Release Date: May 2, 2014Platform: Nintendo 3DSDeveloper: CamelotPublisher: NintendoGenre: Sports
Mario and friends are teeing off once again in Mario Golf: World Tour, the fifth game overall in the quirky golfing series since 2004’s Mario Golf: Advance Tour, and the first outing on the Nintendo 3DS. But did the long break away from the green make it hard for Mario to get his swing back? Or does the refreshing new spin on the classic Mario Golf formula make World Tour one of the most expansive and reinvigorated courses that we’ve seen?
The controls themselves are fairly simple and even easier to learn, which translates into a very accessible experience for those who might be new to the Mario Golf universe. You’ll have two means of hitting the ball in the game: Easy and Auto, although in either case the emphasis is placed on how much power you want to give your swing and timing it accordingly. However, don’t think that everything will always be that easy: it won’t be long before multiple club types, powerful winds, and other hazards all start having an effect on your swings. Luckily, the game also features a helpful dictionary in case you ever find yourself a bit lost in all of that golfing jargon.
The game’s interface and design has a lot in common with Camelot’s previous 3DS offering, Mario Tennis Open. The touchscreen is sectioned off using bright color blocks, which makes switching between the different camera angles and lining up each shot a quick and intuitive process. There is also another huge emphasis on costumes and equipment here, which you can purchase for your Mii to improve their different skills with coins you’ll earn from playing through the game’s various matches. World Tour features two overarching game modes. Quick Play encompasses everything from exhibition matches to single-player challenges, while Castle Club acts as a story mode as players use their Mii character to compete in various tournaments against all the Mario greats.
When you’re not teeing off on one of World Tour’s many diverse holes, you’ll have free rein to wander around the expansive clubhouse in Castle Club, chatting with classic Mario characters, picking up some new equipment in the shop, admiring your trophy room, and more. The clubhouse brings an extra sense of depth and personality to World Tour that I wasn’t expecting, and is filled with fun little quirks to find as you’re preparing for your next championship bout (like an especially awkward encounter when I accidentally wandered into the women’s locker room and happened upon an unsuspecting Birdo).
But it is when World Tour branches out past the traditional forest and beach areas that the different course designs in the game are really allowed to shine. From tricky underwater layouts, to fiery flags surrounding Bowser’s Castle, to an entire course that mimics the whimsical art of the upcoming Yarn Yoshi, this is what playing golf in the Mushroom Kingdom should be like. And for those who are really looking for a challenge, there is even an option Sky Island course, which requires players to score a birdie on each and every hole in order to move forward through the clouds.
The eye-popping visuals and refreshing course designs are only brought to life further by one of World Tour’s greatest innovations: the addition of item boxes that place different effects on your subsequent shots. For instance, a Fire Flower lets your ball burn away the leaves of a tree, while a Bullet Bill will barrel down the fairway and ignore the effects of wind. This works hand in hand with the addictive challenge holes, which task players to do everything from collecting a certain number of coins before achieving par, to completing a speed run through several different holes in order to earn gold coins and unlock other courses in the process.
When you’ve gotten your fill of the game’s immense and addictive single-player offerings, the replay value skyrockets when you factor in World Tour’s recalculated multiplayer components. What’s great about the way that multiplayer matches are restructured here is that all competitors can play at their own pace, and without having to wait and watch each player in their party take their next shot every time. It’s a really great way of speeding up the action, and is going to be a key component going forward with Nintendo’s promise to regularly support the game with new DLC and online player tournaments.
The only real low point of my time in the Mario Golf clubhouse was during the game’s opening moments, where a quick tutorial leads way into a somewhat obtuse means of getting started in Castle Club mode. You’ll first need to play a practice round on the 18-hole Forest Course to establish a handicap, and then play a second “Handicap” round of the same 18 holes, before finally playing the course for real in the official Championship round. To me that was a lot of repetition right off the bat, especially when the other big courses are only unlocked when you earn a first place finishing spot in the official tournaments.
But all minor issues aside, Mario Golf: World Tour is an easy hole-in-one in many aspects. The game looks great running on the 3DS hardware, and its many unique courses and play styles are only matched by the diverse customization options and refreshing item shot power-ups. If there’s one thing that I do know for sure, it’s that regular golf will never feel the same now without a Fire Flower to help me get through those pesky trees.