Ever since its Nintendo 64 heyday, the Mario Golf series has been able to make an otherwise not-terribly-exciting sport quite the opposite for gamers who likely had little interest in the pastime. The last installment, Mario Golf: Advance Tour, turns 10 this year, so it’s fitting that the follow-up entry would be released for the current generation’s handheld. Mario Golf: World Tour is visually appealing and has a vast amount of bonus features designed to keep players satisfied for the long haul, but what the game lacks is a cohesion throughout its different modes of play.
For fans of the franchise, being able to jump right into a Quick Match scenario for classic Mario Golf antics shouldn’t be much of an issue. Selecting from 18 characters (including unlockables and downloadable content) and taking part in Stroke Play, Match Play, Speed Golf, or Point Tourney competitions is a fun, expedited process that rewards repeat sessions with a wide variety of supplemental features. On the other side of the coin is the Castle Club campaign, which is a generally underdeveloped RPG-style operation that lets the player use his or her created Mii avatar to progress through tournaments, challenges, and rounds of customization with equipment (clubs, clothing, etc.) earned from victories. Castle Club routinely suffers from an absence of any enticing hub-world elements that make exploring its mostly barren hallways and rooms (save for the occasional chatty NPC) worthwhile. Conversely, the difficulty spikes present in the game’s myriad challenges (roughly 100 when everything’s said and done) eventually render the busywork and tireless skill-building in Castle Club a necessary chore. Whether hitting targets, shooting balls through rings, collecting coins, or meeting time-specific goals, the most addictive aspect of World Tour is far and away its checklist provocations, which ditch the typically aimless approach of the game’s other modes in favor of wholesome learn-as-you-go gameplay that warrants numerous revisits.
Although World Tour’s graphics are for the most part sound, Camelot misses the mark when it comes to the implementation of 3D. With the switch turned on, the effect doesn’t add much detail at all, which is a shame because a title like this could have benefited drastically (especially in the putting segments) from an advanced depth perception. The courses themselves, however, even the non-Nintendo themed ones, rank among the best in the series, with standouts being the pink-fairwayed Peach Gardens, the underwater Cheep Cheep Lagoon, the Donkey Kong Country Returns homage DK Jungle, and the Bob-omb-infested Bowser’s Castle. The introduction of Mario Kart-esque items is also a plus, adding some much needed flair to particularly draggy matches. Ice Flower freezes surfaces, allowing you to bounce over water hazards. Bullet Bill launches the ball in a straight line, avoiding annoying wind gusts in the process. Gold Flower yields coins for every yard of travel. The animations for these items, along with the accompanying characters, are uniformly terrific, providing just the right amount of quirk without being over the top.
The slightly altered core mechanics of World Tour are manageable, but can at times be frustrating; there was really no need for Camelot to tinker with the suitably simplistic nature of past Mario Golf control schemes. The standard three-tap procedure is still intact, but the added step of adjusting spin on your ball mid-shot is an initially uncomfortable measure that can often ruin the flow of a swing. There’s also some major camera-angle issues when it comes to establishing trajectory. Due to multiple viewpoints being spread out between the D-pad and Circle Pad, it can be confusing when attempting to see just where your ball’s final resting place might be. Plausibly, players will devote more tutorial-stage playtime becoming acquainted with the fickle camera then with the actual act of hitting.
Despite its faults, World Tour makes amends by finally introducing online play to Mario Golf, and the result is satisfying. Both traditional versus showdowns and multi-tier tournaments are available, not to mention calendar invitationals hosted by Nintendo that have the potential to yield massive payouts. Simply having the ability to go one on one with any player on the planet at the drop of a hat is enough to validate World Tour’s existence. It’s foreseeable that those who lost many hours to Mario Golf 64 or the GameCube’s Toadstool Tour will find qualms with the blanket changes made to the formula, but, much like golf itself, once the learning curve is passed, contentment can be found in unsuspected places.