The first Mario Golf game in a decade has no idea what it wants to be. The good walk spoiled has always been Mario’s safest sporting home, a place for Nintendo and its trusted caddy Camelot to play with the boundaries of both reality and its own fictions. NES Open Tournament stripped golf back to its component parts to create something appropriately accessible. N64’s Mario Golf embraced the Mushroom Kingdom’s quirks as a way of extricating itself from the increasingly sim-obsessed Western development crowd. Advance Tour, meanwhile, wove in RPG elements, so escaping the rote repeat play of previous instalments.
World Tour teases out the fundamentals of each of these approaches in some way, but refuses to ever pin its colours to any one mast, nor create its own, resulting in a game that feels undercooked and ill thought-out. That’s clearest in the Castle Club, a combined singleplayer campaign, training centre and item shop for the game’s four primary, largely unthemed courses. It’s a pleasant enough hub world for your newly (and gratingly) voiced Mii to wander about in, but a total lack of explanation as to your goals or how to access initially locked content – the Mario-themed latter courses or stat-altering clothing – proves quite alienating. Perhaps it’s a postmodern jibe at golf’s fustiest institutions, but you’re rarely made to feel welcome.
Out on the course, however, things are more straightforward. And quite handsome, too: the enclosed environments mean Camelot can devote system power to some loving treatments of the game’s cast, and animation is delightful throughout. The 3DS’s dual screens mean the top half remains free of all but the most essential UI clutter and, barring some poorly explained aim and gradient markers when playing longer shots, the key components of the game are gratifyingly simple.
The bottom screen comes into play when attempting more advanced shots – switching to Manual swing mode eliminates Auto’s irritating balancing acts (perfect shots can still skew randomly off target) in favour of putting you in control of not only shot power, but also ball curve, topspin and backspin. Each can be tricky to get to grips with, and is devastating if botched, but all become absolute necessities in the most difficult tournaments. You’re given six range-extending Power Shots per 18 holes, adding a neat resource management aspect to longer rounds. It’s clear Camelot knows where to place the fulcrum between high-level play and ease of access, then, but it says much that the game’s best moments come outside of its central mode.
Challenges consist of 10 objective-based games per course, from playing a par game while collecting strategically-placed coins (necessitating careful play and liberal use of Special Shot item boxes, which can be smashed open along the way) to entire rounds against new A.I. opponents who are then unlocked for player use. Online multiplayer borrows Mario Kart 7’s excellent Communities function, allowing groups of players to organise their own longform tournaments, complete with custom rule sets. Both take the game’s central systems and turn them into something a little looser and a good deal more enjoyable – yet the developer is seemingly worried about letting that creep into the game proper.
This inability to decide where World Tour lies among the many paths the series has taken previously is the game’s true problem. It demonstrates both why Camelot is so trusted by Nintendo, and why it has been stuck making sporting spinoffs for so long. Camelot seems unsure of whether it would prefer to be held by the hand or simply set free, and ends up putting the player in that same awkward middle ground.