Golfing on a handheld. Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Well, the only way to tell is to try it out, and I’ll tell you something. On the GBA, it works out well.
[i]Mario Golf: Advance Tour[/i] is the epitome of handheld golf. Thanks to Camelot, this game could not have been done better. In fact, I dare say that it is even better than [i]Toadstool Tour[/i] on the Gamecube. That’s right, this game is that damn good. Now, that’s certainly not to say it’s perfect, but really, not many games are. This one though is really special.
What is [i]Mario Golf: Advance Tour[/i] exactly? Well, take one part [i]NES Open[/i](the original [i]Mario Golf[/i], which happened to be superior to every golf game in the 8 and 16-bit era), add in some [i]Golden Sun[/i], and then finish it off with [i]Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour[/i]. When you mix it all together, you get [i]Mario Golf: Advance Tour[/i], and that my friends, is a good thing.
[i]Mario Golf: Advance Tour[/i] has a good deal of variety in it. You have your obligatory story mode, the quick game mode, and of course the multiplayer mode via system link, or on the single GBA. The system link is the preferred multiplayer experience though, since it gives you the ability to pit your best character against your opponent’s. Amongst the game modes, there are four standard courses, what could be described as a bonus course, and then five more “star” courses, which are basically more difficult versions of the original five courses. You might think that there’s just not enough courses to keep you entertained, but trust me, there are. Between all the game modes, all the courses, and collecting badges for each hole, there will be plenty of replayability. Then of course there’s the leveling system which forces you to play courses repeatedly.
As you play through courses, you gain experience that you can use to level up your character, or your CPU controlled partner(I recommend keeping all the experience points to yourself until you are maxed out). As you level, you get an attribute point that you put into various categories. There’s distance, fade/draw, spin, impact/control, and height. These stats will determine how your character plays. You can’t just put all of your points in distance though, because as your distance improves, you must keep up in the other categories. Otherwise you’ll have a 400 yard drive, but it’ll be incredibly hard to control, quite inaccurate, and simply put, suck. Balancing these attributes, and making sure they stay balanced all the way up to level 99 is key. Once you reach level 99 with both characters, then the experience becomes a moot point.
As you level up, you of course should become a better golfer, but no matter how good a golfer is, you can only be as good as your equipment allows you to be. That’s where the customization shop comes into play. As you travel around the [i]Golden Sun[/i]-looking game world, you’ll find a shop where you can get custom clubs, but in order to do that, you need to get a custom ticket. By performing various tasks in the world in story mode, you can get these tickets, and in turn, you get to cash them in for better clubs. Some clubs have better distance, some hit the ball lower so wind affects it less, and others have a bigger sweet spot. Determining what clubs are best for you is also vital in becoming a good [i]Mario Golf: Advance Tour[/i] player.
Let’s get down to the actual gameplay, shall we? Basically, as you play, you start out viewing the course from a bird’s eye perspective. You will do most of your aiming from here. Then you go into the behind-the-player perspective, and you can do more adjustments from there, or simply take the shot. When the shot is taken, it goes back to the overview to show you where the ball is going, and when you get close to the green, it zooms in so you can see how accurate your shot will be. Also, when you take your shot, you have the simple yet oh-so-effective shot-bar on the bottom of the screen. You tap the button to get things going, tap it again to measure your distance, then tap it again for accuracy. Even though that follows along with the general simplicity of the gameplay it certainly does work out just fine. Overall, the gameplay is done about as well as could be expected for a handheld golf game.
My only gripe about the gameplay is that when I’m on the green and trying to putt, I can’t zoom in on the hole to make a more accurate shot, I have to keep pressing left and right or up and down alternatively until I know I’m right where I want to be. Of course, even then it doesn’t always work out. Due to the low screen resolution, the hole appears to be bigger than it actually is, and until your ball gets a few feet away and you go into closeup mode, you won’t know if your shot is as accurate as expected. That’s a very minor gripe though. I had few problems with that. Half of the issue was that initially I just wasn’t any good at the game.
On the topic of putting, I feel that I should mention that this is the biggest difference between [i]Toadstool Tour[/i] and [i]Advance Tour[/i]. I find the putting to be much easier, and with the overhead view and the tiny arrows representing hills, a la [i]NES Open[/i], I find that I simply have a far better short game than I did in [i]Toadstool Tour[/i]. Simply put, [i]Advance Tour[/i] is just better.
Now to go into the sound department. While some of the sound effects and more specifically the music, may feel a bit like they belong in [i]Golden Sun[/i], it is all original music. It’s simply that Camelot seemed to go with a similar style of music overall. The thing about a golf game though is when it comes to music and sound effects, nobody ever expects anything fancy, so even though it’s only a bit above average, for a golf game it’s quite good.
Forget about sound though. I think one of my favorite features of the game is the ability to hold up to five played holes in memory for your good shots. That is to say that five birdies, eagles, hole in ones, and albatrosses get saved for you so you can view your awesomeness later. After fifty hours of gameplay though, I still haven’t gotten five hole in ones or albatrosses. While there’s a fair deal of skill involved, just like in real golf, there’s a fair bit of luck as well. There are some pros out there who have never gotten a hole in one, yet they can land the ball within five feet of the hole on a regular basis. That’s just how golf is, both real and digital. As much as skill is involved, there’s luck too. Still, I’m so glad that my flag shot that fell down and right into the cup was saved on the cartridge. That’s such a good feeling to see that shot and know that luck or not, I made that shot.
There’s only one problem with [i]Mario Golf: Advance Tour[/i]. As good as it is, it’s not perfect. I think what aggravates me the most is Doubles Play. The problem is my partner, whether she’s at my level or not, just absolutely sucks. I find that I feel more like I’m competing with her than my actual opponents. Let’s say I have a bad shot that lands behind a tree/cactus/etc. Instead of hitting it ten feet to the left or right, she sometimes hits it all the way back to the tee. In fact, one time she did this and hit the ball back behind the tee. She aggravated me to no end, and it made it really difficult to even beat my opponents with her “helping” me. I swear, the AI for my opponents was better. Sure, they made mistakes, but nothing like what she does. There were times she’d try to hit the ball over an area of water even though her best club doesn’t have the range. She’ll hit it right in, and then you get a penalty stroke. She was the bane of my existence in this game, and when I got the option to change her name, I changed it to “Bitch.” Oddly enough, she said she liked it.
Speaking of computer AI, another minor issue, and this is quite minor, involves when the computer is thinking. If it’s changing where it’s aiming and thinking at the same time, you will see game slowdown. This of course only happens when they are taking a shot, so it has no actual affect on how the game turns out, but it is a minor nuisance in an otherwise near-flawless game.
The last minor problem I had with this game is that if you are playing in story mode and trying to get the rest of the badges for your holes, on the Links and Mushroom course, you have to watch the credits again. Unless I didn’t know the proper button combination, there is no way to skip the credits even if you have already seen them once. It’s a bit of a disappointment. Especially if you’re just trying to beat your own best score in story mode. A minor thing, but still a nuisance if you just want to try the course again.
Overall though, I’ve found that [i]Mario Golf: Advance Tour[/i] is a very good game. This game was just meant to be played on the GBA, and it’s actually one of the better golf games I have ever played on any system. I even feel that it is better than [i]Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour[/i], which proves that graphical prowess and full 3D doesn’t always mean everything.