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Mario Golf: World Tour Review

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The first thing Mario Golf: World Tour asked me to do when I booted up its much-hyped story mode, the Castle Club, was to play 18 holes to determine my handicap.  Three rounds of golf later, the credits rolled.

The game has much more to offer, of course, but unfortunately its menus are so convoluted and redundant that it wouldn’t surprise me if many players don’t see much of its content.  More on that later.

Does World Tour dig itself out of the sand trap of its clunky interface?

For starters, it helps that the actual golf part of World Tour is quite fun, if not innovative.  I played a good bit of the Nintendo 64 version, but for the most part, passed on the series in the 15 years since the original’s release.  Considering the iterative nature of Mario’s sports outings, I’m not surprised to find that Mario Golf remained largely unchanged.  Lining up a shot is about as difficult as you want it to be.  You can get by with some success just rolling with the suggested shot each time and watching the results, but more engaged players are rewarded for minding the wind conditions, putting spin on the ball, or setting up a trick shot.

This level of advanced play becomes increasingly important as you explore the other game modes World Tour has to offer.  As I mentioned, the credits will roll after winning a tournament at the game’s Forest, Seaside, and Mountain courses, but there’s certainly much more to see.  In addition to the standard golf modes you’d expect (stroke play, score play, etc.), there are more exotic challenges that involve shooting through inconveniently-placed rings, playing with a random set of three clubs, or going one-on-one with one of the dozen Nintendo characters featured in World Tour.

These challenges quickly escalate in difficulty and eventually overflow onto the more absurd Mario-themed 9-hole courses.  These are far sillier than the three tournament series locations, including the all-pink Peach Gardens and Wiggler Park, which features giant versions of notable Mario baddies that serve as hazards.  Power-ups such as the Bullet Bill (used to shoot your ball forward) and the Fire Flower (useful for burning straight through trees) are featured in certain modes and can be toggled in quick play to help put the “Mario” in “Mario Golf”.  Personally, I found acquiring and spending items to be a chore that slows down an otherwise well-paced game.

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Let’s talk about that pace for a minute.  In real life, playing golf can quickly become a tedious affair.  Mario Golf: World Tour smartly allows you to button through the victory animations, hole flyovers, score cards, and even the chase-cam that follows your ball, allowing you to burn 18 holes in as little as 10-15 minutes.  Playing a round turns into a highlight reel of getting that extra couple feet off a good bounce, the satisfying clink of sinking a put, and the cringe-inducing crack of richocheting your shot out of a sand trap and into a tree.

This level of polish extends to World Tour’s standout feature: online tournaments.  Nintendo hosts their own series of global tournaments (a “World Tour”, if you will) that each lasts for a set number of days and rewards participants with limited edition gear for their efforts.  However, players can also create their own tournaments with whichever rules they seem fit.  Finding available matches is easy enough, likewise for coordinating with friends.  Players don’t compete in real time.  Instead, you’ll play through the course alongside the ghost data of players who have already completed the round.  At first, it’s kind of hilarious watching little icons with faces on them fly off from your tee in all sorts of directions.  But your virtual opponents provide key insight into what to watch out for on a given hole.  Think you can make it over that water hazard?  Think again, four people already fell short and made a splash.  Maybe most of the shots went straight, but one genius aimed 90 degrees to the right and took a shortcut off of a floating rock.  Ghost data is especially useful when you’re putting.  You can watch a dozen balls roll more or less towards the hole from different directions, giving you a pretty good read of the green.  When you’re finished, you post a score and upload ghost data of your own and are free to retry as many times as you’d like until the tournament ends.

World Tour’s online play may exemplify a Nintendo that’s increasingly willing to embrace online innovation.  Or it may just be a fluke.  Either way, it will likely be what keeps players around for the months following its release.  Which would be fortunate, considering Nintendo will be selling six recreated courses from the original N64 game in three DLC packs or, for first time in the publisher’s history, a season pass.

