The online golf we've been wanting
It's been about 10 years since we've seen the Mushroom Kingdom gang out on the green, so it was high time for a new Mario Golf title. Camelot Software steps to the tee again, this time on the 3DS, bringing dual screens and and a new spin to their much-loved links with Mario Golf: World Tour.
But the biggest addition this time around is online play. Were they able to drive this one home?
Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)
Release Date: May 2, 2014
Mario, Bowser, Peach and the gang are ready for you to take them to tee in World Tour's Quick Round mode, where you'll use their varied abilities in singles matches, tournaments, and online matches. This mode is primarily for jumping in for a single game, as characters you use won't earn any stats upgrades. They will earn money and unlock items, though. Those are for use in the other side of the game, Castle Club.
In Castle Club, you'll play as your Mii, starting out as a golf newbie that has to work his way up the ranks. You'll take on a handicap round, jump into a beginner course, and gradually go up through two more courses, with the last being almost too difficult for a game that children might play. There's some serious score rubber banding for the last half of that last course, and that will try your patience. You will curse Mario's name.
Three courses may not sound like much, but there's plenty to do outside of them in and around the golf club. For example, the practice challenges may be something you'd initially skip over for some real golf action, but my game improved considerably after working through the four levels of each of the three challenges. You'll fine tune your driving, precision, and putting game through them. They're fun enough to be considered mini-games on their own, and if you can master them they'll fully arm you for that ultra-challenging final course mentioned earlier.
Outside of the three main courses, the Royal Court is home to three more unlockable courses for some non-standard golfing fun. After that, if you're looking for even more of a challenge, head out to the far right and around the corner to find the cruelly challenging "one-shot, one-putt" course. It's so difficult that I have yet to finish this course!
In keeping with tradition, Mario Golf: World Tour has some enjoyable RPG-like elements. Walking around the club is like being in any JRPG's town; and it's packed with NPCs to chat with and learn from, rooms to visit, attractions to see, shops to spend at, and fun mini-games to take on.
The equipment system of World Tour is not unlike that of a role-playing game. With coins earned from completing matches and other challenges you'll be able to buy new balls, clubs, and clothing to tweak your stats. In this game, even a couple of yards advantage gained from a new club can make a huge difference. Picking the right gear is a lot like equipping before a key battle.
There are plenty of just-for-fun type clothing items, too. Nintendo went nuts with some of the costumes, and after seeing just how ridiculous I can make my player look, I'm glad that they did. Spiky hair, Toadstool hats, duds inspired by Chompers, and more have been worn by my Mii.
The courses of Mario Golf: World Tour are very good, though none of them would qualify as easy. Hills, traps, obstacles, and weather conditions keep you on your toes at all time. There's rarely a situation where you'll just be able to take the recommended shot and succeed, which is nice for those that like a challenge, but maybe not so much for younger players.
All courses have that Nintendo charm, so expect star-shaped sand traps, colorful trees, happy clouds, and explosive Bob-ombs that serve as course obstacles. They're pretty, but not easy.
My favorite course, Bowser's Castle, is particularly brutal. It's packed with obstacles to avoid, traps to screw you up, and greens where exact ball placement is the only way to survive. It really does feel like the golf version of one of his castles.
Peach's Playground is the place to go for golf ridiculousness. The fields are littered with coins, hearts, power-up boxes, and other odd items that you might find in a Mario platformer. It's still golf play at its core here, but you're encouraged to go outside the lines trying to earn coins to spend on items as well as power-ups that will help your game, Mario Kart style. Beating any of the weird challenges this stage offers will earn you an equally weird costume to wear. These matches are a departure from standard golf. For example, a Club Slots mode has a slot machine picking your club for you, forcing you to play nine holes with only it.
The shot system of Mario Golf: World Tour is still the three-click system all golf game fans know (one to start, one to set strength, and the last to set precision), though the graphical representation is a bit different this time around. The horizontal power/accuracy bar is available for use if you prefer, but the much more useful ball view sits below it on the bottom screen. This view has a circle within the ball that grows and shrinks to represent your swing, with your goal being to click for strength as it grows and click again for precision as it shrinks. It's much easier to set your shots in this fashion than with the horizontal ball, giving you more control over your shots.
For advanced players, the system allows for more shot types. Different combinations of the A and B buttons allow players to set topspin or backspin (touchscreen buttons for these shots are also available), and a power shot button offers a limited number of boosted shots per match. And if you'd rather not get into the shot system intricacies, an automatic mode will let you relax and just swing at the ball.
