Birdo meets birdies
Mario Golf: World Tour turns me into a monster.
Whenever I miss a crucial putt or slice the ball into a bunker on the final hole, something ugly and decidedly un-Nintendo awakens inside me. I’ve told Luigi to perform unspeakable (and likely impossible) acts upon himself. I’ve called Peach names that would get me banned from the campus of any women’s college along the Eastern seaboard. On several occasions, I’ve threatened to poach Donkey Kong.
I’m not proud of my newly awakened anger-management issues, but the fact that World Tour manages to stir up such a passionate response speaks volumes to the quality of its gameplay. Shots are handled through an intuitive interface that provides just enough information to point you in the right direction without stripping the skill, intuition, and emotion out of it. It’s still up to you to take the wind and the slope of the green into consideration, to throw some spin on the ball, to pray as it cuts through the air that it’ll miss that tree branch and bounce onto the green just so. It’s clear that the team at Camelot has a passion for golf and a knack for communicating the appeal to folks like me, people who are bored to death by the very thought of old white men hitting balls with sticks.
More impressive is that World Tour does so without leaning too heavily on gimmicks that change the nature of the sport. All four of the full-length courses are just well-designed, nature-inspired holes without any aggressive Mario flavor. The unlockable 9-hole courses throw in a bit more flair in the vein of trampoline platforms, boost pads, and Donkey Kong Country’s barrel cannons, but they’re used sparingly enough that they never feel intrusive on the core golf experience. Even the special power-ups you can find in some of the side content are fairly muted in comparison to Mario’s other sports outings, with most boiling down to a minor effect on your ball’s trajectory.
Because Camelot paid so much attention to the core act of golfing, it’s the vanilla matchups where the game shines best. That might be a liability if it weren’t for the fact that World Tour introduces online multiplayer to the series in just about the smartest way possible. Getting into a round of versus is smooth and fast, and the match itself moves along at a surprising speed, since all players are allowed to take their shots simultaneously. You can still keep an eye on everyone’s progress for the hole, since you can still see their stroke count and the location of their ball, but there’s no tedious waiting around on anyone else until you’ve already sunk your ball. Even then, you can cheer (or jeer) your opponents by selection a series of emoticons, so you still feel connected to the experience.
The asynchronous tournaments are equally enjoyable. There’s a rotating schedule of fixed-length contests, offering a variety of different objectives. Some might require you to finish a selection of holes as quickly as possible, while another might task you with getting the ball as close to the flag as you can with a single stroke. At the most basic level, these tournaments are really just leaderboards, but the game disguises that fact well by showing you ghosts of other players as you’re playing through. Once the contest is over, there’s even a little awards ceremony, where you can watch your Mii take the pedestal and accept his or her trophy.
There’s no doubting World Tour’s basic mastery, then, but Camelot seems much less surefooted when it comes to building out a full game around that core experience. For reasons far beyond my grasp, they’ve awkwardly partitioned content into two separate modes, Castle Club and Mario Golf.
The former is an RPG-lite experience that lets you run around a small overworld as your Mii, talking to the franchise characters, buying stat-boosting clothing, and participating in events. It’s effectively the game’s single-player story mode, but it’s not a particularly robust one. The credits roll after you’ve swept three tournaments against the AI, something that took me around 45 minutes on my first go. Castle Club still holds other diversions after that—a handful of skill challenges, training sessions, online tournaments—but their integration feels more like an attempt to pad out an anemic part of the game than a natural home for those features.
It certainly doesn’t help that the other mode, Mario Golf, has more robust analogs for most of what’s in Castle Club and a stronger sense of progression. This is where you unlock new courses and powered-up versions of the roster, but you still earn coins and gear for your Mii at the same time. Rather than being short on content, the Mario Golf side of World Tour feels almost bloated, with 200 challenges that start off fun but fade into repetition and the tedium of far too many retries at around the halfway mark. Still, it’s hard to deny that they offer a lot more playtime and challenge than anything else in the game, despite being buried beneath so many menus that they initially seem like a minor piece of side content.
In and of itself, the lopsided nature of World Tour isn’t a huge problem, but it has the unfortunate consequence of making the overall experience feel a bit clunky and ill-conceived. Things that should be simple are convoluted here in ways you’d never expect from a Nintendo product. If you’re playing as your Mii in the challenges and you want to swap out the gear you have equipped, you have to back out to the main menu, load into Castle Club, pause the game, change your loadout, back out to the main menu again, then go back into the challenges. If you want to go from a head-to-head versus match to a regional tournament, not only do you have to switch modes, but you also have to walk to a physical location within the Club.
World Tour feels more like a selection of disconnected ideas tacked onto a solid core than a single, cohesive experience. As such, your enjoyment will likely vary wildly based on what you’re looking for. Anyone seeking a guided single-player experience for short bursts of pick-up-and-play fun will probably be a little disappointed, since that side of the game loses its appeal after a few brief hours. If, however, the thought of testing your skills against your friends and an entire world of strangers online appeals to you, Mario’s latest trip to the links will give you plenty to love.
|Developer: Camelot Software Planning • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 05.02.2014|
A few curious design choices and a lack of enjoyable single-player content hold World Tour back, but the golf basics are as solid as they’ve ever been, and the online multiplayer does wonders to help breathe new life into the series.
|The Good||Fun, accessible, and rewarding golf gameplay.|
|The Bad||Light on single-player appeal; bizarre and frustrating structure.|
|The Ugly||Losing a matchup against Waluigi. There is no greater shame.|
|Mario Golf: World Tour is a 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.|