In recent years, with the rising popularity of casual and Facebook gaming, it’s become the trend to merge different genres with the RPG. Bejeweled and Puzzle Quest merged the puzzle game genre with the RPG (or elements of it). Farmville and Cityville on Facebook do something similar, merging farm building and city building with one of the oldest gameplay mechanics in gaming: leveling up. And it works brilliantly. However, in 1999, developer Camelot beat them to the punch by merging the RPG with the sports game genre. Namely, golf and tennis on the Game Boy Color. And in their first sequel to those games, Camelot may have perfected the formula.
In 2004, Camelot released Mario Golf: Advance Tour on the Game Boy Advance. If you’re familiar with Camelot at all, you may know them for their work on the Golden Sun and Shining Force series. They are probably best known for their work with Nintendo on the Mario Golf and Mario Tennis series though, and Advance Tour is probably the best example why.
While Advance Tour is a golf-RPG, it is light on story and heavy on actual golfing, so don’t go into it expecting some kind of Final Fantasy adventure merged with golf. Expect a Mario-themed golf game that is deep and encyclopedic in its knowledge of the game (in fact, there’s an actual golf glossary built into the game for you to reference golf terms you may not be familiar with). As well, don’t assume that because it has Mario and the gang in it, that it’s catering strictly to a younger audience or that this is a dumbed-down game of golf. It is not by any stretch. Advance Tour is as good and deep of a golf game as you’ll most likely be able to find on any system, handheld or otherwise.
A relaxing game of golf in the Mushroom Kingdom. Thankfully, none of the piranha plants are deadly.
There are two basic modes: Story and Quick Game. Quick Game is just that, for when you want to quickly jump into a game. And Story mode is the actual full RPG part of the game where you rise through the ranks to try and become the golfing grandmaster of the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond, defeating your rivals while gaining experience points with every victory. While Story mode is where the meat of the game is, you can also gain XP in Quick Game mode as well. In fact, you may find yourself spending as much time in Quick Game as you do in Story if you want to max out both your character’s (you and your doubles partner) XP and do everything in the game. And believe you me, there is plenty to do.
There are a variety of different types of golf you can play. Of course, there’s the standard game of golf where you can do Match Play or play a full tourney with either singles or doubles. In Quick Game mode, you can pick who you want to play against in Match Play and the game will keep track of which opponents you’ve beaten. In fact, the game will keep track of just about everything you do during your play time and how well you do it. Detailed stats are kept of all your golfing endeavors and accomplishments. Other types of golf challenges will have you hitting balls through star gates (go-go gates), speed golfing, golfing with clubs chosen from a slot machine, golfing entire courses with one club, defeating custom-made courses made by a cocky elf who berates you for every failure, and others. The variety is good and helps the game not get monotonous. Plus, every course has a ‘star-course’ version that adds Mushroom Kingdom touches like warp pipes that you can hit your ball into, chain chomps that will eat your ball if you get too close, giant stars you can hit your ball through to change the elements or give you extra power or XP, and giant mushrooms that will bounce your ball in an undesired (or desired if you’re really good) direction. Every playable character also has a ‘star-version’ with boosted stats that you can play against in Match Play as well.
The gameplay could be described as ‘easy to learn, hard to master’. The actual golfing is measured by a bar at the bottom of the screen, with lines on the bar to measure power and accuracy. After lining up your shot on the map screen, it’s simply a matter of lining up your shot on the bar to get the desired power and accuracy that you want that determines where the ball will go. You get a variety of clubs and woods to choose from just like in real golf that can help make or break a shot. Accomplishing certain challenges in the game on various courses will earn you a ticket to upgrade your clubs which can make a big difference in your golf game. Weather plays a big part as well as you will oftentimes be having to compensate for wind that can be blowing in any direction, sometimes blowing upwards of 20 mph. You also can control what part of the ball you want your club to strike the ball by using the d-pad to hook or draw your shot, giving you another layer of strategy and options in your game. And lastly, you can put spin on your shot, using forespin by hitting AA or AB (AB gets you a lot of spin), or BB or BA for backspin (BA gets you a lot of backspin) that can get you that few extra feet after your shot lands. You have to use spin with discretion though, because too much spin on a nicely placed shot might put you farther from the hole. In all, the golfing mechanic in Advance Tour has a nice balance of strategy and skill that determines what kind of golfer you’ll be.
