Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Medium: 3DS Card/Digital
The school of arcade golf games has had two longstanding institutions, split between Hot Shots and the Mario Golf series. While Mario Golf came first, it wasn't until Hot Shots-creator Camelot took over the franchise that it became the addictive series that we know today. My personal admission here is that I'm all-too familiar with the Hot Shots series, and not so much with Mario Golf. Considering this, I was taken aback to discover that the two games share quite a bit of mechanics with each other. This isn't too surprising when considering history between both franchises, coupled with the fact that in the world of sports, there are only so many ways to skin a cat.
Mario Golf: World Tour greets players with the option to play one of two modes, which initially appear to be a quick play and campaign decision. I naturally followed the Castle Club (campaign) which introduces an RPG mode, one of World Tour's banner features, in which players will embark on a personal journey as their Mii avatar ranks up at the golf club. The game's light-as-a-feather story puts players in Mario's shadow at the start, challenging them to win all three cups on the 18-hole Forest, Seaside, and Mountain Championship courses. This can be harder than it sounds, as it seems the mountain course in particular had some score rubber banding in the last half, making it impossible to shake CPU opponents no matter how well the game was going.
It's worth noting that items weren't predominant in these Championships, and that they seemed to be the most conservative approach to the Mario Golf formula. Players don't interact with any of the competition outside of their overall standing between holes, and the Power Shot seemed to be the only ability for players to leverage. Completing these three Championships took about 9 hours in my case, and proved a good challenge at the finale.
If you're looking for a time sink, then you found it. 18-hole rounds tended to have averaged about 15-20 minutes altogether, factoring around 1-1.5 minutes on each hole. Golf games are suited perfectly well to a handheld gameplay model, and Mario Golf: World Tour has no problem fitting that mold. I easily underestimated my time just between the three Championship courses, and found myself late to a meeting or two in the odd hours I'd get to spend on the green.
Playing these Championship courses will also affect player handicap, raising or lowering it in relation to your performance, so while you may have choked on the approach to the 18th hole, it's sometimes worth accepting your second place trophy. Item unlocks are also awarded throughout Championships, as well as in special areas of the resort hub where costumes can be won in special event challenges, and elegibility for online tournaments between other players in Castle Club.
When I mentioned that the modes seemed to be split between quick play and a campaign, it was underestimating World tour just as much as the time I spent playing it. This is partly the game's fault, as the Castle Club hub world is a physical location that players must navigate with their Mii, walking around and talking to NPCs for information, hoofing it to the courses, and stepping up to shop windows in order to access them. This is cumbersome, and without a secondary means of navigation, such as a persistent menu screen, there's no means of telling what options are available at a given time without dragging your Mii across the map to find out for yourself.
Once back at the Main Menu, MG:WT does give players a lot of freedom, as they can approach quick round (Mario Golf) and Mii (Castle Club) in whatever order they choose. The presumed quick round option actually contains the traditional Mario Golf core, hosting a single-player mode where a wide selection of Nintendo characters are available (including the Mii you've been using) to play through available courses, a VS. mode for local and online play, and the online tournaments which currently have little to no activity on them.
Playing almost any round of single-player golf will unlock a handful of items within the game's first dozen or so hours, which can be equipped to your Mii for online or single-player competition. These extras offer a lot of incentive for players to push themselves, but in only a few hours of play I found myself with a Luigi costume that extended my drive past any of the trademark Nintendo characters available. How balancing the customized Mii characters against pre-composed Nintendo icons will play out in the future is yet to be known, but it's worth noting that an overpowered Mii is easy to come by and causes all other characters to seem a lot less appealing.
As mentioned, the online mode is still in its waking hours, and without much activity (let alone the hustle and bustle we can look forward to on launch week) our review will stop off at "no comment" for the time being. Feel free to make a note of this, as we certainly will, and will be returning with an updated look at World tour's online performance as it launches. You'll be able to return to this review for an update at that time.
The aesthetics are complete with Nintendo charm, and framerate never seemed to drop at any point in playing. Course design is inventive, and on challenge courses where items and coins will litter the terrain, the game manages to display this in detail without much trouble at all. In regards to the use of stereoscopic 3D, however, the effect didn't seem to help or hurt my estimation of a 3D space in lining up a shot. Audio seems to be on par with what prior entries have established, although I'm not sure how I feel about the male Mii voice.
The urge to compare Mario Golf: World tour to the most recent Hot Shots entry on PS Vita is still fresh in my mind as a newcomer to Mario Golf. I managed to struggle with eyeballing the shot power meter, and could never seem to make things consistently work with the putting grid, but I also can't chalk that up to rolling into Mario Golf as if I played three hours of Hot Shots every day. It's been a while since I've played any golf games, and in this case I felt it took a noticeable effort to comply to Mario Golf's mechanics somehow. They feel somehow less predictable, to me, at least.
All things considered, Mario Golf: World Tour has a ton of content waiting to be unlocked. It seems that almost 70% of its courses are hidden behind completing single-player challenges in the Mario Gold mode, although they only feature 9 holes where Castle Club courses have a full 18 each. The recently-announced DLC and Season Pass also seems to offer a hefty expansion which will only add to the variety of courses and player choices (we did not have access to any of this additional content), in which case Nintendo seems intent on perpetuating the life of this Mario Golf entry in a much more comprehensive way than ever before. Not short on content, delivering a robust Mario Golf experience, and implementing the Mii character in the Castle Club mode lay down the groundwork for what could be the most complete Mario Golf experience so far. Whether or not that's your cup of 'tee' is up to you, but I've found a decent bit of distraction from my normal Hot Shots hold.