On a positive note, the title pulls off the miraculous task of reinventing a sport, and as if flexing its creative muscle, it does so in three ways that are excellent; contrasting with that energy, however, the game has such obvious holes in content that it works as a prime example of how the success of a franchise can cause studios to take a lazy approach to what they produce
Sports games have always had to deal with a very specific problem: the fact that they have a rather defined and relatively low ceiling of evolution. Undoubtedly, as technology advances and time passes, companies that work in titles of the sort can improve on graphics, try new approaches to old mechanics, add more variables to the competition in order to make it mirror reality more faithfully, and refine essential matters such as physics and collisions. Yet, regardless of how much they can do, sports efforts are always tied by the activity they are trying to emulate, for their gameplay experiments are simply unable to go past the point in which the modality will turn into something that is radically different.
As a fictional character who inhabits a fictional world that is quite psychedelic when analyzed closely, one would expect Mario to have the opportunity to push those boundaries a little further. Nonetheless, throughout a sports career that has been constant and varied, even the plumber and his wacky gang have had to stick to the standards of the competitions they were getting into. Sure, his encounter with soccer, seen in the Super Mario Strikers series, took place in stadiums surrounded by electrical fences and had a rulebook where fouls were non-existent, giving birth – therefore – to a version of the sport that matched scoring goals with delivering tackles worthy of a rugby field or a wrestling ring; however, everywhere else, in spite of a few special abilities and plenty of arenas with crazy hazards, Mario has also been respectful to traditions, whether he is playing tennis, basketball, baseball, golf, or others.
Based on that analysis, Mario Golf: Super Rush should be seen as a glorious triumph. Yes, those who enjoy the sport in its pure form can rest assured that the effort by Camelot has plenty of standard golfing without absurd gimmicks, where the focus is on simply finishing a certain number of holes in as few shots as possible. Yet, for the first time both in a series that reaches its sixth installment and in a sports career that has yielded more than a dozen entries, Nintendo’s iconic hero is out to shake the essence of the modality he is approaching to its very core. And on what is a very bright note, the character undeniably succeeds in that endeavor.
In Super Rush, the sport is rocked in three ways. The first is Speed Golf. In it, rather than being automatically transported to the location where their shot has landed, characters actually have to run to the ball, and as the name of the mode implies, the winner is not the one who employs the fewest strokes to clear the course, but the player who does so in the smallest amount of time. To spice up the whole affair, all golfers go through each hole simultaneously, and they can use a multitude of skills to disturb their rivals’ progress, be it bumping into them while running, using stamina to deliver a special dash that stuns competitors who are touched, or hitting special shots (unique to each character) that affect the balls of other players. In order not to disintegrate into mad rushing, Speed Golf makes each shot that is taken add thirty seconds to one’s total time, meaning that victory will come to those who find a balance between velocity, precision, and – of course – annoying foes as much as possible.
The second twist, meanwhile, appears in the form of Battle Golf. Equally chaotic and fun, especially in multiplayer sessions, the format borrows from Speed Golf in the sense that players act simultaneously, need to rush to the ball, and have plenty of opportunities to get in the way of rivals (including, in this case, Bob-ombs that can be hit into competitors). The difference, though, is that Battle Golf happens in a stadium that has nine holes scattered around a field with platforms, slopes, and all sorts of crazy structures. In it, the winner is the one who conquers three flags first, and the intensity of the match is smartly raised by the fact that, once a ball drops into a hole, it simply vanishes, meaning other characters cannot take it and that aiming for the same flag as somebody else will generate a mad dash to see who will get there more quickly.
The third novelty is Cross-Country Golf. When that gameplay style is on, the courses behave like vast open worlds. Starting from the first tee, players need to complete all eighteen holes, which is pretty much what happens in a standard golfing round. However, there are two key differences: the first is that the order in which holes are completed is totally open, given characters are free to shoot to anywhere on the course; and the second is that whenever the ball is sunk, instead of being neatly transported to a tee so they can continue their journey, golfers must take their next shot from the green they have just cleared to the next place they intend to go to. Essentially, then, Cross-Country Golf dares competitors to strategize how they will approach the entirety of the course in order to keep the amount of strokes they will use to a minimum, and it challenges not only one’s planning, but also their skills, since transitions from a hole to the next one a player chooses to tackle might entail some rather tricky shots due to how courses are not designed to accommodate such insanity.
Even though it is by all means an excellent and fresh take on the sport, Cross-Country Golf is actually related to one of the two considerable problems that haunt Super Rush. And, in its case, that issue would be a glaring lack of content. Initially, it might sound ridiculous to call out a game that offers four solid variations on a sport for not offering enough to players. But sadly, continuing a trend that was observed in Mario Tennis Aces, which made its way to the Nintendo Switch in 2018, Super Rush emerges like a title that is fun to play, but that is too thin for its own sake, as if it were made by a company that knows it can move a solid amount of copies and get away with putting minimal effort into a package thanks to the strength of the brand.
