After hitting an approach shot that landed a few feet from the hole, I dashed down the fairway, hopped over the lip of the bunker and settled over my tap-in for birdie. I wound up making a double bogey. Chargin’ Chuck smacked a Bob-omb on the green, blasting my ball into the rough. Then Boo unleashed its special shot, sending my chip woefully right of its target. From there, I frantically missed my long bogey putt and finally tapped in for my lousy score. When Mario Golf: Super Rush is at its best, chaos is what makes it tick. These unpredictable moments are hilarious, adding a new dimension to Camelot’s long-running sports series. Zany courses designed to look more like 3D Super Mario levels and a pair of new fast-paced modes turn the typically leisurely sport of golf into an action game. But for all of the exciting moments and innovation Mario Golf: Super Rush offers, it still feels slim on content and lackluster at times.
Super Rush tries to add to its variety even in its pair of control schemes: a button-based swing system and motion controls. The button-based control scheme differs slightly from previous entries. This time around, you click once to start your swing and just once more to set your power. Accuracy is determined by "shift," marks outside of the meter that funnel outward. Off the tee and in the fairway, the marks are confined to the top, but when you have a bad lie, they start much lower, making it less likely to hit your shot on target. Super Rush's button-based swing system rewards finding the short grass.
Like Mario Golf: World Tour for 3DS, you can also add sidespin and alter trajectory by moving the joystick left, right, up, or down during the follow through. Besides a new flop shot mechanic--which requires you to tap A when the on-screen circle turns blue--Super Rush’s accurate swing system will still feel familiar to anyone who has played a Mario Golf title despite the slight changes.
Super Rush’s motion controls are the polar opposite of the button system in terms of depth and precision. You hold the SL button on the Joy-Con and take your swing. The simplicity harks back to Wii Sports. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work when playing Super Rush’s tricky courses. Full swings are manageable and are fairly easy to hit on target, but any shot that requires a delicate swing, such as chipping or putting, is too much of a guessing game.
After playing all six courses Super Rush has to offer, it was clear that motion controls were simply incompatible with the elaborate designs Camelot created to highlight the game's signature new Speed Golf mode. That said, mastering the button swing system, including shaping the golf ball, adding backspin, and tinkering with trajectories is more important than ever because the courses are littered with obstacles, which also make you think more about the type of shot you want to hit.
Speed Golf is exactly as it sounds. While a form of Speed Golf has existed in previous entries, you never actively ran across the course to your ball like you do in Super Rush. Here, you’re racing to finish each hole as fast as you can. Each shot adds 30 seconds to your time, though, so you still need to try to play well while maintaining a brisk pace. Coins are scattered across the fairways along with hearts, which replenish stamina burned from running. Terrain changes affect stamina as well, so you have to consider the route you take and even where you choose to hit your shot to set yourself up for your next one. Speed Golf injects a new layer of strategy and chaos in Mario Golf, since everyone is playing simultaneously. An unfortunate downside to Speed Golf is that you can never admire your good shots. I’ve made two hole-in-ones so far and saw neither of them go into the cup because I was busy jumping and running toward the green. There’s also a points system variant of Speed Golf, which is essentially match play and can lead to some tighter contests.
Battle Golf uses the mechanics of Speed Golf and cranks up the mayhem. It pits up to four players against each other in a stadium course with nine flags to aim at. The first player to secure three flags wins. The twist here is that once a flag is claimed, it’s gone from the game. Going for the nearest flag first seems like a good idea, but what if two other players are aiming at it, too? Battle Golf emphasizes both skill and strategy. There are two layouts available: one that’s fairly straightforward and another that’s littered with enemies, obstacles, and hazards. Due to its design, Battle Golf conjures up even more random chaos than Speed Golf, making it an optimal party game with lightning-quick rounds that never have a dull moment.
Each of the 16 playable characters are equipped with a pair of moves that can be deployed strategically in these fast-paced modes: special shot and super dash. For instance, Wario’s special shot creates lightning strikes that toy with your shots, Boo “haunts” your golf ball, sending it off course, and King Bob-omb literally drops bombs that can get in your way. Yoshi rolls around on a giant egg when dashing, while Chargin’ Chuck looks like a fullback trying to mow down the competition (he thinks he’s playing football, poor guy). Slower golfers have better stamina, so I didn’t find that any one character was better suited for Speed Golf than another. Each golfer’s unique super dash can help them get to their ball faster, but it also can be a deterrent for competitors’ progress, since you can knock opponents down while running. Meanwhile, a well-timed and placed special shot can knock other golfers’ balls from a good position to a not ideal spot. These two central mechanics often look cool in motion and are incredibly useful in Speed Golf.
It’s clear why Speed Golf rules Mario Golf: Super Rush when you step onto the links. With the exception of two traditional courses that look like golf courses you’d find in real life, Super Rush’s courses teeter between absurd and diabolical, and I say this as a compliment.
Ridgerock Lake is set along cliffs surrounded by water and features Broiders rolling across fairways, Ty-foos guarding greens with strong gusts, and vertical wind tunnels that can send you and your ball up to another level. There’s a lot of fun strategy involved here thanks to elevation changes and the scattered layout. Balmy Dunes, a desert-themed course with towering Pokeys, giant Sandmaarghs surrounding the fairways, quicksand, and elevation changes galore, is a sprawling track that works wonderfully for speed golf. Do you use your super dash to cut across the barren sand and potentially save time or take the scenic route along the fairway where you can pick up coins and heart pieces to recover stamina? Because of the enemy placement, Balmy Dunes often forces you to get creative with shots, hitting fades around Pokeys and high-launching shots over those pesky Sandmaarghs.
