Golf has long been a staple of the Mushroom Kingdom’s sporting adventures. Since Mario’s (somewhat dubious) inclusion in the Golf for NES, iterations of Mario Golf have appeared on most Nintendo platforms, putting a comical, arcade-style twist on the age-old game while still keeping its depth intact. Mario Golf: Super Rush brings that same ethos to Nintendo Switch, adding a couple of neat new modes into the mix, but mostly just staying true to what’s always made Mario Golf so enjoyable.
The basic idea is simple: it’s golf, but with Super Mario characters, locations, and themed course hazards. Far from a detailed simulation, it’s a game you can pick up and have fun with regardless of your golfing expertise; you still have to be mindful of things like wind, surface elevation, and the lie of the land—and with experience comes the ability to better use these things to your advantage—but that’s balanced out with fun powerups and delightful unrealistic hazards like Bob-ombs scattered about the course. That you can hit. At other players.
Mario Golf: Super Rush sports some truly inventive courses. Things start off fairly straightforward with Bonny Greens, which mostly functions like a stock-standard, real-life golf course, but after that, all bets are off. You’ve got rocky mountains with cliff faces to navigate (with the aid of tornadoes, obviously); a rain-drenched forest where storm clouds can zap you if you hit the ball too hard; a golf version of Bowser’s Castle, fire traps and all. Every course leaves plenty of room for creative play, rewarding skillful shots while also tempting you to take big risks with ridiculous outcomes when things go wrong.
A roster of different golfers who all pack different stats and special moves adds an interesting dynamic to each game. Do you want the raw power of Donkey Kong or the finesse that Peach wields? A super shot that can travel unimpeded through hazards or one that can knock other players out of position while they’re trying to putt?
These arcade twists are there in every mode, but they really shine in Speed Golf and Super Rush’s new Battle Golf. The former is a variation of golf that factors both speed and stroke count into scoring, where efficiently racing to where your ball landed (and maybe knocking other players down along the way) is just as important as getting in under par. The latter is pure chaos: golf in an arena, where you can shoot for any of the nine available holes but each hole can only be sunk once, and the first player to claim three takes the win. It’s a mix of strategy, as you weigh up the risks and rewards of gunning for more distant, less targeted holes or the close ones that everyone else is surely going for, and the hectic energy of everyone trying to interfere with one another as much as possible, with all sorts of traps and obstacles that are designed specifically to be turned into weapons.
Battle Golf, in particular, is the kind of chaos that makes local multiplayer an utter delight—the golf version of Mario Party or four-player Super Smash Bros with all items turned on. The flip side of that coin is that it’s far less fun when you’re playing solo against bots, or even online with strangers, as frantic fun turns into frustration and annoyance. Constantly having your efforts to sink your final putt disrupted is a lot more fun when it’s a good friend sitting next to you doing the disrupting. This goes for the other modes too, albeit to a lesser extent. Online multiplayer is there, and it’s nice to have the option of long-distance play with friends and family, but it just doesn’t have the same energy.
The big single-player ticket in Super Rush is Adventure Mode: an RPG-ish story mode that sees you levelling up a Mii golfer as you work your way through a series of tournaments and saving the kingdom in the process. It’s a neat concept, and one that’s worked well in games like Mario Golf Advance and Golf Story, but it feels undercooked here.
In essence, it functions like an extended tutorial, gradually introducing different concepts—in terms of both real golf tactics and Mario Golf quirks—as your character gradually gets stronger, and unlocking new courses and game modes in the process. It works well enough for this purpose, but the adventure itself feels like an afterthought. The story is almost non-existent as you golf your way through a series of tournaments, before suddenly doing an about-face to become a thing about saving the world and sending you off on a bunch of quests, with bosses to fight (using your golf skills, of course) and minigames to complete. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either side of this, but this haphazard pacing throws the whole story and sense of progression out of whack.
It also means Adventure Mode’s best ideas never get a chance to get fully realised. Bosses that you fight by hitting golf balls (or bombs, or balls of lightning) at them, while running around trying to dodge their various attacks, are a great concept—but a couple of fights tacked onto the tail end of an otherwise pedestrian golf journey isn’t enough to realise their full potential. Likewise, minigames and challenges that put your precision golf swings to the test in more creative ways than simply trying to win a game are great, but they show up out of nowhere and disappear just as suddenly, teasing something bigger that never arrives.
On balance, I’m still glad that Adventure Mode is there, giving something with at least a little bit of substance for solo players, but Mario Golf is a party game first and foremost, and Super Rush is no exception. But as a party game, it’s great: the sheer frivolity of Super Mario’s more playful spin on golf makes playing with friends a joy, with plenty of creative courses and neat modes like Speed Golf and Battle Golf to really dial up the fun.
Title: Mario Golf: Super Rush
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release date: 26 June 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.