Cross-Country Golf is connected to this lacking characteristic because, in the state of Super Rush as seen on its release day, the mode is for some unknown reason only available for one of the game’s six main courses; and, to make matters worse, access to it is restricted to a specific portion of the single-player campaign. It would be perfectly forgivable, but still somewhat frustrating, if that was the only instance in which Super Rush stumbled in its delivery of content, but the sad reality is that the game leaves some noticeable gaps on many other fronts. Yes, anyone going into it can setup solo or multiplayer matches – both online and offline – in any of the three main modes (Standard Golf, Speed Golf, and Battle Golf), but plenty of glaring omissions can be found.
It is impossible to play tournaments and collect trophies, and those are basic challenges that should have certainly been implemented for the three excellent golf formats the game contains. Extra mini-games, such as Ring Shot from the GameCube’s Toadstool Tour or Coin Collector from the 3DS’ World Tour, are missing in action. Acquiring stronger versions of the characters, which in the past was done by beating them in thrilling Match Play duels, is now achieved by just playing a certain number of holes using them, which feels more like empty grinding than a fun alluring task. Adjusting the difficulty of the CPU cannot be done. Online tournaments are nowhere to be see, and the same goes for online stats and rankings. Battle Golf is limited to two arenas that are very similar to each other. And, going down to a nitpicky degree, the six main courses are greatly designed but it is slightly disappointing half of them boast standard grasslands-style scenarios.
None of those problems break the game, and a massive portion of the people who buy Super Rush will rightfully have a blast with it, but it is sad to see that instead of growing more muscles as time passes, the Mario Golf franchise – and the character’s sports line as a whole – seems to be coasting on the plumber’s name and on the charm of his universe. To be fair, Super Rush fulfills the desires of fans by, after fifteen years, bringing back a Story Mode that had not been seen since the Game Boy Advance outing of the series. Unfortunately, keeping up with the partially lazy aura that emanates from the rest of the game, the campaign is also visibly lacking.
As it begins, players will certainly be amused with stepping into the shoes of their Mii to be greeted as a member of a rookie class of golfers that includes Boo and Chargin’ Chuck; moreover, gaining experience, improving stats, traveling the small but beautiful overworld, and buying new equipment with distinct bonuses and downsides is pretty great. However, it will not take long for one to notice that this is a classic case of too much flash and little substance. Undoubtedly, there are some very nice moments weaved into the whole journey, like a trio of bosses, the Cross-Country Golf segment, and how – on the first course – players are slowly taught the basics until they are ready to sink their teeth into their very first real test: a Stroke Play tournament. But, everywhere else, displays of lackluster effort abound and are just too frequent to be either ignored or downplayed.
The characters that inhabit the world are paper thin and unremarkable. The extra challenges that dare players to hit a certain amount of shots within targets are nice, but they are few and repetitive. The excessive use of Speed Golf is annoying, because the game forces players to run to the ball even in occasions when time is not a matter of concern. The story has some potential, but it is never developed. And, on what is the mode’s largest problem by far, the whole quest is over before it picks up steam.
Camelot could have easily included multiple competitions into the Story Mode: there could have been a Stroke Play tournament for every course; there could have been multiple Cross-Country challenges; there could have been daunting Match Play duels against the big shot characters; there could have been doubles competitions using both the Best Ball and Alternate Shot formats; there could have been Battle Golf showdowns; and there could have been more outlandish side missions that still stuck to the basics of the sport, like the ones carried by the marvelous indie effort Golf Story. But none of that happens, and even though calling the mode a glorified tutorial may be an exaggeration, the whole affair seems to be in such a rush to get to the end that it does not climb very far past that mark.
Given a lot of its content problems mirror those of Mario Tennis Aces, it is possible some of the issues exhibited by Super Rush in that regard will be erased or at least diminished via eventual updates; in that game, in fact, they were so significant that even the equally lacking single-player campaign ended up being improved. As such, Cross-Country Golf might be unlocked as an actual mode; Battle Golf might get new arenas; challenges like Ring Shot might return; online tournaments, and maybe even offline ones, might get included; and more. Yet, based on what it offered on day one, Super Rush is undeniably frail as far as content goes, and it makes it easy (not to mention fair) for one to heavily bash Nintendo’s strategy to release thin products that eventually grow into decent packages through a bunch of small updates.
Super Rush, though, holds another considerable problem that is unlikely to be solved in the future, since it is related to its core mechanics. As it happens with the content, this is an issue that does not break the game even if it lies on a rather essential element; nevertheless, it disappoints massively due to how it ranks as a huge step back. As it is the norm with Mario sports games, Super Rush is quite easy to play: pressing up and down allows players to switch clubs, which in turn changes the distance of the shot; pressing X allows them to get a top-down view of the spot where the shot will land; and once they take into account matters such as the wind, the elevation in relation to the target, and even the lie in which the character is standing, they can take aim and calculate how strong the hit needs to be. At that point, a press of the A button will cause a marker to slide up through the shot gauge and another press will make it to stop, therefore setting the strength of the stroke. After that a second marker will move up the gauge automatically to determine the shot’s accuracy.