Another course, Wildweather Woods, uses its unpredictable conditions to mess with your game. Randomized dark spots on the course are prone to lightning strikes if you swing your club too far back, costing you a stroke and time in the process. Meanwhile, Biddybuds waddle across the fairway and Piranha Creepers poke their chompy heads out, requiring you to zigzag to your ball. The heavy rain slows down the fairways and greens, so you have to adapt your strategy for both rollout on full shots and putting. The final course, Bowser Highlands, is a molten-themed track with Lava Bubbles emerging from the fiery depths, Magmaarghs creeping over the edge of danger, Bob-ombs, Whomps, and Chain Chomps scattered across the fairways, and Fire Bars circling platforms that you have to run across to get to your ball. It’s the most perilous course of the bunch due to the sheer number of hazards and obstacles, making for a fitting swan song.
Even though Super Rush features some of the best courses in series history, I can’t help but think it’s a tad underwhelming to only have six at release, especially since two of them--though great for traditional golf purists--feel like standard Mario Golf fare. Though Nintendo has vowed to release free post-launch content for Super Rush, World Tour for 3DS had 10 courses at launch.
To unlock all of the clever and playful courses, you have to work your way through Golf Adventure as your Mii. As the tentpole game mode in Super Rush, Golf Adventure isn’t the full-fledged role-playing golf journey I expected. It serves as a means to unlocking every course but offers very little besides a six-hour primer to what Super Rush is all about. Despite the semi-open world layout with hubs for each course and NPCs scattered throughout, Super Rush’s world feels shallow, with nothing to do besides the next mainline event. It should be noted that Golf Adventure doesn’t even allow you to use motion controls--probably because you’d have a hard time reaching the credits.
In Golf Adventure, you’re a rookie working toward becoming a golf superstar by earning badges that unlock new tournaments and courses. Earning badges is a multi-step process, including a short course training before competing against AI-controlled players. What’s particularly strange about Golf Adventure’s challenges is that you only ever play a full 18-hole round one time. It’s often segmented into three, six, or nine hole challenges where you have to shoot better than a certain score or under time restraints. And almost the entire campaign centers on Speed Golf. You only play short spurts of traditional golf and never in a “tournament” round. Like Mario Tennis Aces, there are a few boss battles, each of which utilize the mechanics in fun ways--even if they are short-lived duels.
The disjointed progression of Golf Adventure sometimes hurts the overall experience and takes away from the genuinely compelling golf. But, at the very least, it sometimes throws in unique events. Ridgerock Lake was the site of my favorite challenge dubbed Cross Country Golf. You have to complete nine holes under 40 strokes, but you get to choose which order to complete the holes in. It was one of the few campaign challenges that took me off of autopilot--largely because it was just me versus the course. Bowser Highlands is also markedly different in Golf Adventure, as it mixes fire and ice holes. The snowy holes feature Ice Bros, sliding Freezies, and other Super Mario staples. The mix between fire and ice makes Bowser Highlands feel like two courses sandwiched into one, which winds up making a really interesting course that I wish you could play outside of Golf Adventure.
Sadly, AI-controlled golfers are absolutely horrendous in Golf Adventure, not just in the beginning but all throughout the campaign. This presents an issue since Speed Golf requires you to wait for your opponents to finish the hole before moving onto the next. Watching Pink Yoshi turn away from the flagstick and chunk yet another shot into the rough after I’ve already finished grows tiresome, and watching [insert any character name] actively aim away from the hole on a perfectly straight putt can become infuriating.
The biggest blunder of Golf Adventure is that once the credits roll, there’s nothing really left to do. You can go back and level up your character and round out your set of clubs, but it’s not even possible to replay certain sections of the game. Golf Adventure doesn’t even track any of your best scores, so there isn’t any real reason to do so anyway. And besides, by the time you complete the campaign, your leveled-up Mii is already the best golfer in the game. I’ve already banned myself from playing as him during couch multiplayer with my wife. There is a separate Solo Challenge mode that keeps track of your best scores, but it seems like a weird decision to not roll this into an endgame for Golf Adventure.
Like many sports games, Mario Golf: Super Rush’s legs come from multiplayer against real humans, whether that be online or locally. When playing locally, up to four golfers can jump into standard golf, but only two can play at a time in Battle Golf and Speed Golf. The restriction is likely because of splitting the screen since you’re hitting at the same time (standard golf while playing simultaneously is also limited to two golfers), but it’s nonetheless disappointing. The online mode works well. I haven't had any issues finding a match, and performance hasn't dipped even during hectic rounds of Speed Golf. You can create your own room for friends to join or search for open rooms with filters to find what you're looking for. That said, it's pretty bare bones at the moment, as there is no ranked play or progression system. If Nintendo hosts regular tournaments like it did for Mario Golf: World Tour, I’ll be playing Super Rush for a long time. I should also note that I found the AI to play markedly better outside of Golf Adventure. While I still won every match against CPU-controlled characters, they at least play competently so that it’s possible to lose.
With three radically different styles of play and some seriously inventive courses, Mario Golf: Super Rush is a compellingly original sports game. Speed Golf and Battle Golf actively make you adapt to wildly different conditions while balancing technique and speediness. The button swing system still feels great, though if you desire an accurate motion-controlled golf game, this isn’t it. Golf Adventure curiously lacks a conventional tournament structure or record-keeping, which actively dissuaded me from ever wanting to revisit it. Super Rush isn’t the best entry in the series, but it’s a worthy addition.
Editor's Note: This review has been updated to clarify and correct how the swing mechanic works in Mario Golf: Super Rush. GameSpot regrets the error.