After the Mario Golf games for the GBC and N64, it was a safe assumption that the next instalments in the series for the GBA and GC would follow a similar trend. The console version would continue to focus on offering varied modes and the multiplayer, while the handheld adaptation would mainly be a single-player experience with RPG mechanics included. This was a smart move for representing couch gaming versus gaming on the go, and while I was negative towards Mario Golf for the N64, a sequel could definitely provide some much needed improvements.
One thing that made me optimistic about Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, was actually when I opened the case for it. The manual is colourful with great tips and humorous writing, while the disc was made to look like a golf ball with some neat textures onto it. This might not say much about the title itself, but I adore such creative charm being implemented even before starting up the game.
Inviting and engaging
I want to first specify that there are plenty of modes at disposal here, with most of them being side activities. Because of this, I will mainly be going over the tournament mode for this segment due it being the main campaign, while covering all of the other activities in the extra section. To give a quick rundown of what golf involves, your goal is to try to hit a ball into a hole with as few strokes from different clubs as possible in each field. In tournament mode, you play golf through 18 fields and compete in an overall score on how well you did it compared to each field’s par, which is the expected amount of swings needed to finish one. This is a simple concept, but with wind, varied terrains, and the clubs having diverse uses and strengths to them, golf can be anything but.
Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour thankfully has you covered by presenting you with as much info as possible in order to plan ahead. A helpful map, a decent camera to scan the entire field with, the amount of yards total and left to the hole, the strength and direction of the wind, the number of strokes taken, the field’s par, and even a percentage showcasing how off your shot might be. This game also provides you with a recommended club every turn, and they are always a solid option. However, you can freely switch out the clubs if you so desire! Just keep in mind that the sand wedge is for getting out of bunkers and the putter is meant for the smallest of taps to the ball.
Before you take your swing, you can use the D-pad to choose where to aim on the ball in order to give it a horizontal spin to either sides or to affect its trajectory, and you have six power shots at disposal for making your ball go further. When you are ready, you simply aim where you want to shoot and use the L and R buttons in case you want to aim closer or further, making it very easy to hit where you plan to. A new implementation to the power meter on the bottom, is that you can press A to time the amount of strength you wish for your shot to have and let the game automatically set the accuracy. It never goes outside of the red bar, which makes the shots decent, and often hits the blue spot for a completely accurate swing.
While this could be viewed as an unneeded way to make this title forgiving, it is actually a smart design for letting newcomers adapt to this genre. Veterans (or those with good reflexes), can instead press B for timing both the shot’s strength and accuracy, as well as put a strong forward or backward spin on the ball with button combinations. These only require two presses of the A and/or B button depending on what you want, but this is surprisingly challenging to do since this must be executed while the meter falters quickly back do determine the swing’s accuracy. Putting only needs you to press for the amount of power, but the tension is still high due to small and steep hills to take into consideration.
When it comes to the ball itself, the physics are believable and every failed shot feels like your own fault. What is especially a lovely sight, is how the courses are designed. They start out simple with some creative layouts for bunkers and rougher grass, but will later have smaller fairways, more hazards like water or lava implemented, contain higher and lower platforms, and even have mushrooms to bounce the ball off, just to name a few examples. Each field makes the most out of the six courses the game offers, and despite that I would have loved a couple more, they are all imaginative and fun with the highlights being the last three. There is also a huge cast of characters to play as even before unlocking more, and their stats in impact, control, spin, trajectory, and how straight their shots are, are all well balanced to make it easy to find the one suited for you.
The only thing that I truly wished for while playing this title, was a fast-forward button. I might be a bit impatient, but with dynamic camera angles that try to make golf as epic as possible, it slows the game further down, which is not needed for this calm sport. I was also shocked when I realised that the B button would replay the shots you just made from different points of view. These can only be sped up and not skipped. Luckily, this is only a minor issue that only halts the playthrough slightly and should you be in the need for a break, you can at any time save the game.
Despite that I think more courses could have gone a long way (which also makes it puzzling why one is only available outside of the tournament mode), Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour offers plenty elsewhere. It has stellar gameplay to invite newcomers and those familiar with golf gaming, while providing exhilarating courses and solid physics. By requiring a healthy mix of skills and strategies, it becomes a rewarding and engaging experience for anyone to join in on!
