It’s so strange that a franchise, after ten years of radio silence, would still have so much history to fall back on. Stranger yet is that it’s still so relevant. Mario Golf: World Tour mixes up a lot of what you recall from both its handheld and console brethren, but it also tries a few new things. Both end up with results that fall on either end of the spectrum, ranging from good to weird to just plain bad.
World Tour brings back the plumber to the green via Camelot Software Planning, the developer behind basically every other Mario Golf game (and Mario Tennis, too). And very much like those of yore and their contemporaries, the mechanics haven’t changed much. You still play the game of golf by aiming and then pressing a button to set up a power and an accuracy meter as they throb in and out of desirable ranges.
There’s a reason why they haven’t shaken that part of the game up, though, and that’s because it still feels good. It feels like the way to play a digitized, handheld version of golf. It’s nice, though, that they changed from the traditional bar meter to one ascribed to a ball on the bottom screen. You press to initiate, press again when the ball fills with color for power, and once more when it drains for accuracy. It is much easier to gauge timing with this visual.
With the additional post-swing presses of A and B, you can apply topspin and backspin so as to affect both the trajectory and landing of your ball. Since the mechanic’s inception nearly two decades ago, it has become a vital part of maintaining player interest in those moments when you know you’ve almost botched a shot. It does, however, have a strange side effect.
It renders the game’s camera basically useless. Which really is another byproduct of how laughably inaccurate the game’s trajectory markers can be. You see, the line that appears that shows the arc and eventual resting point of your ball is based on an ideal, flat plain, free of obstacles and terrain types. So once you get out of the bunny slopes, so to speak, it’s nigh unreliable past showing where your dreams lie.
But don’t get me wrong; it’s nice to have a challenge. I don’t think it’ll be very friendly to the younger crowd that either can’t handle or won’t stand for such mental calculations, but I like that Nintendo has somewhat eschewed its handholding rep in this game. It forces you to learn to feel how spin affects the ball, and to rely on a pleasurable combination of instinct and roughly hewn physics simulations in your brain.
It just comes back to the camera. It either focuses on the shown trajectory’s resting point (which is decidedly unfortunate) or it can’t figure out the elevation at which to show the ball, forcing you to fiddle with it manually just to see how you fared, or it has your character blocking much of the green and fairway or it tracks the hole instead of your ball so that you have no idea where you landed.
This is in combination with the fact that simply controlling the camera is a chore. You move along the horizontal plain with the analog stick but then use the touchscreen to move along the vertical. I can see where the metaphor of splitting the movement in the way you split between two analog sticks exists, but it seems that they forgot you’re holding a huge 3DS in your hands instead of a relatively tiny and ergonomic controller.
The courses themselves, though, are incredibly fun. More so than past Mario Golf games that I can remember, they feel an awful lot like the actual platforming levels of the main series than simple golf courses, arcade-style or otherwise. I don’t mean that you are jumping from place to place, bopping enemies on the head. I mean they have captured the essence of what makes certain Mario level types staples of the franchise.
Bowser’s castle, for example, is laden with traps and obstacles, just like the castle levels you remember. Others will be loaded with coins to prepare you for shopping and some with power-ups just because they want to throw you a curveball. It’s impressive how much of the indescribable Mario essence is captured in the courses.
Indeed, there are power-ups in the game. They’re called Item Shots, and they work just like you would expect. You hit them with your ball and then you get a power-up. A Fire Flower shot, for instance, will let you burn through any trees in your ball’s way as it flies through the air. Others will shoot it straight through walls and hills without a moment’s pause. They’re kind of weird considering you usually have to go out of your way to get them, but they can really spice things up nicely.
This is separate from the character progression, which there isn’t really much to speak of. Instead, you’ll simply be progressing your equipment, which you unlock by playing courses and then buying with your coins. You’ll get new clubs and clothes and balls, all of which have different stats. It makes up for the lost RPG elements of leveling characters by having meaningful equipment upgrades.
It loses some of its luster, however, considering how the unlocks are very much randomized. You could get four new items in the shop after four rounds of golf and each one is just another hat with the roughly the same stats. It begins to take its toll on you after a bit and you start to wonder what’s the point. Luckily, the robust Quick Play and Challenge Mode options also give up the goods as you play minigames and solve puzzles, so it’s not all bad.
The online connectivity is also quite substantial. You can play against other ghosts in the same way you would race against ghosts in Mario Kart, vying for the best score asynchronously. There’s even a ticker on the main screen that shows your friends’ scores in challenges, your upcoming unlocks, and more. It feeds deep into your competitive side.
There’s a lot to like about Mario Golf: World Tour. It plays and feels great, it looks nice, and it offers up some interesting challenges and minigames. But it also suffers from a super short and impressively stunted story mode, a mainstay of previous handheld iterations of the franchise. And that’s not to mention how mind-numbingly frustrating the camera can be. As it stands, though, Mario Golf: World Tour is very much a worthwhile game. Just keep connected and keep your expectations in check.
+ Getting a shot setup and out feels snappy and intuitive
+ Doesn’t hold your hand on harder courses
+ Some courses have an impeccable feel for the Mario oeuvre
– Incredibly frustrating camera
– Disappointing lack of RPG and story elements
Final Score: 7 out of 10
Game Review: Mario Golf: World Tour
Release: May 2, 2014
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Available Platforms: Nintendo 3DS