When Mario Golf came out for the Game Boy Advance, I was already heavily invested in the system, with most of my time being devoted to its RPGs. Be they remakes of older titles like Breath of Fire and Sword of Mana or original entries such as Fire Emblem and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, there were many reasons for why I kept plenty of AA batteries in my pockets at all times. Of course, Camelot became an important name to me due to its games for the system, with Golden Sun and Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon being some of my favourites.
However, I was not into golf or even sports-titles in general at the time, with the only exception being the SSX series. Nonetheless, I have always loved collecting fascinating titles, and ended up buying Mario Golf: Advance Tour when it was released out of sheer curiosity and due to Camelot developing it. Now after having played through and reviewed Mario Golf for the GBC, I am especially interested in seeing how much this sequel improves upon its predecessor.
A great RPGolf, but not exactly advanced
I should start off this review by stating that this game has a dull introduction with too much exposition on what pretty much can be summed up in one line. You are here with three friends and wish to be the best golfer there ever was by taking down the champion, Mario. It is odd how this forced dialogue segment stops at the intro, clearly making the overall story not a focus. Although, by presenting itself as an RPG first and foremost, Mario Golf: Advance Tour showcases that there are plenty of NPCs to interact with for gaining information and side quests, as well as a world to explore for finding hidden secrets that are either there for a good laugh or for levelling up your character.
All of the areas to visit are easy to locate thanks to an overworld with plenty of pathways to it, reminiscing of a mix between Super Mario World‘s map and those seen in traditional JRPGs. However, before we get to the adventure, you will have to make your avatar. This is quickly done, as you are limited to choosing one of two genders, whether you are left or right handed, and input your name. Despite that there is not much character customisation, this is a nice way to get a move on and not spend hours on creating a vague representation of yourself before starting the actual game.
After the introduction, you are free to venture through this world at your own pace, but winning in tournaments will provide you with more matches and side quests to take on. Since this makes the tournaments the real deal, they will be the main focus for this part of the review. In a game of golf, you will be trying in each field to get a ball into a hole by hitting it with as few strokes from different clubs as possible. In tournament/stroke play, you compete in 18 fields and will be ranked on how well you did it compared to each field’s par, which is the expected amount of strokes needed to finish one.
This is far from easy though, as you will have to be mindful of the different terrains, obstacles like trees, the wind’s strength and direction, and the power and accuracy of your swings. When it is your turn, you will be shown an overhead view of the map where you can aim your shot, while also be informed about the yards left to the hole, expected par, wind, and what club you are using. The clubs provide varied strengths and practical uses, such as the sand wedge for getting the ball out of bunkers or the putter for providing small and accurate nudes to it. The game will always provide you with a recommended one, but you can always switch them out for a preferred one.
To make it easier for the player, you can use the L and R buttons for aiming further or closer to where the ball will land on the field. While this could have been too much of a helpful feature, it does not take away any of the challenge Mario Golf: Advance Tour offers, as it still demands planning for every shot due to all of the elements that must be taken into consideration. After you have chosen your destination, you will then switch camera and see your playable character from a third-person perspective. Here, you will get to make a timed press for charging the strength of your swings, but just like in the GameCube version, you can choose to either time for the shot’s accuracy manually as well or have it to be automatically done.
While the latter will make the hits solid or even perfect, doing them manually will give you the ability to put a top- or backspin on the ball with a button combination of A and/or B. This will only require two button presses, but since it must be done in a quick manner, it still requires skills in timing and accuracy. I love this concept, as it is a nice way to reward experienced players by requiring practice and understanding of the ball’s physics on the different terrains, while still letting newcomers be able to join in without any hassle. This also goes for using the D-pad to affect the ball’s trajectory and give it a horizontal spin, and the six power shots at disposal for making your swings stronger.
By doing anything significant, such as getting a hole in one, winning a tournament or doing side quests, you will be rewarded with XP for levelling up your character. With each level up, you will gain one point to be used in one of their stats, which range between the amount of yards you can hit, the height of your ball’s altitude, how straight your shots are, the impact and quality of your swings, and the strength of your spins. Upgrading one will slightly affect others negatively, so you will have to keep in mind whether you wish to balance out your character’s stats or take the consequences in order to be stronger in one specific attribute. This is a wonderful element implemented for creating the character you wish to play as, making the RPG mechanics still an intriguing inclusion.