Gameplay Score: 8/10
The Mushroom Kingdom has evolved
The GameCube was really a powerhouse when it came to cartoony art style, and it shows here in this first party game. All of the characters have great amounts of animations, such as their over the top swings with the clubs and varied reactions for whether they are getting a hole in one, birdie or fail miserably. Everyone is charming and all are familiar people from Mario’s universe. While the dynamic camera angles might drag out the game for my taste, they still provide exciting shots and make you eager to see how accurate you were with your planning and timing. I also admire the lovely details everywhere, like how the ball reacts differently to a perfect swing from each character, with one from Yoshi creating a string of rainbow.
Unfortunately, the courses could use more work to them. The first couple of them are reminiscent of traditional ones you would see in real life, then the third is inspired by Egyptian setting, fourth has bunkers shaped as animals, and the last two are based on places from the Mushroom Kingdom in creative ways. Sadly, there seems to be a lack of making all the stages just as visually interesting. It is neat to see how the courses evolve from something traditional to more imaginative work, but this also makes the earlier fields completely forgettable. They are still impressive to look at, with great attention to atmospheric backgrounds and effects like heat waves in the dessert course.
I will be blunt and say that the soundtrack of Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour does not fit well. It is filled with plenty of trumpets, drums, piano, and even marimba, with each tournament coming with their own melodies. However, they are all fast-paced and overly exciting, similar to a disco fever or uplifting jazz, which is too big of a contrast for something as slow and relaxing as golf. I do love some additions though, such as having the underground theme from Super Mario Bros. being played whenever putting can result into a birdie. Unfortunately, due to the tracks being so energetic, they come off as simply awkward inclusions.
This is a shame, as the melodies are legitimately great with variety in notes, rhythms, and are memorable on their own. They are just in the wrong game, sadly. At least, the voices are adorable with a lot of cute details, like how Peach hums the Mario theme on the selection screen, and the announcer being wonderfully pumped for a day of golf. The sound effects are similar to what I can describe this whole presentation: solid and good. but could use more creativity.
Presentation Score: 7/10
There is nothing wrong about enjoying simple golf
After getting through the main campaign, you will get a hard version of it for a more challenging setup. This is nice for those wishing to test their skills, but is nothing more than an extra difficulty mode. Someone might have already been shocked when I said that this game could use more content in its tournament mode, but that this is because most of the other activities are forgettable or just uninteresting.
Stroke play is the same as tournament with less to it, speed golf times you in this slow-paced sport, coin game just sprinkles a bunch of coins everywhere on the field, and training lets you practice on any unlocked stage. All of these are underwhelming modes that quickly become dull or useless, but there are some winners too. Ring shot challenges you in hitting through rings and can make it tense to finish any field under par, side game provides objectives that are all about testing your golfing skills, and near-pin is a fun mode about getting the ball closest to the hole in one stroke. There is also character match, which makes you compete against one other NPC in most fields won.
Some of these modes unlock secrets like characters, but I cannot say that the rewards add anything due to them feeling more like interactive achievements. The same goes for linking up the Game Boy Advance version to this one, as it does nothing else than putting your GBA avatar on the big screen and letting them gain some benefits like XP. It is a neat novelty, but short-lived. What is a great addition though, is that most of the modes in Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour can be played in multiplayer. There are even more activities to tackle here with friends, such as double for two versus two matches and club slots where you use a couple of randomly given clubs for finishing a field.
Despite so many modes being implemented for up to four players to enjoy, I found sticking with the normal match- or stroke play to be good enough, even if ring mode could also be fun. This comes from how the other activities can contain random factors that, while imaginative, lacks the excitement of competitive gaming where skills are an important factor. The best part about Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour is that you can play any mode with only one controller! Frankly, you understandably cannot taunt each other unless you have one controller for each player, but having this option for a turn-based multiplayer game is fantastic. Even if most modes will be neglected.
Extra Score: 5/10
Focusing on adding in many modes that are uninteresting is the only thing that hurts Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, as it is otherwise a good entry in this series. The gameplay walks a fine line for anyone to get invested in, is visually pleasing with creative stages, has enough content to keep the single player occupied, and shines in its multiplayer aspect. If it had more courses and dropped all of the other activities that are rather random additions than worthwhile content, it could have possibly been among Mario’s best sports-titles. As of now, it is still a fun game worth picking up, despite that it does not go the distance.