There’s no risk of confusing Mario Golf: Super Rush for the real-world sport of golf. Luigi turning the green into a patch of ice makes that fairly clear, as does the giant bomb trying to putt. The vibrant colours, the sparkling special shots, Bowser hammering a ball toward the green – nope, this ain’t your granddaddy’s golf. This is arcadey golf. And yet…well, I can’t help but think Mario Golf: Super Rush doesn’t want to commit properly to its goofy looks and whacky characters. For a game that involves a giant bloody ape swinging a tiny golf club, Super Rush sure doesn’t like to step out of its comfort zone.
The good news is that the core golf mechanics are fairly robust and good fun. I say this, though, as a noob. This is my first golf game, so take everything I say with an appropriately generous pinch of salt and perhaps even a dash of pepper. Everything I know about golf I learned from Happy Gilmore, the old Adam Sandler film about a hockey player who found out they could whack a golf ball further than anyone. As such my golfing knowledge consists of Carl Weather’s coach character proclaiming that it’s all in the hips, that crocodiles may be lurking in any nearby water and that you probably should not try to make a hockey player known for trying to stab another player with his skate into a golfer.
Fun fact, though: us Scottish folk appareantly invented golf. Sadly the rest of the world did not realise we intended this as a joke, though, and before we could say anything they had invented stupid looking golfing attire and built courses everywhere.
To take a shot you tap A and then tap it again to set the strength of the shot. This is where accuracy comes into play because the closer to the top of the power gauge you go, the higher the risk of your shot veering off course and winding up in a sandpit. Next, you get an opportunity to add some curve and spin to the ball, even going so far as to choose where in a ball’s arc it will suddenly start turning – useful for getting around tricky obstacles. By double-tapping certain buttons, you can add serious backspin or topspin to a shot, either increasing or decreasing the roll of the ball once it lands.
There are some things that need to be taken into account before hammering the ball down the course. The wind is one such thing to consider, but other stuff like inclines can send your ball careening into a tree if you aren’t careful. Speaking of which, you’ll sometimes find shots being blocked by pesky scenery, which is where lob shots can come into play. A lob shot lets you whack the ball in a much more vertical direction – handy for bypassing a rock or something.
You can run into obstacles on courses, too, including irritating clouds that hover above the ground and blow gusts of wind that can hurl balls way off course. There are even a few enemies traipsing about the greens, and if you accidentally land a ball in their path you might get trampled when setting up for a shot. It’s not a common occurrence, though, because as I’ll complain about later, Mario Golf: Super Rush plays it very safe when it comes to making courses interesting.
If you fancy getting a little more nuanced with your ball smacking then you can shape shots even more to your advantage. For example, after setting the shot’s strength you can hold up on the stick to smack the ball higher than normal, which is useful if you want to be affected by the wind more. If the wind is blowing in the right direction this sneaky bit of play can add some distance to a shot for free. Or you can do the opposite and keep the ball as low as possible to avoid the worst of the wind or maybe manage to stay below a tricky tree.
Nailing a damn good shot that perfectly judges the wind, the curve and even the fact that rain will make the ball roll less on the green feels excellent. It’s a real pleasure to drive your ball down the course and onto the green like a pro, and every time I managed to sink my ball under Par (look at me learning some golf lingo) I felt proud. Hell, after a while I even stopped making jokes about fiddling with my balls and handling my club. That’s a lie. I didn’t stop.
And if you feel like waving your arms like an octopus trying to swat a particularly annoying fly then you can always swap over to the motion controls. Gimmicky? Certainly. Goofy good fun? Yup. You have to play simpler with the motion controls in some regards because there doesn’t seem to be a way of adding stuff like super backspin or last-second curve to your shot. You can curve a shot on a basic level, although I struggled with this a bit, mostly because my shots always seemed to naturally go spearing off to the right. Still, the motion controls are accurate enough to be fun and I never encountered any serious issues with them.
Speed Golf is developer Camelot’s attempt to spice golf up a little more by making players take a shot and then run to their ball along with everyone else. You get a special dash move that lets you bash other golfers out of your way and floating hearts recharge your stamina bar. There are even the classic Mario coins littering the courses which help charge up your Special shot meter. The real key to how the mode works is that everything is done on a timer. You want to be the first to reach the hole and sink the ball, but every shot you take adds 30+ seconds to the clock, so speed and accuracy must be balanced.
It’s a pretty cool idea and can lead to some of the game’s best moments as friends are barged out of the way or someone’s special shot smacks into the green and sends your own ball flying off into the rough.Sadly I think the novelty is more exciting than the reality and the mode quickly loses its lustre. While sometimes the dash to the hole can lead to funny moments, most of the time it’s just a slow jog to your ball. The width and size of the courses mean a lot of the time you aren’t near other players and going out of your way to hit them with your special dash is pointless. You can pull off a special shot to knock an opponent’s ball away, too, which is pretty cool but again something that I didn’t find happening very often.
Speed Golf does mean losing the chance to revel in a good shot, too. As soon as your club hits the ball you’re running toward the next hole and simply hoping you managed to land the ball roughly where you wanted. And that means you might occasionally nail a hole in one and not even realise it until your character starts celebrating. Huh.
Regular golf is…well, golf. You hit the ball, get it into the green and then hopefully putt the ball in without spending five strokes nudging the bloody thing closer. What’s the matter, ball? Are you too good for your home?
The final style of golf is fittingly titled Battle Golf. While this might conjure up images of Peach clobbering Mario with a golf club it actually means that players compete in an arena filled with obstacles, the goal being to sink three shots before anyone else. It’s a fun mode and gets a little closer to the more chaotic feel that I find to be missing from the rest of the game.
