For many, there isn't a sport on the planet more tedious than golf. To these people the term "a good walk ruined" is about as accurate a description as anyone's ever come up with for anything, and they'd probably be able to reel off a list of far better uses for a golf club — window removal, football hooliganism, that sort of thing. But if there's one company that has proven itself time and time again in its ability to make even the most monotonous of sports extremely entertaining, it's Camelot Software Planning. Frequently tasked with bringing new instalments in Nintendo's Mario Golf and Mario Tennis franchises to both home consoles and portables, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour was the first game to show that tradition would continue on the GameCube and well into the future.
All the usual faces are present and correct — Mario, Luigi and Peach to Bowser, Koopa Troopa and Donkey Kong — with 12 characters available from the outset and a further four unlockable through meeting certain criteria within Toadstool Tour's various modes. As is standard practice for a Mario spin-off title, each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses such as swing strengh, curve and whether they're left- or right-handed, which determines how well they perform in certain areas and ultimately who players will spend most of their time playing as. The roster is perfectly balanced to cater for any play style, so no player should find themselves penalised if they favour a specific type of swing, or even just want to play as their favourite character.
Toadstool Tour doesn't feature much that long time fans of both the Mario Golf series and more simulative takes on the sport, such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour, won't have seen countless times before. Nonetheless, there's a colossal amount of things to do packed onto that tiny GameCube disc, with a plethora of game modes and mini-games on offer. The self-explanatory Birdie Challenge, Near Pin and Speed Golf are accompanied by Coin Shoot, which tasks players with collecting more coins than their opponents, and Ring Shot, in which players must get the ball through a series of intricately and often downright nastily placed rings spread throughout the course while staying on par. All of these modes are designed to help players hone their golfing skills, while also dishing out plenty of opportunities for them to develop obsessive compulsive disorder of the must-beat-high-score variety. There are also Doubles Matches, as well as Character Matches, the latter requiring you to attain victory over a specific character; doing so unlocks that character's Star version, which adds a sizeable amount of wallop to their swing.
Out of all the modes available though, it's the main Tournaments that players should ideally be delving into first and foremost. Placing first in each one unlocks the subsequent tournament along with a brand new course for use in Toadstool Tour's multiplayer component. Sadly, the number, variety and — in a few cases — design of the courses is one of the few areas in which Toadstool Tour finds itself being a bit of a slouch. There are only seven courses available, and while the latter ones are brilliantly designed and present a meaty challenge, the earlier few are disappointingly humdrum. Thankfully, it doesn't take too long to unlock the more interesting courses and the presence of Chain Chomps, warp pipes and giant bouncy mushrooms certainly inject some trademark Mario character, but this only emphasises how pedestrian and unimaginative the earlier courses are, making it highly unlikely that you'll go near them again and essentially cutting the course count in half.
Despite this hiccup, the strength of Toadstool Tour's gameplay ultimately outweighs the inconsistent quality of its courses. The act of performing a swing consists merely of aiming — taking wind speed and direction into account — and then executing a couple of timed button presses correctly, It's delightfully accessible so pretty much anybody can pick it up almost immediately, while players wanting to up their game can attempt to perfect more advanced golfing techniques like adding spin to the ball, which can often mean all the difference between landing on the green and clinching a game-winning birdie, or having the ball roll back down a hill and land in a Chain Chomp-occupied bunker.
On the technical side of things, Toadstool Tour is definitely one of the jewels in the 'Cube's crown. It's extremely easy on the eyes; each golfer boasts smooth animation and his or her own characteristics — including character-specific special effects that go off whenever you give the ball a proper whack — while every course is bursting with colour, impressively detailed and suitably Mushroom Kingdom-y, even if the earlier courses don't totally capitalise on the game's unique setting within the genre.
Aurally, Toadstool Tour runs the gamut from alright to downright annoying: a couple of pieces are just about bearable, however most of it is irritating beyond belief. Likewise, the stock phrases that each golfer utters can be hilarious at first — especially the small selection of "waaaagh!" noises, courtesy of Wario and Waluigi — but they quickly become intolerable over time.
Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour takes the adorable and timeless charm of Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom setting and weaves it into a solid and comprehensive game of golf. It's jam-packed full of entertaining slants on walloping a ball with a stick for the lone player and, despite it not being as fast-paced or action packed as some of Mario's other spin-off titles on GameCube — such as Mario Kart: Double Dash!! or Mario Power Tennis — it still doubles up as a highly entertaining multiplayer game. Toadstool Tour might stumble in a few minor areas, but it's as good a reason as any to own a GameCube and a game that truly embodies why Nintendo's continued faith in Camelot is well placed.