Mario Golf: Super Rush came out on Friday, and I’ve spent most of my weekend playing it. I haven’t spent time in any modes other than the “Golf Adventure” mode so far, so please don’t take this as a comprehensive review of the complete package as yet. But the Golf Adventure mode in itself is worth looking at — as relatively short and sweet as it is, it ably demonstrates that Nintendo is most certainly not complacent, even with its spin-off sports series.
For many people, the high point for Nintendo’s Mario-themed sports series came in the Game Boy Colour era, where both Mario Golf and Mario Tennis featured RPG-style modes in which you played a custom character, trained them up and gradually worked your way through tournaments until you were competing alongside the superstars of the Mario franchise.
Mario Golf: Super Rush’s Golf Adventure mode offers something relatively similar to those good old days of the Game Boy Colour, but with a few twists. The game is less about constant training and improving your stats — though a progression system allows you to buff up your Mii character as you work your way through the story — and more about a sense of constantly moving on, exploring new ways to play with the same mechanics. You don’t stay in the same place for long — and there are some genuine surprises towards the end of the experience.
In Mario Golf: Super Rush’s Golf Adventure, you take on the role of a Mii character — either one that is already stored on your Switch, or one that you’ve made specifically for Mario Golf: Super Rush. The game has a rather Pokémon-esque opening, with you waking up in your nice little house in your nice little country village, and your mother-substitute (played with enthusiasm by Birdo) encouraging you to go out and have a lovely day playing golf.
From here, you’re gradually introduced to Mario Golf: Super Rush’s various mechanics. And right from the outset, it’s clear that while Nintendo hasn’t reinvented the golf game completely, it has played with a number of mechanics that a lot of us have been taking for granted since the original NES version of Golf.
The main difference you’ll discover is that Mario Golf: Super Rush doesn’t use a “three-tap” system for setting power and accuracy. Instead, you press a button once to start the power meter, then press either A or B to set power. A once is a normal shot, a double-tap of A is topspin (which causes the ball to roll further on landing) and B is backspin (which causes the ball to stop more quickly or roll less when landing).
At this point, in most other golf games, you’d have to tap again to set your shot’s accuracy, but not so here. Instead, the meter makes a second sweep up to your selected power level, and during this time you are able to use the analogue stick to apply spin to your ball. Push up to make it fly higher, down to make it go lower or left and right to curve it in that direction.
As your Mii’s Spin stat increases, additional segments are added to this spin gauge, allowing you to chain spins together. This means you can do things like bend a shot to the left to get around an obstacle, then bend it back to the right to get it back on its original course. Unrealistic? Absolutely — but I sure as heck don’t come to Mario Golf for realism; I come for fun. And this is fun.
Once you’ve played a few holes with the basic mechanics, Mario Golf: Super Rush’s adventure mode introduces its other main gimmick: the fact that in many of its modes, you run manually from one shot to the next. While doing so, you have the option to hold B to run faster at the cost of your stamina, or a tap of the L button causes you to perform a Super Dash in exchange for a large chunk of stamina. While you Super Dash, you’re invincible and will knock opponents out of your way, but you also can’t stop until it’s run its course — so you have to be careful not to overshoot your destination.
Scattered across the course are coins — which, when the mechanic is unlocked as part of your Golf Adventure, charge up your Special Shot meter — and hearts, which restore a large chunk of stamina immediately. As a result, the running between shots becomes as much about finding a good route that takes in as many hearts and coins as possible while still getting to your destination as quickly as possible.
Early on in Mario Golf: Super Rush’s adventure, there’s no penalty for being the slowest, but as you move on to later courses, the game introduces the concept of “Speed Golf”. Here, you play for the best time rather than the lowest score — though since each shot adds 30 seconds to your score, it’s still important to sink the ball in as few shots as possible.
Interestingly, the Golf Adventure mode doesn’t implement Speed Golf in a single way — it instead does some thematically interesting things with it over the course of several matches. The first time you encounter it, you’re playing golf in a parched desert and attempting to reach the end of the course before you become dehydrated.
Subsequently, you’re tasked with completing groups of three holes before a countdown timer expires, completing nine or eighteen holes before a total timer expires or competing directly against opponents to earn points based on your finishing time for each individual hole.
And that’s not the only way the game shakes up the basic golfing formula. A variant called “Cross-Country Golf” or “XC Golf” challenges you to complete a certain number of holes within a total number of strokes — with the twist being that the entire course is open to you at once, and you tee off for the next hole from the green you last sank the ball on. Just to make matters even more awkward, the course on which this takes place is filled with tall, rocky cliffs, necessitating the use of tornadoes to get both you and your ball to different elevation levels.
These stages feel more like a physics puzzle than a sports game, and the variation is welcome.
As you progress and your golfer’s reputation improves, you attract the attention of several “Masters”, who teach you special shots such as high-angle lob shots and timing-based “Duff Shots”. The latter in particular are even used in several surprise boss fights that task you with spotting Final Fantasy XIV-style ground telegraphs, positioning yourself in them and timing a Duff Shot correctly to knock an enemy attack back in their face — all while avoiding non-counterable attacks, of course.
This isn’t the first time that Nintendo has incorporated elements like these into one of its sports games — the rather underappreciated Mario Tennis Aces features some excellent boss encounters, for example — but it is, I think, the first time a golf game has challenged me to hit electrically charged balls over a wall of water to prove my worth to an ancient hero, or to smack flaming lava balls back at a phoenix in order to escape a parched valley with the legendary Power of Fire.
The funny thing is that none of these sequences feel out of place; the core mechanics are so solidly implemented that they just make sense.
Mario Golf: Super Rush’s adventure mode probably won’t take you a long time to clear — likely somewhere around the 6-10 hour mark, depending on how many times you have to retry the tougher challenges — but it’s a great introduction to what the game has to offer, and a perfect example of how Nintendo is willing to infuse one of the most slow-paced, potentially boring sports in the world with a sense of energy, personality and dynamism.
Plus if you have some time alone with the game before you’re able to challenge your friends, it’s also a straightforward means of unlocking all the courses for the other game modes. You can also unlock each subsequent course simply by playing a full round of 18 on the previous, but Golf Adventure is as good a way as any to get a good feel for the game — particularly if you prefer a more structured single-player sort of experience.
There’s a lot more to Mario Golf: Super Rush than just Golf Adventure, though, so we’ll be back soon with a look at what else the game has to offer.
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