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It's been about a decade since the last Mario Golf game swung onto the scene but, last week, Mario Golf: World Tour finally arrived on the 3DS, giving sports fans a whole new single player campaign to dive into, as well as a robust suite of online options. But after all this time, is World Tour worth breaking out the virtual clubs for?
For fans of previous Mario Golf entries, you pretty much know what to expect here. There are three full 18-hole courses up for grabs and another seven nine-hole courses to unlock through completing challenges. There are about a dozen playable characters initially, as well as a ridiculous number of gear including hats, gloves, clubs, shirts, balls, etc. As far as content is concerned, Mario Golf: World Tour crams it in nicely, with those willing to fork over another 15 bucks for the DLC season pass earning access to an additional four characters and six full courses.
To get at all of that content, World Tour is broken into two main modes: Quick Round and Castle Club. The former grants access to various single player modes, versus options and a set of rotating tournaments. The latter is what you might call the “campaign mode,” allowing the player to freely explore the country club to buy new gear, change your outfit, play through a curated set of tournaments and dive into another rotating set of local region and worldwide tournaments.
For those expecting to relive the excitement of the RPG-esque adventure of previous Mario Golf games in Castle Club, you might want to set your expectations quite a bit lower. One of my few gripes with World Tour is that developer Camelot decided to play things nice and safe, a concern I have with most Nintendo games coming out these past few years.
Rather than give players a deeper single player experience to progress through, Castle Club is instead mostly a facade, a world to explore and characters to chat up with very little of what you're doing having any sort of actual impact on the game. Insteady, Castle Club can best be seen as a sort of 3D menu. There's an area you can travel to to change your outfit, another you can visit to buy gear, another to visit to play tournaments, and another to visit to play the campaign courses, view trophies, etc. I definitely prefer this country club vibe over simply clicking through a few menus, but given how creative and rewarding past single player campaigns in the series have been, it was a little disappointing to discover that Castle Club was so straightforward.
Castle Club was also a little frustrating in that there was basically no explanation provided. Simply bumble through the various rooms until you discover something interesting to do, then find your way up to the actual courses and try playing a round. Keep doing that until you unlock more stuff, then repeat. That sort of obscurity bleeds into the Quick Round mode, too, where you'll need to dive through multiple menus and just try things out until you figure out what they actually do. A short description scrolling across the bottom of the screen suffices in many cases, but good luck if you're hoping to just guess the difference between, say, a Community Match and Private Tournaments, much less how to get to either of those options with ease the next time you boot the game up. There's also quite a bit of loading when it comes to getting into online tourneys and scoreboards, which can make for a bit of a slog at times.
Oh, and here's a pro tip: Start working on those Challenges in Quick Match: Single Player if you want to unlock new characters and courses. Again, it's not something that's explained to you from the get-go and I only stumbled into it by accident after being confused as to why I only had one course and a handful of characters to pick from after hours of play.
Finally on my “boo-hoo list” is the lack of an easy-to-read explanation of which tournaments you have and have not played yet. As I said earlier, Castle Club and Quick Round offer their own selection of tournaments to jump into, which is already a little frustrating in and of itself. And when you go into their individual menus, there's no way to tell at a glance if you've already played one of the tournaments or not. You have to click on another option to view the tournament results on an individual basis, resulting in even more loading, which is frustrating as all get-out. A simple check mark over a tournament I've already played would have sufficed, but no such luck.
Despite all of that, I highly recommend Mario Golf: World Tour. Hard to believe after all of that whining, right? Well, let me get to the good stuff.
For starters, speaking purely to the game's mechanics, World Tour is basically spot on. There are a few options to make shots a bit easier for newcomers to handle, the ability to play with button or screen taps, multiple viewing angles before taking a shot and reliable wind/terrain physics to predict where a shot will land for those who learn to read the field. The courses are also well detailed and fun to explore. While the three main courses (Forest, Seaside, Mountain) are standard fare, the additional courses (DK Island, Sky Island, Bowser's Castle, etc) are all nice implementations of existing Nintendo worlds pulled into a golf game. If I want realistic, I'll play Tiger Woods. I prefer my arcade golf to be more lighthearted, though, and so I greatly appreciate being able to play a round in these ridiculous settings.
Similar to the heaping helping of content available to dig into, there are options aplenty for those who want to just set up a match and play a round solo, with some friends or online. You can alter just about every aspect of play, from the characters and gear allowed to the number of holes, weather, items available, etc.
World Tour also like to dish out the awards on a regular basis. Every round you play will net you coins to spend on new gear at the shop. Some tournaments unlock additional gear, making that rotating roster of courses all the more appealing for regular visits. You'll also get a trophy for doing well in those tournaments by finishing in the top 10, 20 and 30 percent of players.
The one big change Camelot brought to this latest iteration of Mario Golf is the use of items and, since we're talking about things I enjoyed in the game at this point, you better believe I'm digging these clever little game-changers. You don't have to use items and many tournaments outright forbid them, but they're an interesting way to change up the way you approach a shot. Would you rather approach the hole from the right than where you happen to be standing, head on? Then equip a boomerang and whip the ball onto the green from your desired angle. Caught in the rough? Then throw on a Fire Flower upgrade and watch as your ball scorches through the obstacles as if they weren't even there. Need some additional boost? A Bill Shot will rocket you across the course in a perfectly straight line. These items, along with a handful of playable modes (Coin Rush, Speed Golf, Points Play, etc) mean that Mario Golf: World Tour seldom got boring, even after visiting the same course for the dozenth time.
So, yes, I would have preferred a deeper campaign mode, better explanations and a little more streamlining, but even those negatives can't offset the fact that Mario Golf: World Tour for the 3DS is a solid game. There's plenty of content, a few interesting new tweaks and online play that will keep you busy on a regular basis. It may not be a hole in one, but neither is it a double bogey. It's a solid arcade golfer and, if you have even a passing interest in some lighthearted sports fun, you shouldn't walk away disappointed.
Players: 1 - 4
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
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