Can red and blue make green?
We constantly poke fun at Mario's ridiculous, over-the-top Italian persona, but the world's most famous plumber has more in common with the The Godfather than anyone at Nintendo would care to admit publicly.
And like Vito Corleone, Mario has his hand in everyone's pocket. Environmental clean up? Pay me. Planning a party? Pay me. Thinking about racing or tennis or even health care? Pay me, pay me, pay me. The guy makes Puff Daddy look conservative.
Now the plumber-turned-business-mogul shifts his attention to the lucrative world of golf, which has been good to him in the past thanks to two solid Mario Golf games for the N64 and Game Boy. His latest romp on the links, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, upholds the series' quality, but fails to take the kinds of chances that put Mario on the map in the first place.
The game is a classic example of arcade golf, operating on the same basic principles as Nintendo's first golf game for the NES, the brilliantly titled Golf. You pick clubs, you check out the wind, you press a button or two and you whack balls (just like any decent gangster).
As in any Mario game, the cast features a collection of Mario's friends and enemies, from Peach, Luigi and Yoshi to Bowser, Wario and the awkward Waluigi. The golfers have different shot trajectories and stats, but there's no system for increasing skills.
Rather, the one skill you have to perfect is hitting the ball. There are two shot types, Auto and Manual, and both use the traditional button-timing swing meter. Auto is very much for beginning gamers, simply requiring one button press to start the backswing and one to set distance, after which the accuracy is determined randomly but never strays far from perfect. Manual is much more compelling as you have to press the button a third time for accuracy.
It's nice that Nintendo included the Auto-swing feature as younger gamers will find it much easier to succeed, but it's a bit awkward because both swing types are always on. In other words, it's not a toggle. You press A to backswing; if you press A again it goes to Auto, while pressing B changes it to Manual. This leads to occasional biffs if you accidentally hit A twice when you meant to go Manual. Why they don't allow you to just choose which style you prefer in an Options menu is beyond me.
The putting is handled well thanks to a smart slope indicator similar to the one found in the inimitable Hot Shots Golf 3. Rain is particularly harsh here, severely slowing down every putt. I guess all that mud from Super Mario Sunshine has mingled with the rainclouds.
An arcade golf game's success is invariably tied to the course design, which in this case is hit and miss. There are a half-dozen courses here, and while the game advertisements boast all sorts of wacky Mario-themed elements to contend with, you'll only find such creativity on two of them. Plus, you won't be able to play these courses from the get-go - you'll have to unlock them by winning Tournaments. The first few courses are somewhat plain, just your typical video game golf courses, so it takes a while before you get to the good stuff.
But when you get there, it's pretty cool. Giant mushrooms act as pinball bumpers. Chain Chomps will chase after nearby balls. Do you aim for a Warp Pipe to cut down the length of the hole, or play it safe by sticking to the fairway? These elements have a great effect on the redundant nature of video game golf and should have been featured in more than two courses.
In fact, Mario Golf: TT is surprisingly short on depth, just following in the footsteps of other arcade golf games. How about playing for coins to spend on useful items or something? How about letting me buy new clubs or boost my stats? Sadly, the game seems content simply supplying the typical arcade golf experience and doesn't take advantage of the wonderfully bizarre universe in which it's set.
However, it makes up for this a bit with a ton of game modes. In addition to the Tournaments, you can unlock other characters in Challenge, hit through hoops in Ring Shot, collect coins (which are not used for anything, mind you) in Coin Shoot, test your touch with Near Pin and go for broke in Speed Golf. Another interesting mode, Club Slots, forces you to play a slot machine before every hole to determine which three or four clubs you're allowed to use. This can be really fun. Ever chip with a 3-iron?
Of course, no Mario game is complete without multiplayer. You can play Mario Golf: TT with up to three friends in any of the game modes, and thankfully the game flow is pretty quick. As an added irritant, you can taunt your opponents while they're setting up a shot, which can indeed be distracting.
No matter how you play, the game looks good. The colorful graphics are smooth, the camera systems for aiming work well, the load times are fast and the framerate is rock solid. The sounds and music are pretty generic, but don't offend.
And neither does the game as a whole. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour offers exactly what armchair golfers would expect. However, that's not necessarily enough. More creativity and depth would have led to a new boss; instead, this is just another member of the family.