendo. Sure, they make some decent ones every now and then, but it's not exactly a trademark... right?
Well, actually, it kind of is. Nintendo has been making great golf software for 30 years, beginning with Golf for NES. Excellent depth and accessibility (so long as you know your 9-Iron from your wedge) elevated Golf among the mundane sports titles that glutted the system in its early days. The Game Boy port was the only entertaining sports game to appear in that system's first year of life. NES Open Golf — programmed in part by the late Satoru Iwata — was really the launchpad for Nintendo's golf domination, though. That game gave Mario a proper starring role (rather than simply a Mario-like duffer) and began the move toward more cartoon-style visuals underscored by grounded and meaningful game rules and physics.
Still, it wasn't until the end of the '90s that Nintendo found its winning combination for sports perfection: Golf and Camelot Software Planning. There's a certain irony in that, because Camelot got its start as an RPG developer working as an internal Sega division. How they ended up making sports games for Sega's main rival is one of gaming's great mysteries, but they did — and they brought along the golf expertise they had honed while creating Hot Shots Golf for Sony. Yes, at one point or another, Camelot has been in bed with every major first party except Microsoft. With the arrival of Mario Golf, Nintendo locked down a firm claim to golf greatness.
Camelot's most unique Mario Golf projects tend to show up on portables, where they integrate mechanics that call back to Camelot's heritage as an RPG maker. But for a pure golf experience, their console projects — such as Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, which launched 12 years ago today on GameCube — just can't be beaten. They offer near-simulation depth without the dull seriousness of more "legitimate" golf titles. With minigames, special challenges, and bonus modes galore in addition to the standard tournament modes, Mario Golf always aims to make golf interesting and accessible to those who don't particularly care for the sport. The competition often tries to pull off the reverse... but not always with total success. It's a surprisingly little niche for Nintendo to have carved for itself, but history bears out their success.