RPG = Role-Playing Golf
Mario Golf Advance Tour comes to us from Camelot, the creators of Golden Sun, Mario Tennis, and Shining Soul/Force. You may not know them by name, but you've probably played their games. All of them tend to have one thing in common...they kick ass. Mario Golf Toadstool Tour on the Cube felt like a glass half empty to me, but with Advance Tour the glass is overflowing. The front of the box says "Role Playing Golf" and they aren't joking. Advance Tour is a combination of RPG elements in a golf game. It sounds ridiculous, but it works. It's no Tiger Woods PGA Tour, but it's not trying to be.
The story mode puts in the shoes of one of several kids who take a trip to the local country club. It's pretty much summer camp at a golf course. In the beginning, you are partnered up with another kid (one of the opposite sex) and set out on a quest to become the greatest golfer in the world and challenge Mario. As you play through the game, you earn experience, develop your character (as well as your partner in Doubles Matches), gain skill, and take part in some challenging mini-games. It has a little something for everyone. Advance Tour is yet another great reason to own a GBA.
If you played Golden Sun, then you're going to recognize the style of the non-golf areas immediately. As for the golf courses themselves, they are vivid and the settings vary widely from the generic courses at the beginning to the Mario-inspired links near the end. They've done a good job of incorporating some 3D elements to the course viewing even though the game is primarily 2D. The special effects on great shots are a nice touch and while there's nothing spectacular about the game's graphics, they get the job done in a fun, colorful style.
If you've played Hot Shots or the Cube version of Mario Golf, you know what to expect. The regular 3-point swing controls are in effect here but they've added a few little things to give you more control over the ball. You can still add spin to the ball by tapping combinations at impact, but you can also change the point of impact during your swing in order to cause a fade/draw. It's basic gameplay, but it's solid. Camelot knows golf. The RPG elements (interacting with other golfers around the country club) are what you would expect. They are skippable for the most part if you wish, but for those who obsess over finding every little secret in the game, you're gonna need to talk to people.
As with Golden Sun, the tracks in the game are very high quality. The only problem is that some of them don't seem to really go with the whole golf theme, but I'm not really complaining. You'll instantly recognize the scrolling text bleep-bleep's from Golden Sun as many things like that have been recycled. Once you make it far enough, or if you jump into Quick Play, you'll instantly recognize the voices and themes of Nintendo's mascots. The game also has some great environmental sounds that really bring you into the game, which is fairly rare for GBA games.
From the looks of it, this game has no end in sight. Sure, the story mode will probably only take you 10-12 hours, but one trip through still won't get you all the goodies. There are a ton of extra side-challenges that are completely optional but still offer great rewards such as new clubs or even characters. The non-story mode also offers many different match types including Doubles (which is kinda like a scramble), skins, and tournaments. To squeeze even more value out of the game, there is indeed multiplayer. But before you start crying about needing 4 GBA's, 4 cables, 3 hookers, and whatnot...you only need ONE system. You can simply hand it off to player #2. You do have the option of linking up 4 GBA's though, and you also have the option of using the Wireless Link when it releases with Pokemon Fire and Leaf in a couple months. That still not enough? Well you can link the thing to your Gamecube and upload your Advance Tour character to Toadstool Tour. The game is loaded with replay value.
I think Mario Golf offers something for everyone who owns a GBA. The GBA is notorious for having some of the best RPG experiences since it's debut and this is no exception. But even so, it's an RPG set in a world that comes completely unexpected to any regular RPG fan. Conversely, anyone who simply enjoys golf and/or games such as Hot Shots will find more than enough to keep them satisfied. The beauty is that there's not too much of either side to turn either enthusiast off. It's almost as if it bridges the gap between two distinctly different genres allowing for players of both sides to experience something that may open up a whole new world of games to them. If you own a GBA (which you should), then Mario Golf Advance Tour deserves to be in your geeky nylon carrying case.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the game's release ***