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Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour
Ever since the release of the Nintendo Wii in November 2006, there have been several golf games released for the system, but surprisingly none of them have been the next console installment of the Mario Golf series. In fact, the developer behind the games, Camelot Software Planning, would go on to pair with Capcom and release a stand-alone golfing title, We Love Golf!, raising the question as to when or if we will ever see a new Mario Golf title for Nintendo's seventh generation system. In the meantime, however, that leaves the 2003 Gamecube title Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour as the most recent home-console entry in the series. Fortunately, it's not such a bad little consolation prize after all.
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While some critics have given this game negative marks for not using the analog control stick to mimic the golf swing, I think the game should be applauded for offering something different from its competition. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour features two different swing types, automatic and manual. Automatic requires you to push the A button to start a swing-power meter and then press A again when you're satisfied with the strength of the swing. The manual swing, on the other hand, requires at least three button presses. Once again, the A button starts the meter, but once you reach your target, you hit B to initiate the manual swing and then A or B again once the swing returns to the starting point. In this manner, you can also but topspin or backspin on your swing by quickly tapping A twice for the former and B twice for the latter at the end of a swing. All in all, the controls work very well and are quite easy to pick up and play, even if some gamers may find them to be somewhat shallow.
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Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour features a wealth of different play modes, including single-player tournaments, ring attack (in which you try to hit the ball through rings on the course), club slots (in which players are forced to use a limited number of golf clubs, as determined by a slot machines), speed golf, a near-pin challenge, and doubles (where two players team up and take turns playing the same ball). There is an incredible amount of variety, and they are quite enjoyable in multiplayer, but if you're going it solo, the tournaments are the only real highlight. It's a shame, then, that the deep RPG-style play modes found in the handheld Mario Golf games weren't included here as well. Nonetheless, this is a fairly complete package that should keep gamers entertained for quite some time.
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Graphics and Sound
The visuals received a lot of praise at the time of the game's release, and they hold up quite well these days as well. The character models are solid, and compare nicely to more recent games set in the Mario universe. The courses themselves are quite detailed and most impressive. The only thing that seems off is the water, and even that doesn't look too, too bad. It is especially amusing to watch your character's animated reaction after a particularly good or bad hole. Musically, the game earns high marks for not only including classic Mario themes, but also some original work from one of my favorite video game composers, Motoi Sakuraba (Star Ocean, Tales of Phantasia). Also, the game makes good use of voice acting, especially for the taunts that you can utilize to torture your opponents in multiplayer gameplay.
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Yes, the score here might surprise you, but this is one of those cases where a game winds up being far better than the some of its parts. True, Toadstool Tour isn't without its flaws. A deeper single-player mode ala Mario Golf: Advance Tour sure would have been nice, for one thing, and it certainly won't appeal to sim fans weaned on the EA Sports Tiger Woods games. All that considered, however, this is an incredibly entertaining, easy to pick up and play game that oozes charm and is immense fun, especially when playing with a group of friends. It makes me dream of a Wii version in which you could hop online and join a foursome for 18 holes via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, complete with online leaderboards and the like. Until Nintendo decides to make that dream a reality, though, I can see myself happily investing many an hour winning tournaments and taunting my friends and family during intense four-player ring attack or stroke play matches.