Although nobody will break scoring records by only doing that, mastering these simple actions – which are limited to two buttons and the control stick – is enough to allow anyone to have fun with Super Rush. To those who want to take it a step further, though, special spins (to either stop the ball or make it move forward) can be added to the hit via specific button combinations and even the trajectory of the shot can be altered. This last mechanic in particular was already available in previous versions of the title but, in Super Rush, it is more significant and accessible: in the past it was done by changing the spot of the ball which the club was going to hit; now, it is just a matter of moving the control stick to the desired direction (up, down, left, or right) and with the intended intensity when the second marker makes its way across the gauge. And as stronger versions of characters are unlocked, more changes of trajectory can be packed into a single stroke, culminating with three; meaning the same shot can move left, right, and then up as it travels through the air.
All of that is absolutely solid. The issue comes in the game’s handling of accuracy. In recent Mario Golf games, players had two choices in that regard: leave it up to the CPU to randomly determine it or grab the task for themselves, which entailed stopping the second moving marker in the middle of a clearly defined impact zone, with mistakes to either side of the window causing the shot to drift sideways according to how big the miss was. It worked wonderfully and it could not have been better. Super Rush, though, tries to tweak that mechanic and ends up damaging it. Here, there is no choice to be made: the accuracy of the shot is randomly determined, sadly stopping more experienced players from taking control of their destiny.
Super Rush tries to turn accuracy into a risk and reward game. A part of the shot gauge will always be enveloped by a red shadow that marks a danger zone where precision will be low: on shots that are delivered from a very good lie, such as those taken from the tee, the zone will be narrow and short, being limited to the very tip of the bar; if the ball is in a bunker, in the rough, or on any less than ideal surface, a bigger portion of the gauge will be surrounded by red. Essentially, the worse the lie is, the longer the danger zone will be; and invariably, the more one moves up the bar, the wider the red shadow gets. As such, if one dares to pull off a strong hit from a complicated position, they will have to deal with the risk of poor accuracy since the width of the danger zone determines the likelihood that a shot will be bad. Theoretically, it makes sense and it even sounds interesting. In practical terms, though, it does not work as well as the previous implementation of the mechanic did.
There are two problems at play. The first is that accuracy misses are very small; even if players put full strength into the hit and the accuracy marker ends up leaning massively to either side, the ball will only slightly deviate from its trajectory. The second is that, for some reason, the game allows long-hitting clubs to be used regardless of the situation: even if they land in the deep rough or if the ball is buried in the sand, players can pull out a driver and hit as far as possible, which is physically impossible in real golf and was a limitation that existed in previous Mario Golf games. Here, it for some reason does not, and combined with the small punishment dished out by the automatic accuracy, that fact means nobody ever has to worry about the danger zone or about shots going disastrously wrong. In recent Mario Golf titles trying to hit very hard out of a bunker could cause one to continue inside it even if a minimal accuracy mistake was made, meaning that risk and reward was very much palpable; in Super Rush, its attempt to implement that relationship in its own way results in a completely unbalanced equation.
On top of that, there are a few other gameplay miscues that need to be mentioned. Getting a close look at the slopes of the shot’s predicted landing zone is way too convoluted and lacks precision: if in the past it was a matter of just moving the camera stick, in Super Rush players have to use a motion-controlled scanner, aim towards the location, and press a button to zoom in while hoping they aimed just right. Needless to say, that makes planning for how the ball will act once it lands a major pain. Additionally, there are times when the camera angles used when putting actually cause the character’s model to block part of the grid that shows the green’s slope, which is frustrating. Finally, the arch displaying the predicted trajectory of the shot is no longer visible; and although some will see it as a welcome extra challenge, others are bound to dislike the choice.
The result is that Mario Golf: Super Rush is a gigantic mixed bag, and sometimes it feels the negatives might be enough to overcome the positives. On a very bright note, the title pulls off the miraculous task of reinventing a sport, and as if flexing its creative muscle, it does so in three distinct ways that are utterly excellent. Contrasting with that energy, however, the game has such obvious holes when it comes to content that it works as a prime example of how the success of a franchise can sometimes cause studios to take a lazy approach to what they produce. And that lackluster nature sadly happens to be accompanied by gameplay stumbles that cause a perfectly established accuracy mechanic to be thrown out the window and replaced by an automatic system with zero risk and full reward.
Still, Mario Golf: Super Rush should not be disregarded. Its core is still good enough to stand, and be it in the sports’ traditional setup or in its incredibly fun new variations, the game is very likely to hook – for many hours – those with a love for multiplayer competition, whether it is online or in person. In a way, it is a testament to the strength of the series, which is able to deliver quality even through an effort that is so incomplete and problematic; yet, it is inevitably sad to see that the value that was meant to be the main driving force of the franchise is actually working to hold it back from true greatness. Because Mario Golf: Super Rush could have been irrevocably marvelous if its brand, concept, and mechanics alone were not enough to guarantee its success.