Written by Harry Jackson
What does a plumber do in his spare time between rescuing princesses, driving race karts, hosting elaborate parties, refereeing boxing matches, and his part-time career as a doctor? Trade in the wrench and plumber’s tools for a set of golf clubs and hit the golf pro world tour!
Mario Golf: World Tour is Nintendo’s fifth entry into the arcade golf simulator series, and the third developed for a handheld. Veterans of the Mario Golf series will quickly find all of the familiar golf mechanics from previous installments, while the game also features tutorial and practice modes for rookie free-swingers. The game even includes a golf glossary so if you do not know the difference between a “draw” and a “fade,” you will not get lost in the all of the golf lingo.
The core game is divided into two modes: Mario Golf and Castle Club. Mario Golf is home to the single player, versus, and tournament modes. Aside from traditional stroke play (get the ball in the hole in the lowest number of shots), Mario Golf also features ring shot and coin collection challenges, time attack, slots, and more. Ring shot and coin collection challenges require the player to go well out of the way to make unusual shots, collect rings and coins, and complete the hole in a predetermined number of hits. Time attack mode is a race to complete the holes in the quickest time. Slots features a randomizer to determine which clubs are available to use on a given hole. Players earn star coins for completing these challenges which are the only way to unlock new characters, courses, and costume upgrades for their playable Mii character.
Castle Club is a one-player “story” mode that features your Mii character hitting the links with Mario and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom cast. The goal is to become the club’s first “triple crown” champion, winning the course championship on each of the three 18-hole courses available in the game. The three courses follow a progression of difficulty from the nice wide fairways of the Forest Course to the rocky terrain of the Mountain Course besieged by swirling winds and obstacles. Castle Club is also where most of the game’s faults lie. The game frustrated me early on when every non-playable character told me that I could not begin a match until I established a handicap, but there was no indication on where to go to create one. While the 3DS second screen serves as an overworld map, the map is not clearly labeled so the player is left wandering around to figure out where to go.
The Castle Club mode is also painfully short. The credits roll once you have completed the three course championships, and this can be achieved in a couple of hours, after mastering the core mechanics. While there are still a number of things to do in Mario Golf: World Tour after the credits roll, this abbreviated single player campaign left me wanting more. Veterans of the Mario Golf series will notice that the robust single player RPG elements from previous portable installments have been removed in favor of the costume upgrades for the Mii. The costume updates are fun, but they mainly serve a cosmetic purpose as few gear upgrades actually affect player stats. Finally, there are no unlockable courses or characters to attain through this mode, so there is little reward for completing the Castle Club.
The replayability of Mario Golf: World Tour comes from tournament mode. For the first time, players can participate in regional and worldwide online tournaments to prove their skills on the virtual links. The game features an instant entry system so players can enter a tournament and post a score at any time during the course of the tournament. At any time, there are always new tournaments being created by both the public and Nintendo. Prizes for winning Nintendo-sponsored tournaments include coins to purchase more costume collectibles, bragging rights, and an exclusive invite to the Castle Tournament, which is one of four major invite-only Nintendo tournaments reserved for the crème of the crop. No matter how well you do in the Nintendo tournaments, all players receive exclusive Mii gear just for participating, and Nintendo has also partnered with real-world golf companies to provide their branded content for Miis in the game. At the time of writing this review, Nintendo is currently sponsoring a tournament that awards Game Boy-related gear for all participants to show some love for the recent anniversary of the handheld. Even though I feel like I completed the main single-player story mode of the game in record time, the many different online tournaments keep me coming back to try to post better scores. Finally, if playing against online strangers is not your style, Mario Golf: World Tour allows players to create their own private tournaments where the organizer can establish match formats, course options, and invite players to participate through a one-time code, similar to a friend code. Friends can use private tournaments to set up daily or weekly league-style matches, where players can post their scores at their own pace and compete without the need to have everyone online at the same time.
The graphics of Mario Golf: World Tour are on par with the console installments of Mario Golf, and this is the best looking portable version of the series, as it should be with the updated 3DS hardware. Even with the modern 3DS features, I found myself playing with the 3D turned off, and the gyroscope camera controls were more annoying than helpful. The music is passable, though nothing really stands out beyond background noise while lining up shots. The game is easy to navigate, however the very first screen displays tournament information in real-time which can be a bit intimidating when booting up the game for the first time.
While the Castle Club mode features three 18-hole courses, there are seven additional courses that showcase zany Mushroom Kingdom environments including an underwater course, a Donkey Kong Country Returns-themed course with barrel cannons, and a Bowser’s Castle course complete with exploding bob-ombs. While these courses may cause golf purists to cringe, they keep the “Mario” in Mario Golf where the characters may falter. Because of the Mii costume upgrade system, I found myself only selecting my Mii character when playing through the different modes in the game. A new set of clubs and simple change of pants will have your Mii shooting the ball farther than most of the Mushroom Kingdom cast. While the player can unlock “star” versions of each character upgrading their base stats, I noticed that the most popular golfer used in tournament arenas was the Mii with the Mario gang sitting the sidelines. There are also four unlockable characters that become available as the player collects star coins as well as four additional characters that can be purchased separately or individually via digital download. Each DLC character also comes with two 18-hole courses which are redesigned versions of courses from Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64. The DLC packs can be purchased for $6 each or $15 for all three, which will add 108 holes to the game’s already impressive total of 126. Usually, I am not a big fan of DLC, but I feel that $15 is a great deal for almost doubling the amount of content in the game.
Overall, Mario Golf: World Tour is a fun time out on the virtual golf course. The single player Castle Club is a bit lacking and I wish there was a little more challenge and variety in unlocking additional characters and content. The game truly shines in its online experience and hopefully Nintendo will support this title with tournament play for years to come. If you need a Nintendo fix before Mariokart 8 hits later this month, grab your clubs, put on your favorite pair of checkered pants, and tee up Mario Golf: World Tour.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.