Cutesy golf games are all the rage with kids and the ladies. Just start up a game of Hot Shots Golf
if you need proof. Chicks flock to that thing like Bush’s daughters to liquor. It’s the perfect additive for lonely geeks who are looking for the company of the opposite sex and for non-game savvy girls who wish to get away from Dance Dance Revolution
and the Whack-a-Mole game at the arcade. Proof positive that the formula works? Hot Shots
is currently in its third iteration and Nintendo’s own spin-off, Mario Golf
, has just spawned a sequel. And oh yea, it’s pretty damn good.
To make a game of this type you need a few basic components; cute golfers, simple gameplay and some hum-worthy tunes. Mix ‘em together, put a Hello Kitty bow around it and you’ve got a recipe for success. Luckily Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour
does just this and thus is a pretty entertaining cutesy golf game that will prove to be entertaining to both testosterone enraged males(myself) , and prissy girls who have managed to pry themselves from their Care Bear dolls(my girlfriend). Great indeed, but one may receive the wrong impression from the game if he were to give up on it too early.
Toadstool Tour stumbles right out of the starting blocks due to the relatively sparse features that are at your disposal. The first golf course is terribly pedestrian and to be honest the game doesn’t get interesting until about the third or fourth course. There are some interesting gameplay modes available such as the requisite stroke, match play and tournament modes. For multiplayer there are the lesser known, yet just as entertaining, skins games, co-operative modes, mini-games and an assortment of other goodies. There’s an excellent variety of modes at your disposal but that’s not the problem, it’s the boring courses that you’re saddled with that bring this title down.
To unlock more courses you’ll need to win tournaments, but this isn’t the problem. Most of the tournaments are pretty simple and can be beaten by most novice gamers. It’s the overall generality and blandness of the first few courses that really drag this game down. They’re so plain and ordinary and you’ll probably wonder why you’re wasting your time with this game in the first place. Seriously I’ve seen better Links near my home, hell the Arnold Palmer Golf Course at Empire Lakes is ten times better than the first two courses combined. It’s not until you get to the third course, Sands Classic, that things really start to get interesting.
When you get there you’ll notice a significant increase in terms of design originality and quality. The designers worked harder to ensure that you wouldn’t get that feeling of déjà vu when you move from one hole to the next. From this point on each hole feels unique, not only because of the interesting landmarks that adorn the holes, but because of the layouts and unique elements that put this game above other golf games. The next course, Blooper Bay, gets even better as the holes are more unique and the overall look is just gorgeous. Each hole features different landmarks, such as Mermaid shaped bunkers or tee boxes on the rears of boats, that makes them fun to play each and every time. From that point on it just gets better and this is when you really feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s just a shame that it’s a good four-to-five hours into the game, well beyond the time that most of today’s ADD kids are willing to allow for a game to develop.
It’s ideal to play the character match first, doing so will help you unlock star players, stronger variants of the cast of characters. A character match has you play go up against an AI-controlled golfer with match play rules. Beating that character will allow you to use their star player, a statistically superior version of them. If you choose to jump right into the game you’ll have a difficult time, especially considering that most star players hit the ball 30-to-50 yards farther than their normal variants. The star player idea is pretty novel because it gives players of different skill levels a natural handicap. A weaker player can use the star character while the stronger player uses the normal character to help balance things out quite a bit.
Like all of the other Mario offshoots you’ll be able to select from a wide array of characters. Each of them looks and plays slightly different from each other and has strengths in other areas. Some characters have a pronounced draw in their swing while others are straight shooters, some are better at placing spin on the ball etc. There isn’t really too much of a difference between attributes though so in the end it all comes down to a matter of which character you adore the most. Overall there are about 20 characters including a few hidden ones such as Shadow Mario and Boo, the ghost. As mentioned before stronger versions of each character can be unlocked and if you desire, each player can become left-handed.
This is where the characters really begin to show off their personalities. Nintendo games are known for containing personable characters that grow on you, Toadstool Tour
is no exception. Each character is unique in their own right, both in terms of look and personality. What really gives each character charisma are their post hole animations. After you sink the ball into the cup your character will perform an animation that corresponds with how well you did. You’ll see funny things like the Koopa Troopa performing a dorky dance or Wario smacking his big behind, back that ass up style. They’re funny and are a true joy to behold and as an added bonus, they never really get old or annoying. Each player also has their own taunts, most of which are genuinely funny.
After you’ve selected your gameplay mode and character it’s time to hit the links. Again you’ll probably be under whelmed the first time you set off but it’s OK, it’ll help you get settled in for when times get harder. There are two types of swings at your disposal, a manual swing and an auto swing. The manual swing calls for the traditional three click system that has been in golf games since the early days of Access’ Links
so I won’t bother going into it. Auto swing is a simplified version of the manual swing where the player needs to only set the yardage and the computer handles the rest. Players can also add backspin and topspin to their hits by double clicking either the B or A button at the point of impact. It’s only available on the manual swing and it makes enough of a difference to utilize it instead of being lazy and using the auto swing.