Mario Golf: World Tour lets you get as deep as you want when it comes to planning shots. Tutorials will walk you through the effects of ground sloping or wind, but the only way to get them to click is to play several matches. Once you begin to feel how, say, backspin puts your ball on the green, you'll start to really enjoy the depths of this game's systems. There is a pretty long learning curve -- much longer than I'd expect to see in a Nintendo game. But I'm glad that they weren't afraid to put that challenge forward as World Tour is a better game for it.
Hang in there, though. I'll admit to being frustrated at first. The feel is pretty different from a Hot Shots Golf game, especially with putting. But I learned it after a day or two (those tutorials helped), and found myself enjoying the game much more after that.
While I was able to overcome the frustrations of the learning curve, I'm still not completely over World Tour's camera and shot aiming systems. The camera control is clunky and imprecise, especially when compared with other golf game franchises. As the controls are spread out across both buttons and touch screen controls, it requires a bit of finger work to track down your ball. You're able to freely move the camera up and down the course with the analog stick, but elevation is set to touchscreen controls that are fidgety at best. For post-shot views, the default height is often too low to get a clear view of your shot, so you're forced to use these up/down virtual buttons, which becomes aggravating after a few times.
Worse, some poor choices were made for the default options on camera views. When switching to an overhead view, the targeting tracks the hole and not your ball, which makes finding your ball during a tournament something like trying to find a needle in a haystack. For the short game, the default view has most of the green's view obstructed by your Mii's huge head, requiring two or three camera tweaks for every hole you'll play.
And while we're on shot frustrations, the resolution of the ball grid should be mentioned. While the overall appearance of the game is fine, the grid that you'll use to plan your drives and puts is pretty rough looking, and its jagged lines make it difficult to plan your shots. It's at its worst when the grid lies over highly contoured surfaces -- it requires too much camera reworking to get a clear view, and even then the resolution is so low that overhead views are sometimes too jaggy to make out. Mario Golf: World Tour would have greatly benefited from higher resolution displays and visuals.
Tournament play allows you to connect up to join in both national and international matches that cover everything from standard 18-hole tournaments to more relaxed challenges like driving contests and speed rounds. I really enjoyed the one-shot target practice that has you going up against all other players over 9 holes to see who can get closest to the pin. The overall experience is outstanding across all modes, and the connectivity is seamless and transparent. They've succeeded in making a hassle-free, highly accessible online golf experience -- something I've been wanting for a long time.
All of the matches you take part in take your ghost data and send it to Nintendo's servers where it will be shared with all other players. At the end of the tournament access time, an awards ceremony will take place to show you and other players where they stand in the rankings. For each challenge, items are both earned and unlocked in the Castle's item store.
Like with this game's offline play, there are two sides to online play in World Tour. In Castle Club, you'll use your Mii and join in on both national and international tournaments. A sign-up station in the castle lets you log in to see a list of available tournaments. If you're eligible and the tournament is still open, you can sign in and immediately begin playing. Your play will be tracked, and your ghost data and scores will be uploaded after the match. Each match lets you know when the awards ceremony will take place, but you're immediately rewarded with coins, item unlocks, and other prizes for each match you participate in.
Outside of Castle Club, in the standard Mario Golf side of the game, several online play modes are available. You can pick versus play for local, online, and community matches. The Tournaments mode is populated with challenges you can join to try to take top ranks. These have you taking on alternative challenges like playing a course while being limited to only one character, or trying to pick up as many coins as possible while completing each hole.
You can also set up private tournaments of your own for others to join. In fact, if you have the demo, join my CorgiKing Course, which is a 6-hole speed shot contest. Look for tournament code 46-3770-5686-2231 online now.
You will see the heads of other Miis playing in tournaments marked on the play field, but there's no interaction between you and other players -- the game's online modes are fully asynchronous.
Mario Golf: World Tour's presentation is strong, especially when it comes to the varied characters and costumes. The course designs are colorful and exciting, and they're packed with little secrets to find. The low resolution of the shot grid is the only place where the presentation of World Tour lets you down.
And while this has no bearing on gameplay, the constant chatter from characters begins to wear on you after awhile. Their cheers and gripes are unending, so much so that it seems like the game is broken at times. There's no way to mute them so you'll have to get used to an endless loop of annoying sound effects.
It has been worth the wait, as Mario Golf: World Tour took that next step and brought us an outstanding online golf experience. The learning curve is steep, and there are some issues with the camera and aiming control, but working through them is worth it as the online play is outstanding.
I see myself playing in online matches in Mario Golf: World Tour for a very long time. I hope to see you out on the green!
Mario Golf: World Tour reviewed by Dale North
Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth most people's time and cash.
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