Over the years, Mario has tried his hand at many activities, from tennis, enjoyably, to Dance Dance Revolution, much less so. But it’s always been golf where his reinvention has worked best. He provides the chaotic Ying to golf’s ordered Yang. He upends tradition. Where golf can feel limited by its geriatric pace and dusty edifice of rules and regulations, Mario Golf lets you set slowcoaches on fire and hurl your Titleist like an American football.
Where golf has struggled against a reputation for stuffy elitism, Mario Golf has always welcomed everyone, from princesses to plumbers, from naked dinosaurs to Waluigi. Where golf, in PG Wodehouse’s words, is played with “the knowledge that only God is watching”, Mario Golf is a godless chaos, played under barren skies and watched only by Toad.
But, in a painful revelation, the latest Mario Golf teaches you that too much change can be a bad thing. Because Mario Golf: Super Rush – the seventh instalment in a series stretching back to the NES – is at its best when Mario’s chaotic new rules don’t totally overshadow the golf at the game’s heart.
There are many different modes in Mario Golf: Super Rush, and while some bear little resemblance to golf, all have you swinging a club at a ball. This gameplay follows the same basic formula: survey the hole for traps, choose a three-wood over a putter, then thwack the ball with the appropriate spin and power via a well-timed series of button mashes. You play as one of a host of Nintendo characters, pimped out in golf slacks. Each comes with their own attributes and “special shots”, which do things like freeze the ground under your opponents’ feet or encase their balls in eggs.
Super Rush is most fun in standard golf mode: this is recognisable golf, 18 holes on Mario-themed courses. The first two of these, Rookie Course and Bonny Greens, are a classic mix of manicured lawns and hungry sand traps: they’re a little boring, in all honesty, but good spots to hone your skills before you travel to zanier climes. The next four, unlocked by playing eighteen holes on the preceding course, are spread across the Mushroom Kingdom; fans of Mario Odyssey will rejoice. Ridgerock Lake is a twisty archipelago populated by Ty-foos that blow you and your ball to a watery doom; Balmy Dunes is a desert oasis where you have to avoid cactus-like “Pokeys”; Wildweather Woods features Piranha Plants and lightning storms. Finally, the zaniest of the lot, Bowser Highlands, is made up of the vengeful dragon’s fiery traps and lakes. All the courses feel vibrant and distinguishable, a real tour through Nintendo’s iconic landscapes.
Though there’s a competent online mode, couch multiplayer is where the game excels. Here, hitting your ball into Bowser’s lava again and again receives the live-in-the-flesh abuse that it deserves: you can play with just one controller, passed between you and friends. It’s worth noting that taking shots in Super Rush is probably too streamlined: while banging in eagle after eagle will require some hours on the links, the appropriate club is generally chosen for you, and you can largely ignore the more technical aspects of the game, like wind speed and course gradient, while still pulling off a competent shot.
The game’s other modes vary in entertainment. Speed Golf is the headline change; interestingly, it was not invented by Nintendo, but is actually a real sport: a reaction to the divisive slowness of traditional golf. (Watch New Zealand’s Jamie Reid win the 6th British Open Speedgolf Championships). In Super Rush, you sprint between holes, and each shot you take adds 30 seconds to your time. You can, of course, attack your opponents: courses are littered with power-ups, like hearts, which let you sprint longer, and coins, which fill up your special shot meter. A stripped-back Mario Kart, it’s all far less thrilling than it could have been, and feels like a vaguely pointless interlude, particularly on the less hectic courses.