In my adult life I have only ever been golfing on two occasions. Both times I did horribly. Luckily real world skills don't always (or ever) have a bearing on those in the virtual world. How else would I have beaten all those Tony Hawk games? While various Mushroom Kingdom sports titles fall among my favorite games of all time, the Mario Golf series holds a special place in my heart. It's been nearly a decade since we've gotten our mitts on a new Mario Golf as it was strangely absent from both the DS and Wii libraries. It's time to tee off once more.
If there's one thing sports games really need to get right it's the sports they represent. While most games of golf don't end with a gorilla shaking his nine iron at you in glee, World Tour does a wonderful job of representing the sport in a way that is both accurate to its roots and fun for those (like me) who aren't on top of their real world golf game. I'm happy to report that the vast majority of your computer opponents are worthy adversaries and can give you a run for your money, especially later in the game. The victories are exhilarating and the failures are agonizing. The actual golf gameplay is virtually flawless and a joy to experience.
So Much To Do
At first glance it seems like World Tour doesn't have much for player to experience, but under the simple start screen lies hours upon hours of gameplay. You are only faced with two modes from the beginning - Quick Play and Castle Club. Within these two choices are loads of varied golf activities for players to choose from. Single player, multiplayer, online tournaments, challenges, coin rounds, speed rounds, ring shot competitions and more await you. There's just a lot to take in. I found that if I was getting frustrated with one part of the game I could simply switch to another and find my groove again. I haven't completed the game by any means, but I'm guessing it would take somewhere around 30+ hours to ace every hole (maybe more).
Let's be honest, 3DS screen shots (like the one above) usually look downright awful in the wild. The jaggies, oh those terrible jaggies. World Tour is easily one of the best looking games I've seen on the 3DS. Ever. The characters models are fluid and well detailed and the courses are a feast for the eyes. It's hard not to take a look around when you're setting up your next shot, and the view is usually a wonder to behold. While some jaggies still find their way in (especially on the XL's ginormous screen) they are few and far between. You'll just have to take my word for it.
Rate of Play
One of my biggest gripes about golf as a whole is that it seems to take ages. Hit the ball, walk to the ball, hit it again, walk to it again, putt, walk to the next hole and repeat. I'm an impatient man. Luckily Nintendo has pulled out almost all the stops to make each round go very quickly. You can skip your entire shot after the initial swing or you can simply fast forward to the end of your ball's roll. You're also able to golf along side others in multiplayer without having to watch them take each swing. The only time I found myself having to watch others at the tee was during specific challenges against characters, and even then I could skip the majority of their actions.
Characters with Character
Mario and pals have always been a huge selling point for Nintendo sports titles. We know them and we love them. Well, maybe not Daisy. World Tour does an excellent job of giving each character their own personality when it comes to golf style, post game celebrations/moping, and interactions with your Mii in the Castle Club mode. Bowser even recruits you as a henchman and is proud to see you succeed. Few Mario sports titles have had me smiling so much from such limited character dialogue.
While Mario Golf titles in the past have given players the chance to create and mold their own growing golfer, none of them have done it quite like World Tour. For the first time ever your Mii plays a vital role in the game as a real character who must work to improve his or her golf game through various tournaments and challenges. Many fans of the series were sincerely hoping Camelot would bring back the RPG elements from the phenomenal Mario Golf: Advance Tour and their wishes have (sort of) been granted. While you can't "level up" your Mii per se, you can unlock gear to improve your golfing abilities. The better you do the more you unlock. The more you unlock the better your gear. It's not Final Fantasy, but it's fun to equip different gloves, shoes, clubs and more to see what kinds of boosts and advantages they can bring to your golf game. Plus it's just enjoyable to dress your Mii in silly Mario related clothing. I mean, who doesn't want to wear a thwomp polo or a chain chomp visor?
Castle Club, your Mii's chance at winning big, is a decent addition to the world of Mario Golf, but I was saddened a bit to find that there were only three full tournaments to ace before the credits roll. If you're a seasoned Mario Golf veteran, like myself, you'll power through them after just a few hours of dedicated gameplay. I was legitimately surprised when I realized there weren't anymore full fledged courses to be found. While this was a bit disheartening I did discover the existence of some courses that allowed me to collect coins and play specific "costume challenges" over nine specially themed holes, though they didn't offer any competition against actual opponents. There is more to do after you've become club champion, but I wish there had been more full fledged courses to complete.
The overworld that accompanies Castle Club is also a welcome surprise that I wasn't anticipating. Your Mii can explore the many rooms within the castle, as well as the various outside attractions as you progress through the game. While the overworld is decently big and provides you with much to do it's also full of a fair amount of dead space. There's a gym, but as far as I could tell you really couldn't do anything in it aside from talking to Mushroom Kingdom citizens pumping iron. There's a locker room, but all you can do while there is change your gear, which you can already do if you just pause the game. There's a café, but you can't buy any food or drink items. While it's all very nice for atmosphere I couldn't help but want there to be a little more to it.
There's no denying that World Tour's overall controls are well managed, but there's still a few items missing from the average console controller set up. The biggest gripe I have is the constant use of the D-Pad. While the 3DS' D-Pad is well constructed I find its placement awkward, especially when you have to keep switching back and forth between it and the slide pad. While it was uncomfortable I was able to adapt to the switch over time. Another down side to having enormous man hands I suppose.
Lack of Mid-Round Saves
Unlike the majority of the Mario Golf titles, World Tour does not allow you to save in the middle of a round and start back up at your convenience. Obviously if you just want to take a break you can put your 3DS into sleep mode, but if you find that you're just bored of a course and want to go test your skills elsewhere for a while you'll have to simply give up. Obviously a save feature could help people "cheat" by saving before each hole and resetting if it didn't go their way, but it's still a feature that should have been included.
Delivering hit after hit, the 3DS is a handheld force to be reckoned with. Nintendo knows how to bring out the best in their first party titles and they've done it again. With the help of wonderful gameplay and a seemingly never ending list of challenges to complete, Mario Golf: World Tour is very much worth your time. Dust off your virtual clubs and hit the links, golf has returned to the Mushroom Kingdom.
Review Note: One unfortunate aspect to getting a review copy two weeks before launch is that certain parts of online play may not be present. There also might not be anyone online to actually compete against. While World Tour obviously has a focus on regional and world wide online play I didn't get a chance to experience it first hand. This review will be updated as soon as the Mario Golf servers go live here in a day or so.