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Of course, these days we can’t have a Nintendo game without some simple, glaring flaw, and Mario Golf: World Tour won’t break the streak.  The proverbial shot in the foot is the game’s menu.  The home screen provides two options: Mario Golf (Quick Round) and Castle Club.  The Castle Club is ostensibly World Tour’s career mode, in which you play as your Mii and unlock new clothing and equipment.  This is also where you’ll find a handful of training exercises, access to online tournaments, and the three-course championship series, among other things.  Actually playing any of these modes requires wondering around a few large, empty rooms and gardens that make up the hub world, with very little to tell you where you’re going.  The Castle Club is basically just a big, slow menu that doesn’t include most of the interesting content World Tour has to offer.  No, the meaningful and rewarding content is found behind the poorly-labeled “Quick Round” option.  This is a much more straightforward menu that includes a different set of challenges in addition to the same tournament access from the Castle Club, although weirdly none of its practice modes.  This is especially bizarre considering you still unlock gear for your Mii, but can’t actually buy or equip any of it without backing out to the main menu, re-entering the castle, and finding the Pro Shop.  It’s a mess.

While the labyrinthian golf club effectively discouraged me from caring about my Mii’s upgrade path, Mario Golf: World Tour’s more standard modes still proved to be well polished and a lot of fun.  The game successfully presents a satisfying, fast-paced golf outing with surprising online support.  It’s a solid addition to the already strong 3DS library that gets in its own way just enough to notice, but not enough to avoid the game altogether.

4/5. Nice on!

 

On Farmville

I like this story.

A few years ago, during my Gamestop days, our store started carrying prepaid cards for Farmville. This was the height of Farmville’s popularity; it had become an obsession by many nontraditional gamers (Baby Boomers, nuclear-family moms, etc.) and a one-word punchline for “core” gamers.

In case there was any uncertainty if you’d be seeing a “virtual farm” segment 20 years from now in VH1′s inevitable “I Love the 2010s”, the numbers speak for themselves. Zynga, creators of Farmville and its countless spin-offs, scored $597 million in gross sales in 2010 (about 70% of the social gaming market share at the time) and caused traditional game publishers to drastically rethink their business model.

Back to Gamestop. For a while, these $10, $25, and $50 cards only collected dust. I guess word eventually got out that we had them in stock, however, because before too long I found our store flush with a demographic we didn’t usually see outside of the holiday season: old ladies.facebook

I know, I know. Gamers come in all shapes and sizes and I shouldn’t make assumptions about the kinds of people that play certain games, but I’m not being glib. At my store, the customers interested in Facebook credit were almost exclusively old ladies. All sorts of old ladies too. I saw old ladies with grand-kids, getting their Feeding Frenzy fix. I saw old ladies out on their birthday dinner come in to show their bewildered families exactly what they wanted that year as a gift. I even saw an old lady come by the store every day for a whole week looking for some kind of mythical “double coin” version of the Farmville card which I’m convinced didn’t actually exist.

These women exhibited a level of fanaticism typically reserved for, well, people like me. You know, nerds.

But I haven’t mentioned Marge yet. Marge put them all to shame.  Marge was probably 70.  Marge frequently wore a hospital band on her wrist.  Marge saw my Starbucks cup one day and told me I should boycott them because they supported “O-BAM-a” and not the troops.  Marge did not want a bag.  Marge wanted her receipt folded vertically in thirds and wrapped around her cards.  Marge came in twice a week and Marge cleaned us out.

Marge was a character. And, although I’d hide my coffee when I saw her walking up, I looked forward to her visits.  Marge was living proof that the hobby I loved was expanding into new territory and reaching audiences even Wii Sports hadn’t found.  As someone who grew up trying unsuccessfully to explain what these video game things were all about to the various grown-ups in my family, nothing could make me happier than seeing games reach as many people as possible.

I mused this to Marge one day, while sneaking sips from my Caramel Iced Coffee as she dug through her purse.

“You know, Marge, I think its so cool that a year ago, you thought we were that store you go to when your watch battery dies and now you’re one of our most regular customers.  Most people here think Farmville is a big joke, but say what you will, it’s always exciting to see people find a game that really clicks with them for the first time.  I mean, just because it’s not one of these big blockbuster titles that we are used to selling doesn’t mean the fun people have with it is any less legitimate.”

Marge eagerly nodded in agreement as I spoke, then added, “It’s a great way to keep up with friends and family, but I just don’t care for all of those killing games they usually play.”

“That’s what’s so great!”, I responded.  “There’s games for everyone.  You really love your Farmville, while other people out there are more into violent games like — “

Marge cut me off.

“Like Mafia Wars,” she said.

I smiled, fighting back a laugh.

“Like Mafia Wars.”

Mafia Wars

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