After skipping out on the Wii and DS generation, developer Camelot has returned to bring Mario Golf to the 3DS. While it may have some structural issues, Mario Golf: World Tour is still one of the most solid golf games out there at its core.
What Is It?
Historically, the Mario Golf series has been split between console and handheld versions. The console versions on the N64 and GameCube were standard golf games. You chose a mode, chose a character from the Mushroom Kingdom, and played a round of golf. They generally thrived on their couch multiplayer modes.
The handheld versions on the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, however, featured a story mode to bolster the single-player appeal. You would create a character and work your way up from the bottom to become the ultimate champion, gaining experience points and collecting items to boost your stats. They were RPG golf games, and they were fantastic.
Mario Golf: World Tour attempts to marry the strengths of both types of games. However, the end result is a compromise that dilutes these strengths and falls well short of their potential. Fortunately, the core golf mechanics are still the best in the business, and the addition of online features makes up for missed potential in other areas.
Why Should I Care?
I’ve said for years that Mario Golf is the most realistic golf game out there. Yes, I love the irony of it, but it’s true. I’ve always appreciated how the mechanics of Mario Golf reflect the experience of real golf. You’re given all the information you need to make the shot you want (wind speed, ball trajectory, ball lie, club distance, terrain, etc.), and you’re given all the tools you need to execute that shot (precise power meter, ball impact, topspin/backspin, etc.). Unlike some other golf games, like Tiger Woods, once your club hits the ball, you can no longer influence the shot. The entirety of your strategy is in proper planning and pinpoint execution, just like real golf.
If you’ve played previous Mario Golf games, you’ll immediately know how to play this one. The core mechanics are nearly identical to those of Toadstool Tour on the GameCube. The only difference I can see is that you can’t adjust the point of impact on your ball before you start the shot meter, so you can’t preview the effect of ball impact before going for it. I missed this feature at first, but honestly, I was able to learn exactly how ball impact would affect my shot pretty quickly, so it’s a non-issue in the end.
On a related note, Mario Kart-style items are a new addition to the series. They don’t appear in the more serious modes, but they make the less serious modes even more fun to play. A bullet bill will carry your ball an insane distance and drop it off at the end, a boomerang will put a huge curve on your ball to avoid obstacles, a mushroom will give your roll an extra boost, etc. All of the items are useful in some way, and some challenges require their use. In one challenge, for example, a star coin hovers in the middle of a pond that requires the ice flower item to freeze the pond so your ball can bounce off of it and back to safety.
Outside of the core mechanics, Mario Golf: World Tour is all over the place. The game is split into two distinct sections – Mario Golf and Castle Club. In short, Mario Golf mode contains the features that were prominent in the console games (exhibition, tournaments, and challenges), while Castle Club is a stripped-down approximation of the story mode from the handheld games.
This kind of organization is unnecessarily confusing in practice. For example, an NPC in Castle Club mode tells you to collect star coins to unlock the special stages in the garden of the Castle Club; however, what they don’t tell you is that the only way to earn star coins is to complete challenges… in Mario Golf mode. Also, both sections contain separate online tournaments that can’t be accessed in tandem, so you need to check both areas to keep abreast of ongoing and new tournaments.
Castle Club mode is especially disappointing given the source of its inspiration. The clubhouse is filled with NPCs, some with useful information and some without, but the whole thing is generally a waste of space. Once you play a practice round to obtain a handicap then win a tournament on each of the three 18-hole courses, the credits roll. I saw the credits after literally four rounds of golf.
The bigwigs of the Mushroom Kingdom all hang out in a lounge, but there is no match play in Castle Club mode. Rather than working your way up to face and defeat these characters, which would’ve been awesome, the character matches are relegated to simple challenges in Mario Golf mode. You can defeat them with any character, so there is little incentive to use your own, except for the proud knowledge that your own Mii was able to handily defeat Bowser on his own course.
Building your own character in Castle Club mode is still kind of fun in its own right, though. You play as your Mii, and your stats are dictated by equipment, which is unlocked piece by piece as you play more of the game. There is little deviation in the stat boosts that each piece of equipment provides, though. The vast majority of them are purely cosmetic, while only a relative few give slight boosts to drive distance, sweet spot, or control (the only three stats in the game). Despite this, I still enjoy decking my character out in different gear, which other online players can see, and finding a new item that actually increases my stats is always exciting.
What Makes it Worth My Time And Money?
As a handheld game, the joy of local multiplayer that Mario Golf has thrived on in the past is pretty much impossible. Local multiplayer is supported but download play is not, so each player needs a 3DS and a copy of the game. Pass and play isn’t even an option. Luckily, the online features do an excellent job of adding real players into your single-player experience.
The online features are definitely Mario Golf: World Tour‘s greatest strength. The most basic mode is an exhibition against three other players. You can create a lobby for friends or join a public match, and in my experience, that process is fast and easy, taking only a few seconds to gather a party and go.
On the course, each player takes his or her shot simultaneously; the other players’ balls fly in real time as you take your own shot. This mode could have been tedious and boring, but smart implementation makes it a blast to play. Unfortunately, rare slowdown can affect your concentration in this mode, though I was able to adjust pretty quickly as the framerate was affected but the actual timing was not. In addition, you can collect equipment from each region of the world as you compete against players from those regions. It’s a dumb little thing that’s pretty easy to get caught up in and adds an extra element of fun to the mode.
Most of your time will be spent playing tournaments. Nintendo hosts official tournaments in both Mario Golf and Castle Club modes, as mentioned earlier. The Mario Golf tournaments are more for fun, competing against players around the world in various challenges like coin collecting and stroke play with items. The Castle Club tournaments are much more serious, with separate regional and worldwide tournaments that generally take place on realistic courses with realistic rules. You can only use your Mii from Castle Club in these tournaments, and placing high enough in the first round will propel you to the next. This is actually a pretty serious competition where only the best of the best will be able to hang.
Private and public tournaments can also be created by anyone at any time, with fully customizable rule sets. You have an unlimited number of entries into each tournament, so if you screw up one round, you can try again and replace your score if you’re able to improve it. This means that there is always a tournament to play, whether it be with your friends or with a random group of people.
Despite its missed potential in some areas, Mario Golf: World Tour is still a really fun game, especially once you’ve learned the quirks of its structure. The amount of content is extensive, with 100 unique challenges — including ring shot, coin collecting, match play, and others — across its ten courses, in addition to never-ending tournaments and online multiplayer. Downloadable courses are also available for purchase if you still want more. It may not be everything I hoped a contemporary handheld version of Mario Golf would be, but it’s still a ton of fun.