Review: Mario Golf: World Tour

MarioGolfWorldTour

Mario’s forays into the wide, wide world of sports are often such Jekyll-and-Hyde affairs, to the point where you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get when you pop the cartridge into the slot. It’s obviously not going to be a straight-up serious simulation—this is a world filled with cartoon characters, bob-ombs and piranha plants, after all, and that’s a big part of the reason we’re here. At the same time, the Mario Sports games never quite give themselves over to the Mushroom Kingdom craziness, sometimes leading to a game that wilts in the mushy middle, dissatisfying both sides of the coin.

That’s not the case with Mario Golf: World Tour for the 3DS. There’s a Bowser-sized ton of content to tool around with in World Tour, and this time, it’s the wacky side that wins out—and that’s actually a good thing.

World Tour divides itself into two modes. The Castle Club portion of the game finds you strolling around a castle-esque country club setting as your Mii, interacting with the Mushroom Kingdom regulars, playing rounds and tournaments and practicing your mad golf skillz. It’s a beautiful and colorful setting, but it’s also very confusing, because there’s no map to tell you where everything is. I appreciate talking golf tips with Birdo and Shy Guy as much as the next pro, but it took me an eternity to stumble upon the equipment shop so I could start spending my hard-earned coins on unlockable items like Lakitu cowlicks and chain-chomper shoes.

There are three main courses unlocked from the get-go, and they’re all aimed at the casual golfer, offering little challenge to anyone who’s ever three-tapped a virtual iron before. The forest course is the most basic. A seaside course introduces wind gusts and a mountain course introduces colorful obstacles (blue and red cacti!) and cliff edges, but again, nothing here is likely to offer much resistance to your winning the course championship. At least your handicap improves incrementally every time you post subpar scores, so you’ve got that going for you.

If you’re not a golf-game pro, fear not, ‘cause World Tour—and more specifically, Toad—have you covered. In addition to an easy-swing mode that tasks you only with setting your shot’s power, there are plenty of tutorials and practice challenges here to bring your approach shots and fades up to a level of competitive respectability. Acing these is yet another way to earn gold coins, so there’s incentive for even seasoned golfers to check them out.

When you’re out on these basic courses, there are a few minor disconnects. Your Mii’s post-shot animations are tied to whatever you’ve just accomplished with the shot meter—but not, oddly, to what’s actually happening on the course. Blowing the timing leads to an inset shot of your Mii trembling and wailing as if he’s just gone all Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters, even as your shot is settling neatly on the fairway. Similarly, nailing the timing results in a shot of your Mii wildly celebrating…even as your shot bounces well past the pin, leaving you with a 40-plus foot recovery putt.

Every event you play, whether at the Castle Club or as part of Mario Golf, unlocks items you can ostensibly purchase to buff and hone your stats. Good luck deciding which ones to use, though—many of them offer bonuses that are completely indistinguishable from each other.

Things get decidedly more interesting when you flip to Mario Golf, where you’ll be playing on underwater courses and pink-hued links, toying around with a host of powerups that turn the pedestrian rounds of the Castle Club on its head. Forget trying to stay on the fairway and lay up for a makeable approach shot: Can you manage to string together mushroom powerups and gold-coin-cluttered speed pads to get from tee to green on a par four in in a single shot? How about using Boo to aim a fade shot through a series of aerial hoops, or using your woods to bop hedgehogs? Managing the various challenges the Mario Golf mode throws at you in various events adds a completely new and entertaining dimension to the proceedings, and that doesn’t even include the online tournaments you can create and join, both locally and with players around the world. At any moment, there are at least a handful of events to jump in and try to win.

Popping powerups like Powerade may seem like a cheap and stupid way to dumb down a sport that thrives on strategy and precision, but not so; what the game’s really doing is challenging you to use the skills you’ve honed—at Castle Club or in other golf games—in an entirely new way. To succeed and win speed- and coin-collecting based events, you’ll have to be just as precise with your aim and timing as you would be in hitting the 17th green at the TPC in Tiger Woods 13.

It’s looking like Mario Golf: World Tour may benefit from Big N’s late-evolving stance on downloadable content. There’s a season pass that nets you three sets of content, each of which include new courses and a playable Mushroom Kingdom character like Rosalina or Gold Mario. Each set is available individually, and the pass sets you back $15, but if you recall that the game’s initial price tag is only $30, it starts to make a little more sense. (At the moment, only one of the DLC packs is available for purchase.)

Given that the wacky side of World Tour is by far the most interesting piece here, this is good news. Visit the Castle Club if you must, but expect to spend most of your time here with Bullet Bill.

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Pros:
+ Mario Golf Mushroom Kingdom courses are creative, entertaining
+ Ridiculous amount of content for golfers of every level
+ Online events mean there’s always something new to do

Cons:
– Castle Club is bland and confusing to explore
– Unlockable Items are distressingly similar

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 5/2/2014
Genre: Sports – Golf
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 2-4 (local) 1-4 (vs local) endless (worldwide tournament)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.