Mario Golf finds itself in a unique position among Nintendo's franchises. The rhythmic way you swing a club so expertly melds mechanical simplicity with strategic complexity that there's no way to improve on your basic interaction. At least, if there is a more interesting approach to digital golfing, I haven't found it. So how could Mario Golf hope to evolve if it's continually trotting out the same basic premise? Well, that's the beauty of this inventive series. Instead of leading to the malaise of repetition, each new entry returns me to a familiar and wonderful place. Mario Golf: World Tour picks up where we last left the Mushroom Kingdom crew, and I couldn't be happier.
Golfing is a perfect fit for a handheld. I spent hours playing Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational on the Vita because it's easy to play a couple of holes during a free moment, yet the game has enough depth that I didn't feel ashamed when those moments turned to hours. Mario Golf: World Tour taps into a similar state of mind. Within seconds of picking up the 3DS, I was transported to the cheery greens, happily pressing once for power, and again for accuracy, and crossing my fingers that my aim was true. Once on the green, I would stare at the lines pointing out the slopes and hope against hope that I could make it to the hole in one glorious stroke. It's so peaceful that I wanted nothing more than to take in a round or two, even though my frequent mistakes could only make me cry in frustration.
World Tour splits its time between the reality of our world and the reality that Mario's friends inhabit. There are standard courses that have fairways, bunkers, roughs, and whatever else you would expect to find on a golf course. And then there are courses that have a cartoonish twist on those tried-and-true elements. A well-placed shot off the tee in a Peach-themed course will place your ball on a speed pad, which zips it further down the fairway. Rings of coins form perfect targets in the air, and if you collect enough, there are goodies in the shops to play around with. There are item boxes on the court that can really help in a pinch. Just use a bullet bill to fight against a strong wind, or a mushroom to get an extra burst.
What would a Mario sports game be without the characters we know and love? Mario, Luigi, and Peach join Boo, Walugi, and Bowser Jr., or you could be Diddy Kong if you'd rather play as someone who's not typically part of the Mario universe. If none of those characters strike your fancy, you can use your Mii avatar. In Castle Club mode, you upgrade your Mii as you work your way through the ranks. When you triumph over your competitors, you earn coins, and then you can splurge in the shop to upgrade your abilities. Such a mode could certainly suck up a lot of my time, and it seems like the course design is strong enough to keep me coming back for one more hole.
World Tour is exactly what you'd expect from a new Mario Golf game. And it shows that sometimes it's nice to have an unchanging, predictable franchise to rely on. Digital golfing is like a comfort food, so I'm glad that the core mechanics haven't been tampered with, and there are enough tweaks to the window dressing that I'm excited to explore the many courses and raid the golf shop. It's just a shame we have to wait until May for the final release. Now that I've gotten a taste of four-player, simultaneous golfing, I want to challenge all of my coworkers to a match. If only patience were a virtue that I had.