There’s a moment in the Mario Golf series that drives me to keep coming back with each release. It happens when a group of close friends start playing a round, and they begin to get the hang of how everything feels. They’re joking about how goofy it is that we are all playing a golf videogame and how absurd the characters playing are. Then, someone makes the game-changing shot. They make a shot so close to the hole that the entire group shouts and holds their breath. The stream behind the ball looks as if it is without a doubt going to slam dunk into that hole. Each person in the room is stunned that any one of them could do this well. Then the ball rolls just by and a collective sigh is released. Suddenly an excitement washes over the group and similar moments begin to happen with each player. What appeared to be an absurd twist on the traditional sport has created an emotional space of bonding that no one expects. This is the power of Mario Golf—and unfortunately with the sixth release in the series, Mario Golf: Super Rush, I feel less of these moments than ever before.
The Mario Golf series has been a mainstay in a genre of “toon golfers” that kicked off in the heyday of 3D game releases. Unlike more serious golf games like the PGA Tour Pro series and the Links series, toon golfers try to add more character to the world and streamline the mechanics for players. Exciting music, annoying catch phrases, and really quirky character traits become a repetitive charm alongside the game. Sometimes they even change up the mechanics of how golf works entirely. Instead of being a sport locked to a single area, with slow, tiring play, it becomes a competitive physics puzzle game with the camera creating suspense and excitement. We also see this in other videogame golf sports games, but toon golfers add another element of a cartoonish world and fantastical powers.
In Mario Golf: Super Rush, the series has taken a new turn. Instead of keeping with the standard, cartoonish take on golf, Nintendo tries to create a more fast-paced spin on the sport. Super Rush attempts to focus on character action more than the actual sport itself, with more of an emphasis on sprinting and climbing than aiming and thinking. It’s a sensible choice for the success of their other sports titles like Mario Strikers and Mario Tennis Aces that add a Mario powered twist to a standardized sport. Nintendo isn’t interested in competing with just a “good” toon golfer, but finding design and mechanical elements that change up our expectations of how the genre functions.
In Super Rush this change comes by effectively turning each hole into a race. Unlike previous Mario Golf titles, and most golf videogames, this one has you running and climbing the course between each shot. When I play a game of Super Rush I recall back to the traversal of Breath of the Wild as characters use their stamina gauges to climb pits and sprint from one end of the course to another. It isn’t exactly the same—the landscape isn’t really designed like Breath of the Wild’s puzzly geography, for one, and characters have a superpower that lets them trample through most problems for the cost of half their stamina bar. You also have a pretty limited capacity in how much of the landscape you can climb. However, you are making a lot of similar decisions about which pathway you need to navigate to reach your goal and managing your character’s stamina to get there.
In each game mode the characters hit their golf balls and then rush across the map to try and sink them into holes quicker than anyone else. The big difference between the modes is that Battle Golf has players competing for a limited number of holes whereas Speed Golf is a competition for the least amount of time. After playing a bunch of each mode I found that battle golf mostly just feels like a quicker version of speed golf. Really, most of Mario Golf: Super Rush just feels like someone said, “Let’s make a quicker version of Mario Golf”. I’m just not sure they figured out what makes that fun.
The big, glaring problem of Mario Golf: Super Rush is that it doesn’t care to develop anything beyond just being functionally subversive. Since the mechanics in the game are landscape based, the primary challenge and puzzle heavily depends on the course design. However, from the first course the game fails to make the case for how the mechanics are enjoyable. As the game goes on there are glints of fun that shine for a small moment. Yet they never sustain themselves long enough to justify this new mode. Ideas are teased but never reach a consistent realized point.
One might ask how golf could be changed to be more enjoyable, but it’s completely possible. An example that successfully rethinks golf is Ribbit King on the Gamecube. In it, a ball could move through the environment by making it a frog, and basing the game around alternative points obstacles around the map rather than the traditional low stroke form. Super Rush, on the other hand, attempts to make a game that cuts out many of the elements that make the genre so entertaining in order to make matches speedier and more chaotic. Rather than the suspense and excitement that comes from a match of videogame golf it just kind of feels like you are mashing buttons to get to the finish. This means that the elements of suspense are largely lost, and the calm feeling of togetherness gives way to more knock-down drag-out brawly competition that isn’t that good.
Unfortunately most of the game has been changed for the sake of speed golf so even a round of standard golf loses some of the original form’s charm. The courses do have entertaining obstacles to run around, but they don’t find equal value when deciding how to shoot the ball. On top of this, the golfing mechanics have been changed so the player has less control over accuracy and the ball is more slippery. This change makes sense for the speed golf sections, but it makes playing standard golf just feel like a less engaged version of the game.
My biggest problem with Mario Golf: Super Rush is that it rarely reaches a point where it’s consistently entertaining. It all feels too safe, and too conservative. It feels like a by-the-books Mario sports game. It doesn’t seem like it can support the hours spent with friends that you expect from the series. It’s simply a shell of moustaches and rainbows to remind me of the fun times that were once had.
Mario Golf: Super Rush was developed by Camelot Software Planning and published by Nintendo. It is available for the Switch.
Waverly is a trans game artist and freelance writer. She has written at Uppercut, Into The Spine, and Fanbyte. You can find her on Twitter @hotelbones.