Mario Golf: Super Rush isn’t weird enough

At their best, Super Mario sports titles move beyond the game they’re trying to mimic. You don’t have to care about cars or racing to enjoy Mario Kart, just as you don’t need to know who Pep Guardiola is to have fun with Super Mario Strikers. The sport is just a starting point. From there, Nintendo’s designers expand on it with all kinds of interesting and new ideas. Mario Golf: Super Rush, which is out now on the Nintendo Switch, does some of this. There are familiar characters with superpowers, courses with strange obstacles, and a new mode that’s supposed to emphasize speed over all else. Ultimately, though, Super Rush ends up feeling a little too much like, well, golf.

Super Rush at least gets the basics right. Swinging a club feels good, and that’s true whether you’re using a standard controller or Wii Sports-style motion controls. It manages to walk the line Nintendo games so often do, where it’s easy to pick up but also offers a good amount of depth once you start learning how different clubs work and how to add spin to your shot. The act of playing golf works well enough, and it’s augmented by some very Mario features, like outlandish obstacles (you can use tornadoes to give your ball a boost into the air) and character-specific powers (there are special shots that freeze the ground on impact or generate an annoying lightning storm).

That’s all fine if you just want to play a few rounds with friends. But many of the modes get in the way of the fun, and Super Rush is particularly grueling if you’re looking to play solo.

First, there’s the “speed rush,” the game’s titular innovation, a mode that’s geared more around speed than precision. The idea is that after you take your shot you run after the ball to take the next as quickly as possible. The faster you are, the better your score. In practice, though, running around on golf courses is tedious and actually slows things down; it takes me longer to run 160 yards than it would for the game to just zap me there. This might be forgiven if the act of running was enjoyable, but instead you’re saddled with a rapidly depleting stamina gauge and a limited range of actions (including a mostly useless jump) that turn the whole process into a chore. (To make matters worse, if you finish a hole quickly, you still have to sit and watch your opponents play, even in the single-player modes.)

There’s also an “adventure” mode, which plays out sort of like a simple golf RPG. You play as a Mii character going through the process of becoming a Mushroom Kingdom pro. You’ll travel to different courses, talk to characters, earn skill points to upgrade your Mii, and take on bosses. It’s a nice idea, but it never rises to the level of past games in the series, like Mario Golf: Advance Tour, which leaned much heavier on the roleplaying elements and had a surprisingly entertaining narrative. Instead, it’s a largely flat story that had me skipping through the dialogue in order to get to the next tournament. (Which, usually, meant playing more speed golf.)

The highlight of the package is “battle golf,” easily the fastest mode in the game. It’s a nine-hole course that takes place in a giant stadium where the goal is to sink three shots first, while navigating things like Thwomps and bombs. It’s basically the Mario Kart ethos but for golf, and it’s a lot of fun. Even better, matches are over very quickly, making it an almost ideal party experience.

I couldn’t help but wish that more of the game had the same zany, Nintendo-like feel of battle golf. I wanted more oddball courses and modes, more chances to get into weird situations. Instead, the solid mechanics and colorful world are dragged down by a story mode with a bland story, and a sped-up version of golf that’s actually pretty slow. There’s still fun to be had, particularly with two people hitting balls on the same Switch. But while Super Rush gets the golf part right, it’s lacking what makes Super Mario games special.

Mario Golf: Super Rush is available now on the Nintendo Switch.

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