Mario Golf has always been my favourite of the portly plumber’s sports spin-offs, and their announcements and eventual release have never proved a disappointment. And this Virtual Console return of 2004’s Game Boy Advance title is certainly underpinned by great fundamentals.
However, while the Nintendo 64, GameCube and Nintendo 3DS titles have all oozed Mario-ness from every pixel – if that’s even a thing – this title continues the standardised style of developer Camelot’s approach to its handheld sports games. That largely means that it’s a sports game first, with Mario and pal’s inclusion secondary – their introduction not arriving until the very end of the game. This can be quite jarring for players who aren’t aware of this right out of the gate, especially as Mario Golf: Advance Tour is, in fact, a rather in-depth golf-based role-playing game.
You start as a new golfer entering the Mario Golf Club from which you can participate in Singles or Doubles matches with your partner, working your way through the various courses to become the overall master of the area. There are five main courses to participate in, and they all vary wildly in tone and style. They also have increasing difficulty in their design as you go forward. With each match, you get experience points to level up and improve your character, and you can even customise your clubs. On the whole, this mode is rather solid but it takes quite a while to get into, and starting the game means it’ll be at least 10 minutes before you even play some golf.
There are also numerous other modes to play vowing to keep you occupied across the RPG Mode and in Quick Play. Speed Golf scores you based on the time that was taken, Club Slots makes you only use clubs that are selected through slots, Go-Go Gates requires you to complete a course by going through specified gates, and, lastly, a special Star Tournament introduces Mario-inspired twists to the four standard courses you play through – such as Warp Pipes and obstacles.
The golf gameplay is tight and solid. You get a guideline which estimates approximately where your ball will land but ignores the effect that the wind will have on its trajectory. Controlling the shot works the same as most other golf games, where you press a button for power and another to determine the spin placed on it. This can be done automatically, or manually by pressing the B button and then another at the correct point. You can change club away from whichever is recommended to you, change your shot angle and even activate power shots. This makes the golfing a lot of fun, and quickly becomes the high point of the game.
Regrettably, there are low points. First off, as it’s a Virtual Console title multiplayer is off the table, meaning that the replay value of the game has been diminished. In addition to that, the character roster for Quick Play mode is somewhat lacking. You start off with four Mario characters and the two playable RPG characters. You can then unlock more characters in Match Play when you face them in Story Mode, but with Mario characters, you’re out of luck. In the original, you could unlock four more – Luigi, Wario, Waluigi and Bowser – by transferring save data between this and the accompanying GameCube title Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. That obviously cannot be done here which is somewhat disappointing, but more so because it feels like it limits the scope of the game.
Graphically, the game looks tight and well done, but like its sibling, Mario Power Tennis, it does not look that great on the big screen. While some Game Boy Advance games lend themselves well to upscaling, this game does not. Even screen smoothing doesn’t help it. Playing it on the Wii U GamePad, however, is a joy. The graphics are classically-styled sprites, with it following classic top-down RPG play in Story Mode. The game’s variety of colourful courses similarly look great, but if you get too close to the scenery and obstacles then you can see severely pixelated imagery, which is somewhat disheartening.
Mario Golf: Advance Tour‘s soundtrack is great and catchy – you may find yourself humming the tunes to it – but otherwise, it’s pretty standard for a golf game. The sound effects are realistic enough, and help cement the fact that you’re slamming golf balls down the green.
Mario Golf: Advance Tour delivers a solid golfing experience, and easily the best one that you can find on the Virtual Console at this time. While it has some niggles due to content rendered inaccessible, there’s plenty to keep you busy and the gameplay is nailed with precision. It’s definitely worth it if you enjoy the genre, just think about it if you’re wanting something overly Mario.