Much of the fun of being a fan of the Mario crew is seeing them removed from the platformers they call home. From kart racing to roleplaying games, Nintendo has a long history of being able to put their iconic cast almost anywhere. What generally makes this transplanting so entertaining is how much of the ancillary trappings of the Mushroom Kingdom, from powerups to slapstick humor to salient design elements of marquee levels and games, come along for the ride.
While Mario has appeared in a number of sports games, trying his hand at soccer, baseball, basketball and tennis, his most successful sports outings have arguably been when he hits the links for a round of golf. At its strongest, Mario Golf: World Tour, the newest sports-themes Mario title for the 3DS follows this trend fantastically. Unfortunately, some clunky interface choices, as well as a few design missteps and a deceptively shallow amount of compelling single-player content make World Tour feel like a bit of a step back from some of the stronger titles in the Mario Golf line of games.
With as much experience as it has developing golf titles, it’s not surprising that the core golf mechanics in World Tour are finely honed. Players can opt either for touchscreen or physical controls. While there is an easy control scheme for those that just want to send the ball flying with a minimum of fuss, true aficionados will find that the fine degree of control allowed by the manual scheme is critical for trickier shots.
World Tour contains two main game modes. The first, “Castle Club”, serves as both the game’s campaign mode, as well as its hub for online play. It’s here that players will become accustomed to the raw gameplay of World Tour, though anyone with previous experience with golf games in general will feel at home very quickly. “Castle Club” also allows players to visit the pro shop in order to purchase the clothing and gear unlocked throughout the game. While the rate at which these items become available for purchase is great, the stat boosts they represent are actually pretty standard. As such, the difference between much of the gear is largely — and disappointingly — aesthetic.
The “Castle Club” is also where the game’s single player tournaments are located. Unfortunately, it’s here that World Tour really misses an opportunity for depth. Previous portable Mario Golf titles, particularly Advance Tour, had single player campaigns with surprisingly deep RPG elements. Here, though, there are only three tournaments available. They take place on the most vanilla courses that the game has to offer, and the level of difficulty is far too low. Before you know it, the credits will roll, and you’ll wonder if there’s actually any more to do in the game. There is, but some strange organization choices might make it difficult to find.
Unless you are interested in the online tournaments that World Tour has to offer, the meat of the game counterintuitively exists in the game’s second mode. While “Quick Round” certainly contains the option to jump right in and play on any of the game’s unlocked courses as your favorite Mushroom Kingdom character or as your Mii, the real content in the mode comes from the copious challenges available. With ten challenges available on each course, it’s easy to spend quite a bit of time trying to successfully collect each task’s “Star Coin”. At their best, these challenges take on the quality of puzzle games, exposing you to both the game’s inventive powerups, as well as the unique qualities of some of the more creative courses. Despite the impression left by the tame courses in the “Castle Club” tournaments, World Tour contains some fantastic 9-hole courses based on various iconic Nintendo locales, which become playable back in “Castle Club” mode when unlocked in “Quick Round”. For a fee, upcoming downloadable content packs promise additional courses as well.
Unfortunately, while World Tour is largely a technical success, its biggest misstep, the camera, becomes most troublesome while attempting challenges. Many challenges will require the player to not only nail a specific landing for a shot but also to cling to a very tight flight path. Though the projected flight path of a shot is represented as a dashed line, there’s no mechanism for having the camera follow the path while lining up the shot. Rather, you can view it from a few different angles, and in far too many instances, these views are less than ideal, making some challenges far more frustrating than they need to be.
Despite its shortcomings, Mario Golf: World Tour is largely a fun ride. While there is a decent amount of single player content, it’s largely skewed away from the tournament format towards bite-sized challenges. As such, those who have an affinity for online multiplayer will probably get the most out of the title. It’s difficult not to feel as though a little more technical polish (particularly with respect to the camera) and focus on the single player experience might have made World Tour an unqualified success.