However, gameplay means nothing if the world is not designed around it. Luckily, Mario Golf: Advance Tour realises this, and has all the courses being engaging with different terrains helping to create clever and memorable layouts for each field, like the beaches with water hazards or the canyons with steep hills. There are in total four themed courses to get through, with one being unlocked after winning in them all and a couple that are secret. Each of them contains 18 fields, so there is a good amount of content to unravel, despite that it will only take about five hours get through the main campaign (much less if you are already into golf games).
Speaking of, this is where fans will notice that Mario Golf: Advance Tour, is basically a remake of the outstanding Mario Golf for the GBC. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as we have more weather effects like rain that affects the ball’s physics, the stats have been revamped to create a slightly more balanced experience, and new mechanics have been introduced to upgrade the overall gameplay. Even if the overworld and the stages are very similar to the GBC version, they have gotten some added touches to make them more unique. Old aspects, like having the RPG stats being simply a supportive element and letting skills alone get you far, show that Camelot cared about their original setup and its audience.
Unfortunately, with how much that has been expanded upon the original handheld entry, there is a lot of great ideas that are completely wasted on this game. Despite that there are side activities that even teaches you about interesting techniques, like how the ball will bounce on the fairway with a swing from an iron club, they are not needed to finish this title. The blacksmith also returns with more possible sets of clubs to acquire, but his inclusion is so minimal that you can ignore him in an entire playthrough. This is a shame, since the clubs for a golfer are just as important as the weapons for a warrior. The equipment are also focused on complementing varied gameplay styles and not just being another form of stat upgrades, which is a fantastic idea that should not be as underwhelming as it is here.
While we are on the subject of things that are unnecessary, you can play this title with an AI partner in both tournaments and match plays. I never understood this, as it only prolongs the game with the same form of content as what is offered for the single player. Why not instead have hotseat multiplayer with a friend in this turn-based title, if this mode had to be included? Not to mention, having to also level up your partner simply pads out the campaign even further. At least, match play has you compete against each of the champions in the amount of fields won, and it is still a fun and tense experience, despite not being required for finishing the game.
While the upgrades are somewhat hit and miss, the ones focusing on the mechanics are wonderful implementations. Others feel like decent concepts, just not suited for the original’s small size. If Mario Golf: Advance Tour went further by providing a bigger world and more courses, then I can see the new additions having a stronger foothold. Sadly, by being as big as its source material, the extra content for the main campaign feels like an afterthought, which is a shame with how clever they are. Still, this is a great title with some nice updates that makes it into a satisfying entry for anyone to jump in. A more accessible remake than a significant one.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
Golden Sun on golf courses
It is hard to ignore where the art style came from, but I am happy to see it being put to good use here. The pseudo 3D graphics make every character pop out, all have wonderful designs with simple and adorable animations to them, and the emoji speech bubbles are a cute way to highlight how they each feel about the different situations. The colours are strong and the game uses just about every single one the system can provide, making each location mesmerising. The mansion of a clubhouse is especially gorgeous with its lighting and huge amount of decorations, but the star of this show are the courses. All of them provide beautiful landscapes, be it the bright dessert or the lush forest.
I do wish there could have been more creativity implemented, seeing as this takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom, but I suppose it is done to make unlocking the imaginative ones a clear highlight. The fields also contain impressive 3D effects that are reminiscent of Mode 7, and all characters on the courses have smooth animations. What I do not understand, is why the star courses are not in the main game. Sure, they are nothing more than a nice coat of paint on already finished courses, but they could have offered lovely visual variety from the start.
Actually, while this is a wonderful game to look at, all this power had to be compensated with a lack of diversity in general, such as only having three animations in total for how well you did it on the different fields. The lack of strong highlights for accomplishments or failures, takes away the personality the characters could have had, which dampers the overall experience. To give some credit, I do love how the ball gets an explosive effect from a perfect shot and how it catches fire whenever it does a hard back- or topspin. Even other small elements like rain add to the atmosphere, but I wish more could have been done to enhance this fantasy golf game visually.
