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Mario Golf: Super Rush review: great core gameplay, brilliant modes, but a mediocre story adventure

Mario's latest sporting adventure doesn't exactly have the greatest story mode, but its core gameplay and modes are excellent.

The best thing about Mario Golf: Super Rush is its absolute disregard for some of the basic rules of golf. Don’t rush, take your time, and wait for your turn? Forget that. At some level, this is golf injected with some of the frantic energy of Mario Kart, and that’s great.

Standard-issue Golf is in there, for the record - but the real magic in Super Rush is undoubtedly found in the more Mario-like mods for Super Rush.

Speed Golf is pretty simple - rather than score what matters is time - so you simply want to finish the course as quickly as possible, though each stroke you take also adds a slight penalty to your time. Every player starts at the same moment and are all on the course at once, and you have the ability to mildly mess with them in between shots, as you race down the course to where your ball landed.

Speed Golf is light on that, though - the focus instead is on you getting there as fast as you can, and on trade-off considerations - do you detour to grab some coins which’ll let you use a special move sooner, or do you prioritize getting to the ball? This adds a broader meta to the course, too - as you might deliberately flunk a hole to pick up coins to power up and blast down another hole way more quickly.

If Speed Golf is more like Mario Kart racing, Battle Golf leans into that formula harder still with power-ups and traditional Mario hazards to worry about. The main difference, however, is that as well as everybody playing the course at the same time, you tackle every hole at once, in whatever order you like, in a big arena. Each hole can only be sunk once, and it’s the first player to reach a certain amount to win.

It’s a golf battle royale, of a sort - and it’s difficult to articulate just how thrilling it is when you’re putting for the same hole against another player - the pressure is on to not only get it right, but get there first - because if you don’t, the hole simply disappears and you’ll have to target another to score.

Battle Golf is shaken up further by hazards and special moves, which are no longer a minor nuisance but can actually significantly change the flow of the game. I’ve seen a pin-perfect ball blown off the green by a bob-omb, and there’s nothing you can do about it but suck it up and carry on. It’s chaotic, but in the best possible way - that same sort of energy Mario has done so well showcasing with racing games, or the overly-busy co-op in the New Super Mario Bros. games.

These modes are brilliant. They’re the lifeblood of the game, in fact. While traditional golf rules are available, if you really want straight golf, even just for casual fun, you’re probably better off playing something like 2K’s PGA Tour game on a lower difficulty with assists turned on. Mario Golf simplifies in a way that is inherently less satisfying - but you don’t register that simplification when you’re juggling all the other factors that Speed Golf and Battle Golf lump on you.

Further, the way everybody plays all together at once serves to make this a frenetic and engaging online experience. There’s a depth here to stamina management, using special skills, and even the balance of the various character abilities. Just as with Mario Tennis Aces, I think the high-level online meta in Speed Golf and Battle Golf is truly going to be something to behold - which is exciting.

These modes are accessed through the most basic menu option in the world: Play Golf. You pick from a roster of Mario favorites, pick a mode, and play. The other large button on the main menu is for something completely different, however - the Golf Adventure mode.

For years now, fans have been chasing the return of these sorts of modes - a lot of us have very fond memories of the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance Mario sports games, some of which featured fully-fledged role-playing game story modes where a protagonist character joined the zany sports leagues of the Mario universe. Golf Adventure is that - though it never really reaches the heady heights of those games.

Here’s the basic pitch: your Mii character joins a golf academy and works their way through the ranks, which are spread across several different course biomes. There’s an overworld segment where you’re walking around, plus the golf itself. There’s equipment to consider, stats that you level up as you gain EXP with every round of golf, and characters to natter to out in the overworld.

It ticks all the right boxes, and yet it’s sort of just… fine? There’s some sort of x-factor absent here, with the world and the story mode built inside it just feeling a little sterile. The story mode feels noticeably lower-quality than the flashy Mario & friends elements of the game, too. The overworld is large, and pretty, and yet I feel nothing walking around it. Generally, I was just following the red objective arrow pointing me to the next bit of actual golf.

Once you’re on the course, Adventure Mode’s primary problem, I think, is that it takes too long for your character to actually get good at golf. If you start out in Adventure Mode and then after three or four hours hop out to your first session of Battle Golf playing as one of the famous Mario cast, you’ll be shocked by how much better and refined their golfing feels. Obviously this is deliberate - as you level up, your character improves - but there’s a balance to be found in not making the early stages of the game feel a slog. Super Rush undershoots that target fairly significantly.

Also: man, the voices. Characters in story mode have little vocal ‘barks’ they make whenever you speak to them, but characters you speak to repeatedly have, like, two voice clips. By the time I heard Hammer Bro say “Hey hey!” for about the fiftieth time, my patience was wearing thin. This is a petty complaint, but this sort of element is also fairly demonstrative of how the story mode feels a little cheap.

These issues are a shame, because the Adventure Mode has good ideas and makes great use of the game’s core concepts. Traditional, Speed, and Battle Golf are both given a chance to shine and are also properly introduced here - and in some cases, new mechanics are layered on top. On a desert course, for instance, you have to manage your hydration level - which is basically a shortcut to adding another pressure where you can run out of resources and fail if you don’t play carefully.

There’s plenty to like in Adventure Golf. It works as a great tutorial, and it certainly gets there in terms of fun - it just takes longer than I’d like. But whereas I thought I’d be coming to this game for its story-driven adventure mode, it actually proved to just be a bit of casual fun - and my real enjoyment has come out of the core Mario Golf with Mario characters - and those brilliant modes. The modes are absolutely vital, too, since their dynamism helps to offset a low number of courses and the shortcomings of the adventure mode.

Those core modes are something special, however. It’s the sort of arcadey sports experience that doesn’t really happen any more. Most sports games now are simulations - so I’m so glad to get another game that carries the spirit of older, arcadey, more silly sports games. The adventure mode’s shortcomings don’t dent that significantly enough to stop me from recommending Mario Golf: Super Rush - but just don’t go in expecting an all-time-great sports story mode.

Review code provided by publisher. Tested on normal Nintendo Switch (docked) and Switch Lite.

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