Hole In One

ImageWith the platforming gameplay as his immaculate headquarters, Mario has been able to leap out of those boundaries to reach new gaming landscapes. Fully aware that competing directly against the traditional juggernauts of genres on which he is a mere visitor – and not the main attraction – would be a major folly, Nintendo and their partners have taken measures to avoid eye-to-eye combats, and the results have been mostly successful.

By simplifying the mechanics of many genres and sprinkling the recipe with a whole lot of Mushroom Kingdom charm, Mario has starred on numerous family-friendly and highly engaging titles that involve little jumping and Goomba-squashing antics. Starting with Super Mario Kart, eventually extending all the way to RPGs with Square’s Legend of the Seven Stars, and going wild by exploring pretty much every major sport practiced around the planet, the plumber has, more often than not, garnered great critical reception and entertained millions of young and experienced gamers alike.

Although both the go-karting series and the Mario RPGs have nearly perfect track records in spite of their high volume of installments, the same does not apply to Mario sports games, which have sometimes fallen victim to rushed production, poor controls, and a wish to gain easy money that surpasses the desire to deliver a consistent product. In 2012’s Mario Tennis Open, the Nintendo 3DS has already been home to one of those hollow mixed bags, but two years later the system seems to be about to redeem itself with Mario Golf: World Tour.

ImageIt would be no hyperbole to say that World Tour belongs to a somehow noble line of Mario sports games. After all, it was back in 1999 – on the Nintendo 64 days – with Camelot’s Mario Golf, that Nintendo opened up the floodgates to allow Mario to explore, simplify, and make more fun the experience of playing sports simulations. Though that pioneering award has, in the eyes of many, lost some of its nobility due to some uninspired pieces of software that such experiment birthed, the fact that it also catapulted gems like the original Mario Tennis or the hilariously brutal Mario Strikers makes it all worth it.

Besides, the Mario Golf branch of the Mario Sports tree has yet to house a game that sits below great. The original 1999 game featured tough courses and a deep, yet simple, gameplay schema that, despite the fact that it shows its age nowadays, was certainly a commendable achievement at the time. The Gamecube’s Toadstool Tour made ideal adjustments to that structure, introducing elements that would be borrowed by traditional golf games, and painted absolutely gorgeous scenarios by using the system’s magnificent hardware. And finally, Advance Tour came around in 2004 and blended the standard Mario Golf gameplay with RPG elements that took the game’s value and length to unsurmountable heights.

Mario Golf: World Tour arrives with all that legacy solidly laid, and even though it is the heir to arguably the best Mario Sports game of all, Toadstool Tour, it seems poised to make a run towards the top. It might sound like a extremely bold claim, but it is one that is backed up by one simple word: time.

ImageFirst of all, there is the time of development. Mario Tennis Open, the most recent sports game produced by Camelot, was simply decent. Though it is hard to pinpoint, from the outside, the cause for its failure to achieve the greatness of the series’ Nintendo 64, Gameboy Advance, and Gamecube outings, the game seemed rushed. The absence of an RPG mode made its single-player content too thin, hence forcing the title to fully rely on its multiplayer virtues.

Given how greatly received that mode had been on the GBA outings of both the Golf and Tennis games, not to mention the fact that it was also included on the latest Mario Sluggers title, the most reasonable explanation for its apparent removal has to fall on utter lack of a lengthier development schedule.

World Tour was set to release on the second half of 2013, but – perhaps due to how Nintendo perceived the average reception of Mario Tennis Open to have affected its sales – it was delayed by nearly one year. As we sit one month from the game’s release, information on the title is still relatively slim, but not only do we know that World Tour will feature RPG-like gameplay, in the shape of Castle Club (a hub from which players will access tournaments, shops, training facilities, and who knows what else), but a quick glimpse of videos released by Nintendo unveils what seem to be greatly designed courses, creative use of items, gorgeous visuals, and good gameplay options, all of which have been undoubtedly expanded and improved during the one-year delay.

ImageIn addition to the extra period of development, time also plays a role in increasing the game’s level of freshness. When World Tour releases, almost ten years will have passed since Advance Tour, the most recent game of the Mario Golf series, came to be. For starters, that lull means that countless young gamers will get in touch with the franchise for the first time, whereas veterans will feel like a lifetime has passed since the last time they sat down to play a round of golf on the Mushroom Kingdom.

More importantly, that decade-long retirement means that Mario Golf will enter a gaming scenario that is far different from what it encountered back in 2004. The 3DS’ hardware is, by leaps and bounds, superior to what the GBA had to offer, meaning that course elements, the RPG gameplay, and everything else will reach new levels of detail and depth.

ImageBesides, the rising of online gameplay will allow the game’s multiplayer to be much more dynamic. It will permit the seamless connection of players from all over the world in tournaments that will – probably – encompass a pleasantly large number of competitors, and the fact that each player has their own system means that, instead of playing in turns (which can cause the match to drag), they will be able to tackle the course simultaneously. If Nintendo and Camelot manage to come up with, and support, a large number of tournament options, leaderboards, and other network features, World Tour’s online mode could have the legs to match the company’s multiplayer kings: Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.

In spite of all those promising tidbits, Mario Golf: World Tour has been flying under the radar. Once it releases, though, it will have a great shot to show that Camelot has learned from the stumble called Mario Tennis Open and, to reward fans of the Mario sports games, has created one of the finest titles to hit the Nintendo 3DS.


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