What is severely uncomfortable, is that whenever it is the CPU’s turn, there are huge frame rate issues and I am always confused to as to why they occur. These will never affect your shots, but are definitely an eyesore. On a more positive note, the sound effects are incredible. Perfect swings packs an impressive punch and the announcer highlights how your play on the field with tons of energy, making it all impactful. The characters’ voice samples are decent and adds to their personalities, even if some are reuses from older games by Nintendo.
However, the music was a big surprise to me! With the GameCube iteration, I felt that the composer tried too hard to make a relaxing game of golf exciting with fast-paced jazz and disco music. It did not fit at all, which was a shame when the scores were great overall. Here, there are different takes on rock and a diverse amounts of simulated instruments like violins and el-guitar being used that you would hear in high fantasy JRPGs like Golden Sun. Because of the bright colours and the implementation of the genre, the melodies surprisingly works.
All the tracks contain huge amount of variety and tries to be epic and grand with noticeable highlights, with even some songs being from Golden Sun too. It works perfectly by also being paced to be more uplifting and cheering. Even the tracks from Toadstool Tour work here by being slightly slower and using other instruments to make it fit better. I do wish the Underground theme from Super Mario Bros. played whenever a birdie was possible to get and not only in the fantasy stages, but that is a nitpick when the compositions make golf feel as exhilarating as an actual JRPG. Over the top, but never too much. Just a shame that the visuals could not complement the audio as strongly.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Fancy some multiplayer on a single GBA?
There are a lot of extras to tackle, so let us start with what else there is in the main campaign. As mentioned, the side quests are entertaining to tackle since they teach you more about different techniques or test your skills in timing and planning, while rewarding you with XP. These are great on their own, and searching for hidden 1-Up Mushrooms for levelling up is also a fun side activity, due to them being well hidden and the world being fascinating to explore. There is even a golf glossary included in this title, which is adorable.
Although, the extra modes confuse me. Taken from the GameCube version, you can partake in plenty of varied types of activities, but just like in Toadstool Tour, they are hit and miss. Stroke play is the same as tournament mode, and character match is one versus one matches where you can unlock more characters and upgraded versions of them. Both are simple takes on what the main game offers and could have been implemented there instead of being separated modes, but are decent distractions.
The rest I am going to do my best to summarise. Speed golf is the only bad one, as it times you in this calm and precise game of golf, and feels completely off and shallow. Club slots gives you random clubs, which is a clever idea for some fun matches, even if it can be unfair due to its RNG setup. Near-pin is my personal favourite by being about getting as close to the pin in one shot as possible, making for some tense and exhilarating planning. Ring mode has been replaced with go-go gates to hit through, which was a smart move due to how difficult altitude can be to measure in this GBA-title, and it still tests your swings and spins.
Most of these modes are engaging and can even be played in co-op with one friend or in versus mode against up to four players. This is a brilliant inclusion and I love how you can do this either through link cable if you wish to taunt and cheer in-game or by using one console alone for hotseat gaming. Thanks to the amount of options for taking on quick and different modes of golf, this entry is perfectly suited for handheld gaming with or without friends.
Although, the other extras in the form of exchanging clubs with other players and hooking up this game to the GC version, are only novelties that does not enhance the overall experience. They just give you more options to unlock more elements faster, and are easily forgettable. I do also wonder why the star courses are just the same as those in the main game with more creative visuals. Luckily, there is enough entertaining content here for both the single player and those wanting some good multiplayer options on the go.
Extra Score: 8/10
This is a great remake of the GBC version, with a lot of nice upgrades included to make the gameplay improved upon and better than ever before. It is somewhat on par with the original, but can also feel less because of how it tries too hard to add in more content to the main campaign without compensating for its small size. The visuals can also be questionable due to lack of creativity, but the amazing audio and tons of engaging modes makes Mario Golf: Advance Tour a valuable option for some exciting golf gaming.