Though they have explored many sport venues, the golf course is where the Mushroom Kingdom crew feels most comfortable
If games, like humans, hold the ability to inherit the qualities of its predecessors through some sort of electronic gene pool, then Mario Golf: World Tour was born to be a winner. In the midst of the mixed – but generally fun – bag of Mario sports titles, the Mario Golf franchise has never failed to deliver a great and challenging experience. As the line of games that kicked off the plumber's sports fever back on the Nintendo 64 days, it has nailed it time and time again, whether it was in the form of the extremely refined Toadstool Tour or on the deep role-playing of Advance Tour.
World Tour continues that tradition in a remarkable fashion. Given that Toadstool Tour had already brought the series' mechanics to absolute perfection, this 3DS installment chooses not to overcomplicate things. The implementation of its gameplay is a dead ringer to that of the great Gamecube outing; veteran players will feel right at home when performing long shots and putts alike, and newcomers will get the basic hang of it quite quickly due to how simple – yet deep – the game is.
When out on the course, players will have more than enough information in order to perform great shots. The velocity and direction of the wind, the distance to the target, the ball's flight path, the slopes on the green, the current club, and the difference in altitude between the character's current position and the pin are all clearly displayed.
Even with all that input, pulling off the perfect shot and learning how to weigh all those variables is quite a challenge – especially when the conditions are brutal. And so, Mario Golf lures all kinds of players into its claws. It makes you feel like making an excellent shot is possible, but the many environmental conditions turn landing the ball on the desired location into a thrilling and fun challenge: every stroke works as a tiny little puzzle.
Making the right calculations and approaching the hole with the best strategy is useless if swings are poorly performed, and World Tour's shot mechanics work wonderfully. By using the A-button (or just the touch-screen), a bar will move through the gauge and players will have to press buttons (or touch icons) twice: first to determine the power, then to actually impact the ball. Mistakes on the former can cause the ball to either fall short or go beyond the target, while screwing up on the latter can generate disastrous sideways hooks.
Inexperienced players can opt for an automatic swing, which makes the second part of the motion be controlled by the game itself. However, doing so will not allow them to put spins on the ball: a considerable downgrade to balance out the extra precision. Spins, which are performed via simple two-button combinations, can help balls stop or move forward once they hit the ground, and are of incredible value either when devising a strategy for the stroke or compensating for a mistake that was made when pressing the button to determine the distance.
World Tour pulls ahead of the pack formed by other Mario sports games in the massive amount of content it offers. Whether it is offline or online, the game has a lot of muscle and is able to provide value, variety, and challenge. When it comes to single-player, it is possible to set up rounds of stroke play, speed golf, points play, and match play at will. However, the core of the solo experience undoubtedly resides in the Challenge Mode.
Each of the game's ten courses hosts a whopping twenty tests each: ten that range from easy to hard, and another ten that are downright brutal. Match play battles against designated characters, stroke play rounds where players must reach a certain score, three-hole time trials, and challenges on which players must either go through all rings or collect all coins in a hole and save par are all ridiculously engaging and will test an endless set of skills from all players.
Meanwhile, through Nintendo's network, players will be able to enter a huge amount of tournaments. Regional and Worldwide opens, which are only playable with Miis and award the 60% best-positioned players with the right to play on upcoming Majors, are posted every few weeks and offer exclusive rewards to any who participate and trophies for the top-ranked rounds. The company also frequently publishes Mario Open tourneys, which have wilder rules that may include the obligation to use certain characters or items.
In addition, players themselves can set up their own tournaments by messing around with configurations that include the position of the tees, the wind speeds, the characters and items that can be used, enabling or disabling the flight path, and much more. Those tournaments can either be made public or only available to friends via the use of a code. To top it all off, players can also engage in nine-hole foursomes against random challengers where everybody tackles each hole simultaneously.
The online implementation is extremely smooth, and little details such as the ability to express reactions through audiovisual effects and the markers that show what other players did when taking on the tournament add a great deal to the experience.
The only shortcoming present in the game's online modes is the fact that, in tournaments, it is possible to play an unlimited number of rounds in search of the best score. It is a system that rewards those who grind endlessly, makes all top scores impossibly high, and takes away part of the excitement. A one-and-done implementation would have been far better and fairer.
In spite of all its qualities, World Tour's greatest flaw is bafflingly primary: its content is very poorly structured. The game is split in two main modes: one on which players use their Mii – dubbed Castle Club, and one where all characters can be used. Castle Club is visually charming; its activities are found by walking through a country club filled with Mushroom Kingdom characters, a store loaded with unique pieces of equipment, and a trophy room.
Unfortunately, all that visual candy is wasted for Castle Club is extremely thin. It features a meager three stroke play tournaments that can be cleared within a few hours, three fun training mini-games, and the entry point to the Regional and Worldwide tournaments. The rest, and most, of the game's meat is actually found on the other main mode, on which the content – over 200 challenges, single-player rounds, and other online features – are neatly organized in menus.
That configuration makes it hard to find all the content the game has to offer. Besides, once the three stroke play tournaments are done, the only reasons players will have to go back to Castle Club is buying equipment and entering the Regional and Worldwide opens. Hence, the worst offense of such structure is creating the hassle of having to move between the modes just so that those two features can be accessed. The game should have either opted solely for the use of menus, or made the Castle Club into a huge and appealing hub for everything the game offers.
World Tour's main stars are undoubtedly its courses. They are, after all, where the game's action takes place, and Camelot has delivered a nice package. The game contains four 18-hole venues, including one consisted exclusively of par 3 holes, which have traditional layouts. Additionally, six 9-hole fields located around the Mushroom Kingdom and loaded with gimmicks and traps serve as the wacky counterpart to the more straightforward maps.
Those include Peach's Castle and its pink fairways filled with boost pads, an underwater club, Bowser's Castle, Donkey Kong's Jungle, a giant garden, and a Yoshi course with visual cues taken straight from the character's colorful games. The courses are quite good, and all of them have the ability to put up a challenge even to experienced players if harder tees and stronger winds are configured.
Ten courses and one hundred twenty-six holes are plenty, and all gamers will be satisfied with that initial set. However, it is also possible to purchase a reasonably priced DLC package that will add a handful of characters to the game's already incredible roster, and another six 18-hole courses to the game and, consequently, one-hundred and twenty new challenges to clear.
Those DLC courses are visually enhanced versions of the ones that starred the Nintendo 64 outing of the series, and – even if the fields original to World Tour are very good and varied – most of the DLC ones are better. Some of them are virtual golfing masterpieces that test every stroke, strategy and approach players have on their sleeve, and they end up working as the crowning jewel of World Tour for the ones who acquire them.
Although some of its structural shortcomings may keep it away from being the unquestionable peak of the entire Mario sports franchise, one thing is indisputable: even without the DLC, World Tour packs far more content and value than any of its peers. Regardless of one's thoughts towards the sport, it is an engaging must-buy that can provide hundreds of hours of fantastic gameplay. Even if the Mushroom Kingdom crew has performed quite well on tennis courts, baseball parks, and soccer arenas, their preferred venue seems to be the golf course. It is great to see them back out there smacking balls down the fairways.