Out of the semi-rough.
Citing golf titles as an area of expertise feels strange to say as a reviewer, but that's what happens when I readily assign myself Hot Shots Golf, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Pangya (I'd be amazed if you know what that is), and now Mario Golf: World Tour. Admittedly, I haven't delved into any Mario Golf titles since the original on Nintendo 64, where I rocked Maple because of her straight shots and congratulated myself for beating the final ridiculous course based on character faces. World Tour brings back the nostalgia for sure, all while adding a fresh campaign mode and nifty online tournaments, though a handful of features are oddly lacking.
World Tour doesn't mess around with the traditional formula for casual golf titles too much, using a roster of familiar Mario characters (Bowser for the win!) with simplified stats and a two-hit bar for power and accuracy. One major point of difference is topspin and backspin, which can be controlled by pressing the right sequence of buttons at the impact point, allowing you to perform super topspin for long drives down the fairway or super backspin on tight or down-sloping hole locations on the putting green. Another is a handy indication of the landing location for the ball so that you don't need to worry much about the slope of the ball's lie.
Both of these features make the game easier, so putting down a birdie or eagle on the scorecard for every hole isn't too taxing until the last few unlockable courses. Your first foray in Castle Mii, a golf club that stars your Mii as a potential golfer, will force you through a practice round and then a handicap championship. Since you receive a handicap of around -6, even if you achieve 12 under par in the practice round test, you'll likely win the championship by default. Newcomers might appreciate the soft learning curve, but for veterans of the genre, it's a sequence that should have been skippable from the very beginning.
Now, this doesn't mean World Tour is without challenge, though counter to its handholding at the beginning, the content meant for seasoned pros is almost too easy to unlock. Excluding the six nine-hole Royal Gardens courses based on famous locations in Nintendo's history, there are only three full 18-hole courses (perhaps making the DLC packs worth more) and winning any one of their championships in Castle Mii only takes a score of around 7 under par. And that's without even changing your Mii's equipment, where you can wear various gear and clothing for different stats. So only an hour may pass by before you see the end credits.
From there, Lakitu's Sky Island course opens for play, a special course of par-3 holes likely inspired by the one in real-life at the August National Golf Club, except that you must get a birdie and the ball must rest on the putting green after the first shot, not in the rough or even the fringe. On my part, I was able to complete the nine-hole challenge after nine attempts, but I haven't had the courage to take on the eighteen-hole variation yet.
On top of that is the regular list of challenges in Quick Round where you can earn star coins to unlock additional characters, full-body costumes for your Mii, and Royal Gardens courses. Every course in Challenge mode has ten associated missions that run the gamut of speed golf, versus match play, roulette point tourneys, and challenges that ask you to send the ball hurling through rings or star coins. Once you accumulate 90 Star Coins, the mode ups the ante with Moon Coin challenges, effectively extending the replay value. On a related note, beating Daisy on the first course unlocks the star version of her character, who can drive for 270 yards and crush pretty much everything easily for the bulk of the game.
For better or worse, any time playing offline will likely be spent with these challenges since playing a full round of golf and getting through the three mini-games in Castle Mii aren't worth it… unless you head online. It's clear that the game wishes to funnel players to the asynchronous multiplayer modes where you post your best scores of weekly events onto a leaderboard, and to its credit, the variations of nearest-pin, longest drive, score attack, and speed golf encourage multiple tries. The main annoyance, though, is that you can't restart an online event right after you finish it, forcing you through about a half-minute of selections and loading for no reason. There's also no option for real-time online sessions, something that Hot Shots Golf had on PSP, which is a missed opportunity.
Moreover, there's no ability to replay awesome shots like chip-in eagles and hole-in-ones, a feature that even the original Mario Golf had. Most items in the store tend to have similar stats, so purchasing many of them is a matter of completion. It would have been a better incentive to be able to unlock extra costumes and gear for the core cast of Nintendo characters than the Mii, a point which Pangya does better for its own roster.
Mario Golf: World Tour retains the charm and cleanliness that the series and the genre are known for, but places too much emphasis on its online offerings and Mii avatars at the cost of full courses and attention to the central cast of Nintendo characters. Luckily, it's those same online offerings, along with the offline challenges and Sky Island course, that should keep fans of golf titles occupied for several months. So long as Nintendo can build a wide audience and keep its online courses fresh, World Tour should score high enough to move the series toward the next installment.