When you think about it, the world of Mario doesn't make much sense. Big bad guy and king of the koopas, Bowser is always looking for the next opportunity to kidnap the pretty pink Princess Peach, while nice-but-dim Mario is always happy to drop everything to get her back. You'd think, given the precedent, the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom would have a) improved the castle's security and b) avoid run-ins with Bowser at all costs. Yet Mario, Luigi and co always seem perfectly happy to invite Bowser and the other bad guys over for various sporting and karting events, acting as if there was no bad blood between them whatsoever. Whether it's Stockholm Syndrome, general naivety or the a product of Mario's Mushroom-addled brain, we're genuinely surprised one of the tournaments hasn't turned sour yet...
In their second sports game for the 3DS, Nintendo carry on doing what they do best - infusing sports games with enough whimsy and Mushroom Kingdom magic to make even the most mundane fun. And lets face it, if there's any sport that could do with kicking the excitement up a notch, it's golf. And maybe Tennis. By adding a sprinkling of power ups, brightly coloured courses and a handful of warp pipes, coupled with an army of Nintendo's ever-endearing characters, you've got a golf game that's anything but deathly dull. To play, its a simple matter of lining up your shots, having a quick check of the wind and weather conditions, then whacking your ball down each of the candy-coated courses by timing your button presses to perfection, using either the tried-and-tested three-press system for setting power and precision, or the streamlined easy mode, which negates the final press and adds a bit of auto-aiming into the mix. Obviously, we chose the simpler one.
The game itself is split into two main modes, one of which is the 'Castle Club' story mode. Charting your Mii's rise to golfing stardom through the ranks of the Mushroom Kingdom's most exclusive golf club, it has all the makings of what could have been an amazing career mode. We could have maybe forgiven the fact it only has three courses to complete, had they been particularly well done - but for some reason, Mario Golf forces you to play through the same bland course three times before it'll let you move on to the next.
Each course follows a similar pattern - first, you have to play through an 18-hole practice round before you can go up against any opponents, before being guided into what they call a 'Handicap Tournament', where, through some crazy algorithm, they give you a handicap score based on how well you did in your practice round, which is then taken off/added to your final score for the course, in an attempt to make things more balanced. Only once you win said Handicap Tournament are you let loose on the Championship - which means playing through the same course a third time, before you unlock the next set of holes (you start with a forest, with a seaside stage and a final desert stage to unlock).
At least, that's how it's supposed to work. In our case, we were left playing through the first championship over and over, consistently two or three points behind the guy in first place. If we score -2, he'll score -5, and if we -5, he'll score -7 - we're not sure if we're just really bad (quite probable), or it's simply not very well balanced. Nevertheless, the fact it attempts to pad out it's career mode by making you play the exact same tournament at least three times feels more than a little cheap.
That being said, we do quite like the customisation options, which have been shamelessly lifted from Mario Tennis Open. For everything you do in Mario Golf, whether in the Castle Club or outside, you earn coins, which can then be spent at the Castle Club store on outfits, equipment and such for your Mii - clothes which in turn, help improve aspects of your character's performance. Whether you plumb for some Hammer Bros shoes to increase your max hitting distance, don a Banana-themed outfit to improve your chances of hitting a perfect shot or prefer a club that curves your putts round to the right, there's plenty to pick from - with new items unlocked on a pretty regular basis.
Thankfully, there's more to Mario Golf than just the Castle Club, with the imaginatively-named 'Mario Golf' mode coming complete with a whole host of options to occupy those who have got bored/frustrated/finished the Castle Club. From bog-standard versus matches, against friends (sadly requiring multiple copies of the game) or computer-controlled opponents, to worldwide online tournaments that are regularly updated, there's a fair bit to keep you going - but far and away the stand-out are the game's multitude of challenges. Short, quick-fire mini-games that put a spin on standard golf, there's coins to collect, rings to putt through and moles to whack, to name but a few. While the Castle Club stuck to the more 'serious' courses, playing in challenge mode lets you unlock the much more memorable novelty courses, littered with boost pads, giant goombas and of course, power-ups, such as wind-resistant bullet bills and ice flowers that can freeze any water you may land in. From the pink-overload of the Peach Gardens to the underwater coral craziness of the Cheep Cheep Lagoon, to the Bob-omb littered Bowser's Castle, there's much more variety here, whether you're working through each course's set of challenges or reliving the ancient Mario vs Bowser face-off, through the medium of a friendly sporting competition.
Extra courses and characters can also be purchased from the Nintendo eShop, with three packs currently up for grabs, each with two courses and a character for Â£5.39 - or you can plumb for the mega bundle containing everything for Â£13.49 instead, saving you a whopping Â£2.68. While we're generally in favour of add-ons to increase a game's longevity after launch, the fact that these appeared on the eShop before the game even officially launched (to be in time for day one), suggests they may simply be stages that got cut from the game to extract more money from customers - something we had hoped Nintendo were above doing.All in all, Mario Golf: World Tour is a bit of a mixed bag - while the Castle Club is a confusing, lacklustre attempt at a career mode, with some rather mundane courses, the Mario Golf mode fares much better, with it's myriad of challenges being a particular favourite. The fact that Nintendo has also potentially held back courses and characters from the main game to sell on the eShop at launch does leave a rather bad taste in your mouth too, especially when you consider how short the Castle Club mode would be had they not forced you to play through each course three times.