O ften thought of as a Gentlemen’s sport, Golf is no stranger to video game adaptations. The Tiger Woods PGA Tour series is often thought of first if the term “Golf games” is brought up, and the series has for many iterations now been pushing towards a more realistic take on the game, but the venerable Mario Golf series has remained steadfast in its arcade approach to the links. Mario Golf saw two releases on the Gamecube and Gameboy Advance in the form of “Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour” and “Mario Golf: Advance Tour” respectively.
The two older games went drastically different routes, with Toadstool Tour being a more traditional title and the GBA game offering a hugely in depth RPG mode. The two games together leveraged the GBA link cable in ways that only Pokemon had done before, letting you bring a hard earned champion golfer off the handheld to continue with a whole new console career. After an inexplicable absence in the last generation on the Wii and DS, Mario Golf: World Tour for the 3DS has the Mushroom crew returning to the course, but it can’t decide exactly which of its predecessors it wants to be.
"it does curiously omit features like being able to set your ball’s impact point before shooting. Having to awkwardly position the circle pad during a half second forward swing,"
Where more of today’s golf games have moved to a stick swing control scheme, World Tour sticks fast to its three click configuration. The easily learned system can be toggled between a simple auto mode and a manual control that allows you to put a spin on the ball at the cost of demanding more precision on the forward swing. Limited numbers of power shots can give a drive that extra boost, and skilled players can stretch them further by hitting the perfect shot, which won’t deplete your total. Different terrain can affect the sweet spot in manual, and the trick in mastering the system comes in figuring out the timing to always hit that flawless swing.
In some modes, items can be used similarly to power shots, and can range between a simple mushroom to supercharge the balls forward momentum to a bullet bill to rocket straight ahead, to anything else in between. This lends the game a far more “Mario” feeling that the series previously lacked. While the game is more picky about it’s sweet spot than older entries, it does curiously omit features like being able to set your ball’s impact point before shooting. Having to awkwardly position the circle pad during a half second forward swing, and other odd choices like this do little to improve the depth of the game, just make it more punishing.
World Tour splits itself into two distinct modes. Castle Club is the primary single player element to the game, where your Mii explores the titular Castle Club. After some rather arbitrary hurdles that do little to impact the game later on, you establish a handicap, a sort of way to level the playing field between different skill levels in a handful of modes. Getting this handicap means the game forces you to play the first course at least three times before you can move forward, a feat which is thankfully never asked of players again, but still left a sour taste.
"Further challenges can be unlocked for the more exotic Mario themed, 9 hole courses, but these holes need to be unlocked in the other mode. Not as if anybody ever tells you that."
Castle Club offers very in depth training mini-games and gives players of any familiarity the tools to learn the game in a relatively serious fashion. Where it falls short though is how lacking in content it really is, especially compared to the previous handheld game. After a quick run through the three ‘serious’ courses, credits roll and you’re done. Further challenges can be unlocked for the more exotic, 9 hole courses, but these holes need to be unlocked in the other mode. Not as if anybody ever tells you that.
Castle Club is also the main conduit for a huge focus of the game, online play. Tournaments are scheduled all the time, with all kinds of conditions and goals to climb the leaderboards. Ghost balls fly around the course with you, giving you some semblance of progression and community. Players can set up their own tournaments with custom conditions in a feature very reminiscent of the Communities in Mario Kart 7.
Throughout all game modes, completing games earns you coins that can be taken to the shop. Most of the unlocks barely touch the base stats however, and the game can be completed long before anything decent becomes unlocked, making the clothing options a poor substitute for the full suite of RPG stats in previous handheld games.
"These challenges can range from hitting shots through rings, to grabbing star coins on the course, and are perfect for quick handheld play."
The second mode on offer is simply titled “Mario Golf” and harkens back much more to the console entries. Several modes return, such as tournaments, match play and points play. Direct online multiplayer happens in this mode, and a challenge mode, offering bite sized, single hole challenges. These challenges take advantage of items, layout and demand unique thinking to succeed.
Challenges can range from hitting shots through rings, to grabbing star coins on the course, and are perfect for quick handheld play. As alluded to earlier, these challenges are actually the only way to unlock further courses. While the unlockable courses are more fantastical and in line with “Mario” than previous entries, they are for all purposes, half courses of only 9 holes each. As such, the game comes up shorter than should be expected, and disappoints whether compared to the older console or older handheld entries.
The visual design is as colourful and varied as the Mushroom Kingdom has ever been, thanks to the more creative courses on display. Despite this, it is hard to see any improvement, if not regression over the Gamecube graphics. the heads up display is clean and it’s easy to see everything necessary to guide the ball to its mark. Music is rather forgettable, and voice samples border on grating, particularly on the Mii characters players are forced to use. I found myself creating a separate Mii in order to swap out the male whoops and hollers for less ear-bleeding feminine cooing.
At it’s core, Mario Golf is still a very solid, if confused game that doesn’t do either potential legacy you might want to hold it to justice. The limited and ultimately confusing Castle Club mode ends before it gets going, and the challenges aside, the Mario Golf mode feels less fleshed out than it should. The clothing options are a far cry from the deep RPG stats the older handheld games enjoyed and the general dearth of holes leaves the game wanting. Fans should find a lot to sink into here, especially those with a taste for online competition and score chasing. More casual duffers, however; should tread lightly.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.
Gameplay is as solid as ever, and the more fantastical courses and inclusion of items give the game a more "Mario" spin than ever. The challenges are perfect for pick up and play handheld sessions. Solid online modes.
Ultimately confused design doesn't tell the player everything they really need to know. Castle Club is over before it starts hides most of it's content in "Mario Golf" mode. Annoying sound design and general shortage of holes to play. Clothing options are a poor replacement for the RPG elements in previous games.