Mario Golf: World Tour by Camelot takes place in a pocket of the Nintendo universe that's so serious about golf, it borders on weird. Mario and Bowser put aside their decades-long rivalry for the sake of a sporting round, and Hammer Brothers talk about the nuances of putting instead of trying to break open Luigi's face with a 3-wood.
In fact, despite the fact players can unlock Mario-themed courses that include the series' trademark items and traps, Mario Golf: World Tour offers an impressively deep golfing experience. Anyone looking to merely goof off on the green with Peach and pals will be put off by the demanding single-player mode, though playing casual rounds with friends still offers good times.
Mario Golf: World Tour's "Castle Club" forms the core of the game's solo play. Your Mii wanders around a country club constructed by Princess Peach (so get ready for lots of red, pink, and glittery things) and hops onto a golf course whenever you're ready. You can practice on the courses you've unlocked, or sign up for championship matches. You can even register for lessons with Toads.
If you don't know a whole lot about golf, you won't want to pass up said lessons. Though Mario Golf: World Tour offers some shortcuts and automation for players that aren't interested in three-step drives that apply backspin to the ball, even getting through the game's gentlest courses requires skill and good timing.
Playing in tournaments can be especially daunting. You need to consider weather, wind direction, the slope of the putting green, and much more. Otherwise, you risk coming in a stroke below Wiggler, or worse, Bowser Jr. Want to win the trophy? Come in first. There are no virtuous runners-up in the Castle Club.
Players would benefit from a sense of progression if Mario Golf: World Tour featured role-playing game elements like permanent stat boosts, but there's no leveling up on these courses. Instead, you can unlock and buy golfing equipment that improves your performance, but fiddling around with visors, shirts, and clubs isn't as interesting or satisfying as climbing the metaphorical ladder.
The hunt for Star Coins is another reason why Mario Golf: World Tour comes across as serious. Star Coins are necessary for unlocking the game's Nintendo-themed stages, but finding the means to earn these coins is a treasure hunt in itself. Turns out you need to take on "Challenges," an option located in a menu stuffed within a menu. Unlocking new stages takes numerous Star Coins, and as you might expect, winning them isn't easy.
But even if playing alone in the Castle Club may seem a bit stuffy for anyone disinterested in golfing's nooks and crannies, there's no question playing Versus mode with friends is a riot. The highly-customizable rounds suit players that want a drawn-out match or a few quick holes. And if you're not very good at golf, it's kind of a relief to play alongside someone who's as bad as you.
Moreover, Versus mode lets you select Mario and his friends from the get-go, and their antics are sure to elicit a grin. Donkey Kong got a double-bogey? Prepare for a tantrum. Peach got a birdie? Watch her spin and turn her club into a parasol. Daisy missed an easy putt? Watch her shrug and act disinterested. Daisy don't care.
Mario Golf: World Tour is a very thorough golfing game that may overwhelm some players. But that doesn't make it a poor title by any means. Golf enthusiasts who love Nintendo (surely they're out there; someone hunt for a Venn diagram) will undoubtedly spend hours with the Castle Club. Everyone else can opt for a quick nine with their buddies.
World Tour is the first packaged retail golf game in the 3DS' three-year lifespan, and its lack of ambition underlines this fact. It may not matter to newcomers, but the series' former RPG mode had me obsessed with the past two portable entries, even though I'm not all that interested in the sport itself. Running around the game world as your Mii definitely carries a lot more appeal than the nondescript boy or girl character earlier Mario Golfs forced on you, but the upgrades-via-equipment system in World Tour makes for a definite downgrade, as the various pieces of apparel produce a barely perceptible difference to your golf game. Worse yet, they look incredibly bland; most of these golfing duds simply slap a boring texture on your Mii, with some tenuous visual connection to whatever Nintendo thing they're referencing.
With the insanely vibrant and strange world of Mario at their fingertips, Camelot somehow made a golf game with clothing options less extreme than the actual sport.
But that's kinda Camelot's thing. They've always struck me as an extremely conservative studio (at least, in their post 16-bit days), and World Tour has a pervasive blandness that wasn't as obvious in the Game Boy Color and Advance installments. Wandering around the Castle Club is an absolute bore (mostly due to composer Motoi Sakuraba working in "elevator music" mode), and Wold Tour presents an interface that's sterile and straightforward, but at the same time, completely unintuitive. Nadia's comment about buried content rang true to me, since I ended up "finishing" the game before stumbling into a previously undiscovered set of challenges.
I've been doing a lot of griping, but, as expected, Camelot still knows their way around golfing mechanics – which makes sense, seeing as they've essentially been making the same thing since 1997's Hot Shots Golf. While you're just stopping the same meters you've been stopping for 30 years of golf games, World Tour's allow for a ton of versatility, to the degree that you can even alter your plan of attack mid-swing if you're fast enough. Putting remains a guessing game if you're more than 20 feet away from the cup, but after a few rounds with World Tour, the game gives you enough feedback to help you learn how to adapt to most situations.
Mario Golf: World Tour is the best golf game on the 3DS, but only because it's one of two. I feel like some competition would give Camelot the swift kick in the ass they need to make more than just the safest golf game possible, but, for now, World Tour delivers an incredibly rewarding set of golfing mechanics trapped under an eerily lifeless framing device. That said, I have a feeling we won't be seeing many (or any) more golf games in the few years the 3DS has left, so if you want to play a few rounds on your 3DS, this could be the best option – just make sure you can stomach Camelot's digital valium first.
- Graphics: Lots of great Mario nods throughout the game, but the courses are the highlight. The various Mario-themed clothing for your Mii could use some work.
- Audio: Unremarkable audio noodling with lots and lots of Mario character clips. .
- Interface: There's only so much you can do with a golf video game, but Camelot throws in lots of tiny touches to add a little more nuance to the genre than usual.
- Lasting Appeal: A great game of golf and a merely adequate Mario fanservice vehicle, so it's likely to appeal to fans of the sport over fans of the franchise. Of course, unlocking all the Mario stuff requires major work. What a conundrum.