Links to the Past: A Look Back At The Mario Golf Series

While a Nintendo fan’s heart will beat ever faster for the likes of the Smash Bros. series or Mario’s latest outing, I’m a bit of an outlier when it comes to the series I lose sleep over.

Nothing tops Mario Golf for me.

What makes it so appealing is how it pits my efforts against no one but myself. It’s a game of constant one-upmanship, of trying to better myself with each play through. In most cases, there’s no direct competition with an AI; just a wide range of numbers thrown up on a leaderboard. That allows me to relax and focus on the bigger picture. There’s no one but myself to blame for a poor performance, no glitches or rubberbanding to scapegoat. Whether I win or lose comes down to my abilities, and Mario Golf is very unique in that sense.

In the recent months I’ve gone back to earlier installments of the series, basking in their holiness (pun not intended, originally, but now I fully intend it). It’s been interesting to see this series evolve, and the differences between the home and handheld entries.

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Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color was my first foray into the series (and was my first proper GBC game as well, the translucent cartridge initially threw me for a loop), and remains my almost-favourite. It partners RPG mechanics with golf in a way only a studio like Camelot can pull off (a feat made possible by their history with the role-playing genre), but that alone isn’t what makes it great. The mechanics used are perfect; they’re simple to understand, and allows players of all skill levels to enjoy themselves. After aiming the ball, players tap the A button to set the strength of the shot, then once again for accuracy.  These mechanics are so strong that they remained unchanged in future installments.
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The courses are very well designed, with a steady curve in difficult as the courses unlock. While the hardware seems archaic now, Camelot made excellent use of the Game Boy Color’s limited colour palette, providing four diverse courses with their own unique hazards and visual cues. While 2D, the differences in height, distance, and lie are conveyed expertly. In fact, for as advanced as the 3D entries on the N64 and GameCube are, I still prefer how the greens read in the 2D games (a simple arrangement of arrows indicate the elevation of the green, as opposed to a grid of moving lines and colours).

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Advance Tour for the Game Boy Advance is a fun successor to the original, but oddly enough the extra strength offered by the GBA led to a less enjoyable experience. Some odd color choices for the swing meter made it difficult to track the indicator as it slid from side to side, making it much more difficult to manage your shot. The courses too take a hit, as they became littered with hazards that look like a pixelated mess, which in turn makes the courses more difficult to read.

But it’s not all gone sour. The addition of power shots allows players even further control of the ball, giving players more options to approach the hurdles each hole presents. While their use is limited, great execution of the swing meter preserves the power shot, and keeps your reserve intact. This mechanic makes it difficult to go back to the GBC’s installment, as it feels great to push the ball that little bit further than intended.

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Another of Advance Tour‘s strengths is the continuation of the RPG-like mode. Once again players fart around a spot of land, playing rounds of golf and completing various challenges to increase the various attributes of their golfer. It’s a silly adventure, but one that culminates in an exciting fashion (much like its predecessor); a Mario-infused golf course against that world’s most esteemed professionals (and Waluigi).

While Mario Golf World Tour drops this beloved mode (a decision many hold remorse for), it looks to continue the series in an otherwise progressive manner. Camelot continues to home their craft, presenting courses with the restraint missing from Advance Tour, and refining the shooting system further still (with a lean towards expert players as the preservation of power shots loses the leniency seen in previous games).

Oh, and there’s online play. So while I praise the series for stress free competitive play, that all goes out the window when I can best my friends by a stroke or two.

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