That would be a go-go gate. I have no idea why they just didn't call it a star gate.
As well, if you have a GameCube (or Wii), a copy of Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, and a GBA/GCN link cable, you can play your leveled-up characters in Toadstool Tour and earn even more XP that you can then transfer back to Advance Tour. It’s a nice feature which I hope Nintendo expands upon in future installments of the series. It almost makes Toadstool Tour feel like an expansion of Advance Tour. Crushing a long drive with your leveled-up characters on the Toadstool Tour courses feels very satisfying. Or if you just have a link cable and two GBAs, you can link up for some multiplayer. Or if you only have one Game Boy and no link cable and are really desperate for some multi-player, up to four people can pass around a Game Boy and take turns. It’s not the ideal way to play, but this game came out in 2004 when Nintendo was still sticking their fingers in their ears whenever anyone mentioned anything about their games being online. Plus, the GBA just didn’t have the capability. You’ll spend the vast majority of your time in the single-player mode with this one.
The games visuals are not a ‘mixed bag’. They’re what you’d expect if you’ve played either of the Golden Sun games on GBA. In essence, Advance Tour is one of the prettiest GBA games out there. Everything is colorful and vibrant and animated. Yes, you do get the trademark Camelot emoticons above character’s heads when they’re having conversations, which is either a positive or a negative depending on how much this annoyed you if you played the Golden Sun games. Personally, I always found it kind of charming, but I know a lot of gamers didn’t. So your mileage may vary with that. There is some slowdown in the framerate when your computer opponent is charting their shot, but since you’re not actually playing at the time, it doesn’t affect gameplay in any way. Also, on the map screen, on a few occasions, I had a hard time seeing where my shot was landing on the course because of the angle of the map (which you can’t rotate) and because the numbers telling me how long my shot was were in the way. This only happened a few times when I was trying to pull off a precision drive in a very specific part of the hole though. A minor annoyance, but worth mentioning.
Level-up! You're going to be doing a lot of this.
Musically, Advance Tour has a lot of what I would call synth-driven, Mushroom Kingdom-style rock. Basically, if the band Rush were to do a concept album about the Mushroom Kingdom, I think it wouldn’t sound too dissimilar from what is in Advance Tour. Lots of synth and drums. If you have no clue who Rush is and have no inkling to find out, let’s just say the music is good and completely appropriate for the activity and setting of the game. But if you completely hate it, you can turn it off in the options menu. Sound design is sharp as well. The sound of your clubs hitting the ball on a massive drive is spot-on, followed by lots of ‘Nice Shot!’ encouragement from the game as the ball hurtles hundreds of yards through the air to its destination. Characters speak in classic Camelot garble-speak which, again, may be a positive or negative depending on your taste in Camelot’s style with that stuff. And then you have all the classic Mushroom Kingdom sound-effects with warp pipes, chain chomps, giant bombs, etc. which never misses a beat. All very appropriate for a Mario game. Good stuff here.
If you’re looking for a handheld golf game, look no further. Not only is Advance Tour one of the best golf games out there, it’s probably one of the best handheld games I've played, period. It’s that good. Nintendo gets criticized for releasing too many Mario spin-offs and milking the IP, but when they’re this good, I say bring them on. I can’t wait to play the 3DS installment. Advance Tour is fantastic. Buy this game.
An excellent game that I played a lot of. Unfortunately it was very similar to the Gameboy Color one. The added front and back spin where a much welcomed addition. I will still play it from time to time. Leveling up the characters on the GCN was fun as well.
Got cancelled, I believe. Either that, or it just became Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on DS. Maybe. Either way, the console game got canned. Which is unfortunate - I would have loved to see what Camelot could have done on the 'Cube.
Cool beans, thanks. And reading that page briefly, might I just say how glad I am to say that I am a proud member of Negative World, and how we never have to deal in "bumps" to keep certain topics up, and can just talk with ease about anything and everything here, new or old.
Though I do get a kick out of "necro bump"s occasionally..
A great and well-written review! I played the GBC game but never got around to playing this GBA version. It sounds fantastic, I'll have to check it out. If only Nintendo would actually follow through with releasing GBA games on the 3DS eShop.