Unfortunately this is where my praise has to stop, not because the rest of the game is terrible but because it’s surprisingly dry and surprisingly lacking creativity. It isn’t bad, it’s just underwhelming. And we start with the Adventure mode which is Mario Golf’s main singleplayer offering, a journey across multiple courses with your custom Mii avatar. It’s a glorified tutorial designed to guide you through the mechanics and the locales, and that isn’t a bad thing. What is a bad thing is how sparse the adventure is and how low-effort it feels.
You’re cast as a rookie golfer looking to make it to the big leagues alongside Chargin’ Chuck and Boo, with a little help from your coach. Each course comes with its own tiny hub consisting of a player lounge and a small shop where you can pick up new clubs or maybe change out your clothes. Not that there’s much choice: each shop offers one set of very basic golfing attire, with nothing cool or fun to choose from. There doesn’t actually appear to be a reason for these hubs to exist, either. There are no interesting characters in them, nothing to find, nothing to see. They exist solely for you to enter into the next practice round or tournament before moving on to the next spartan hub.
But at least bumping up your Mii’s stats is somewhat rewarding. You can opt to bump up strength for longer drives or maybe increase your ball control for better curves. You can also sink points into more stamina for those Speed Golf matches.
Oddly, a story appears from nowhere as you reach the final hour or so of the short Adventure mode. There’s even a couple of boss fights against big beasts, and Wario and Waluigi make an appearance. There are legendary powers and all sorts of nonsense that suddenly crashes into the story like an uninvited family member barging into your birthday party before launching into a drunken attempt at a speech It’s the only attempt at excitement and intrigue in the entire damn Adventure mode, a brief dalliance with something far more interesting than the rest of the Adventure mode’s rinse and repeat structure. I’d almost be inclined to praise this quick glimpse of something more daring if I wasn’t still reeling from its unheralded arrival.
As for the small selection of six golf courses, well, things aren’t much better. The first two are quite literally just golf courses. You know the kind: green, a few hills, maybe a couple of trees and some sand bunkers. That’s it. If it wasn’t for the fact that Princess Peach is teeing off you’d think it was any other golf course from any other game.
The first tiny hint of something interesting is found on the third course which has tornadoes capable of lifting your ball into the air – perfect for getting it up cliffs. But then you get a pretty dull dessert course with the most exciting thing being big beasties in the sand that act solely as static objects. Course four has a bit more flair thanks to the angry clouds trying to ruin your shots with gusts of wind and even lighting that can strike if you try to whack the ball too far. It’s still quite tame, though. At least the final course, created by Bowser specifically to annoy the shit out of Mario, has a bit more energy, what with its actual lava. It’s still pretty meh, though.
These courses aren’t terrible. They don’t ruin the game, as such, But they are underwhelming and visually uninteresting. With the Mario license, Camelot has so much room to create awesome scenery and fun courses, and yet it feels like cobbled some stuff together and called it a day. Take the jump button, for instance: outside of a couple of patches of quicksand, there is quite literally nothing to jump on or over. So why have it? Why aren’t there any cool shots to make, or opportunities for players to make up some ground by pulling off a precision shot that bounces off something or slices through a tiny gap? There’s so much potential but instead, the whole game is bare-bones.
The somewhat good news is that more courses will be coming for free in future updates. The developers showed a little of NewDonk City where players could bounce balls off of buildings and stuff. It looks fun, but it’s also the kind, of course, that should have been in the game from the very beginning. While the promise of more content is certainly nice it doesn’t help all the players who have bought the game at launch, many of whom will probably never fire it back up. First impressions do matter, after all. But at least people who pick up Mario Golf: Super Rush months or even years from now should hopefully get a much richer experience.
I found the same lack of creativity to be present within the characters, too. Not in the actual roster which is a pretty solid selection of 16 Mario mainstays, from the plumber and his brother to Donkey Kong, Bowser, Peach, Toad, Wario and Waluigi. And I don’t doubt there will be more Mario stars added to the mix via updates or paid DLC.
Naturally the game is best with other people. Interaction in terms of special shots and dashes is lower than I’d like, but a round of Speed Golf is still a lot of fun with multiple people competing to be as quick and accurate as possible. It’s easy to have a good laugh about a friend who’s desperately trying to get out of a bunker, or at someone who wildly misjudges a shot and sends it careening over the hole and into the rough. It’s even more hilarious with motion controls. I and a friend ended up competing to see who could strike the best “golfing” poses.
But the pleasure of thrashing a golf course drops significantly when you take the action online. As a relative Nintendo noob I was aware of the general opinion that Nintendo’s online offerings are weak, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how bad it actually is. Unreliable would perhaps be the most generous way I can describe it. Some matches were perfectly fine, and during regular golf, the small moments of lag weren’t much of an issue anyway. But plenty of matches were also a mess of lag and connection issues
The Mario name has always carried with it a promise of quality and fun, so it’s hard not to feel a little let-down by Camelot’s Mario Golf: Super Rush. With the myriad of creative possibilities that the Mario license offers it’s surprising that Super Rush is so utterly mediocre in its visual design, course design and even its music. But at least the actual golfing is fun, so if you can forgive everything else there’s still enjoyment to be found. And with more content promised for the future, Camelot may have levelled up Super Rush by the time you read this. At the end of the day, though, I’m reviewing the game I have in my hands and not the game that it may or may not be, and the game I have is mechanically sound but soulless. To borrow some golfing lingo, this one is a bogey.