Hitting the ball isn’t the difficult part of the interface, it’s the camera system that really hurts the most. Players can’t freely move the camera around the course to get a better perspective on the action. Instead they’re confined to moving it along the proposed flight path of their shot. What’s worse is that it’s jerky and unintuitive, sometimes you want to get near the hole to plan an approach. The camera won’t agree with you and instead of giving you a nice vantage point of the green the camera goes down to ground level and gives you a nice view of the landscaper’s gardening technique.
The others tried to warn him, but Mario never saw it coming...
On the surface the courses are pretty decent but they look so lonely and isolated from the rest of the world. I had a hard time believing that this was in fact a true golf course because I never saw any indication that they were part of one another. Nothing links them together, it’s like they’re all on separate islands spread out across the world. In most other golf games you can actually hit the ball onto surrounding holes; don’t count on it here because there is absolutely nothing that binds them together.
There are some problems with the frame rate as well. At random times the frame rate will chug as your moving around and trying to set up your swing. What causes this is beyond my scope of reasoning, especially considering that the game only has to render one hole on a golf course, a few amenities and only one golfer at a time the game has no excuse to chug, ever. Also on this point, early screenshots indicated that all of the people playing in your party would be displayed behind the current golfer who is hitting. Apparently that idea got scrapped somewhere down the line. Not that it makes the game any worse, it just adds to the empty feeling that the game already exudes.
Frame rate and visual issues aside, no part of the game is more flawed than the camera system. Presentation on this title is second rate; if Tiger Woods Golf
is ABC then Toadstool Tour
is the Public Access channel. Seriously this thing has problems, not only with aiming and helping you set up you shot, but also with keeping track of the ball and showcasing the action. At times the camera doesn’t even show you where your shot is, giving the game a very disjointed feel that you may expect from an amateur developer. On most close putts the camera doesn’t even bother to follow the ball, and instead relies on the sound of the ball clanking into the cup to indicate that you’ve sunk that five-footer.
Even though the game is colorful and vibrant there are cavalcades of visual errors that really mar the title. What most concerns me are the trees which look so flat and plain. I’ve seen better trees in Tiger Woods 2002
, a game that’s over a year old. Camelot did nothing to take advantage of the GameCube’s hardware and with the exception of some neat water effects, this game could have easily appeared on the PS2’s inferior hardware. There are some nice touches such as custom golf balls for each character, but since the camera is so clunky and unintuitive you’ll only be able to see them in some of the close-ups of the replays. It’s a shame that Camelot and Nintendo couldn’t come up with a better camera system, there are a lot of nice touches that aren’t highlighted because of the deficient vantage point.
The character animations are rather smooth and well-done, kudos to the guys who were in charge of this department. What’s nice about them is that they’re not all generic replicas of each other; each character has his or her own unique stance and follow through. Each character’s swing is well-done, unique and is among the best that we’ve seen in a golf game. They’re not perfect, however, as the characters fail to shift positions when they’re on uneven or steep ground. Instead the characters will just sort of stick to the ground, I’ve even seen some of them setup at a near 90 degree angle as opposed to shifting their stance so that one foot is on the slope and the other is on more flat land. In the end the result is pretty clunky and rather awkward looking. There are other problems as well such as when a player is standing under a shadow of a tree. No shaders or blending techniques were used to change the tone of the character so that they’ll mesh in with the scenery. Instead they contrast with the surrounding scenery which is darkened due to the shadows. Also, players have a tendency to float on water when their ball is hit near it. I guess everyone channels a bit of Jesus every once in a while eh?Toadstool Tour
is lacking a bit in the visuals department but it more than makes up for it with its excellent audio elements, both in terms of recorded and technological terms. On the technological side, support has been included for Dolby Pro Logic II setups. Now I’ll be the first to admit that a golf game doesn’t exactly have the breakthrough sound that demands a $2000 audio setup, but the inclusion of the decoding technology is still nice. There is a lot of distinct separation between channels on the ambient effects, giving you a feeling that you’re not only watching the action but are also surrounded by it.
And while the technology that binds the audio together is nice the actual audio is just excellent. Every single facet of the audio is just superb. Each character has a voice that’s true to their character and reflects who they are. Likewise for the actual golfing sounds; hits from the bunker have that heavy sound that signifies club head to sand contact and the clank of the ball falling into the cup is convincing and satisfying. To tie this all together there are some hum worthy tunes as well; all of which have a familiar Mario-esque tinge to them.
Single-player golf is fun for a bit but if you buy Toadstool Tour
you’ll want to do so for the multiplayer elements. Up to four players can compete or co-operate together at once making this an excellent pickup for all you non-socially challenged folks. If you’re too broke to afford three extra controllers you should note that the game allows players to share controllers. This means that you can play a four-player game with just one controller, although all of the controller passing could get old after awhile.
The game has even more chance for replayability when Mario Golf Advance
is released later down the line. Not much has been revealed about the GBA-to-GC capabilities except for the fact that you'll be able to move your characters from one game to the other. It'll be a neat way to get players into the game and may open up the door to even more bonus features.
There’s a lot to like about Toadstool Tour
, and while it still feels like a slightly updated version of the N64 game there’s enough new content to justify a purchase for both hardcore and casual fans. It’s not going to challenge Tiger Woods
for the throne of golfing games but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun.