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Hands-on: Mario Golf World Tour brings quality to the fore

By Chris Scullion on Wednesday Mar 26th 2014 at 8:00 AM PDT

Although popular opinion would have you believe we've been endlessly drowning in Mario sports games since the N64 days, we actually haven't had a new Mario Golf since Advance Tour hit the GBA a decade ago.

This 3DS offering has been a long time coming, and there's no better studio to deliver than Camelot.

The Tokyo-based studio, otherwise known for the Shining Force and Golden Sun series of RPGs, has been synonymous with the Mario Golf and Mario Tennis franchises since the late '90s.

Camelot's Mario sports games have been subject to far more praise than others, mainly due to Camelot's focus on getting the gameplay right first and fitting the Mario zaniness around it, rather than the opposite.

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The game may be named after Nintendo's moustachioed mascot, but don't expect to be spending the majority of Mario Golf: World Tour taking to the course as Mario, Waluigi, Diddy Kong or the like.

Instead, the meat of the game is its Castle Club mode, which forces you to play as your Mii character and take part in numerous practice matches, championships and online tournaments.

Upon registering our Mii, we were sent to the Castle Club, a sizeable main hub that appears to be a redesigned Peach's Castle, complete with massive flower sculptures of Mario and Peach in the hallway (as you do).

The clubhouse offers a number of rooms leading off to various events, shops, practice modes and online tournaments. Although there is a handy map on the bottom screen, it's frustrating that each room isn't properly labelled. This meant a portion of our first few hours with the game was taken up with needless trial-and-error incidents as we wandered through seemingly arbitrary (for now, at least) tearooms and gyms trying to find the practice room we were looking for.

After earning a handicap by taking part in a practice round, you can jump straight into a championship in which you take on the other Mario characters to try and get the lowest score.

At first you're invited to compete on three standard courses - Forest Course, Seaside Course and Mountain Course - each being progressively more difficult than the last. These are fairly straightforward affairs, offering the sort of traditional golf gameplay seen in the older Mario Golf titles.

Later, you get to play on slightly less conventional courses. Peach Gardens, for example, has coins floating in the air and Mario Kart style power-up blocks. Meanwhile, Cheep-Cheep Lagoon takes place completely underwater. Good luck getting a water hazard there.

Everything you do in Castle Club mode - practice rounds, championships, training mini-games - earns you coins that can be used in the club shop to buy new equipment and outfits. It's a similar system to Mario Tennis Open (which was also developed by Camelot), right down to the special outfits that can be unlocked by performing certain achievement-like tasks.

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While on the course, the controls are as you would expect in a standard golf game. Swinging comes in two flavours, manual and muto. Manual is the traditional three-press method used in many golf games, in which you press the A button to start the swing, set the power then set the accuracy.

Auto, meanwhile, is an easier control method that uses only two presses - one to start the swing, another to set the power - and takes accuracy out of the equation entirely, letting you hit perfect shots every time.

This isn't your typical Super Guide mechanic now seen in many Nintendo games, as there's seemingly no punishment for playing with the far easier Auto control method.

We romped our first championship on the Forest Course on auto controls and finished with a score of -11, then struggled through the Seaside Course with manual controls and just managed to scrape through with a -2. Despite using the harder controls the second time, the award we received wasn't any greater and the various Mushroom Kingdom NPCs didn't jump for joy any higher.

This has the potential to make or break the game's much-touted online tournaments (hence the World Tour title). While the game's preview state means we've yet to be able to take part in any of these, it remains to be seen whether auto players will be separated from manual ones, or whether there's nothing stopping players going for the easier option without consequence.

That aside, signs are looking positive so far. As long as the difficulty curve continues to gently rise as it has in the courses we've played, and as long as the online tournaments aren't prone to indirectly punishing players using the manual control method, this has the potential to be one of the better games in the Mario Golf series.

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