Camelot is a studio that has, for many years, dutifully churned out mascot sports games for Nintendo. Players often go back to the retro days when pinpointing the company's best efforts, though if you go by most recent form — Mario Tennis Aces — the studio is still doing good work. After serving up court-based action it's now back to the golf course, though Mario Golf: Super Rush feels more like a spiritual successor to Aces than an actual sequel to Mario Golf: World Tour. That's fine, but Super Rush leaves us with some mixed feelings.
When writing about any game in this series the first task is to assess the story mode, in this case 'Golf Adventure'. This mode is the ideal starting point and also continues the recent mini-resurgence of Nintendo's Miis, as you take your little avatar — in this writer's case an unnaturally chilled out, healthier version of the real person — on a quest to become a pro golfer; there are three save slots, too. There's actually a story of sorts here, albeit one that goes from being mundane to utterly goofy at the drop of a hat about two thirds of the way through. There's a very sudden flipping of the script, which is more throwaway than clever. That said, we think young gamers in particular will enjoy the silliness, and we went with it and had fun.
Your Mii starts off in accommodation that's run by Birdo, meeting up with a few 'rival' rookies all keen to be the next big thing. Though you're typically limited to going from A to B to complete training tasks and challenges there's a pleasant surprise in how charming the world is, and that this is a game that brings us back to 'that Switch life' of buttery smooth 60fps performance in a first-party game. This is achieved courtesy of relatively simplistic visuals, undoubtedly, but 'chunky' and 'colourful' is perfectly suitable for a Nintendo sports game. You get free movement to explore multiple hub areas / towns and each has its own distinct style. Just remember to visit the shop in each area — the game weirdly doesn't give any prompts to do this and it'll help with progress.
So begins a lot of golf, of varying styles, and you very rapidly start to level up. The upgrade system is solid, and occasionally upgrading one stat by two points will lower another by one, so there's a light amount of balancing at play. Most skilled players will ultimately be able to build a rather impressive all-rounder, but it's all well implemented; the fact there are 'speed' and 'stamina' gauges near the top is also a good clue of this mode's priorities.
It's simple but effective enough, and as you progress there are some specialised clothes and equipment to pick up that come into play on certain courses. The foundation blocks of adventure and character customisation are there and, though nothing special, it's absolutely fine and suitable for players of pretty much any level.
The adventure becomes the ideal way to learn about different modes and strategies, with each area and its distinct courses throwing up new ideas or environments to overcome. We will say that the second area introduces 'cross country' golf that is downright bad; the idea is that you tackle holes in any order you want, but have to navigate steep changes in elevation and hazards. We can see what the intent was here, but it is not enjoyable, and presumably the development team had an inkling it was a weak point as you never see this style of golf again. So, grit your teeth, clear it, and pretend it didn't happen.
The rest of the challenges are definitely better, though you won't be playing much chilled out golf. Some of the progression gets repetitive as you ultimately end up playing timed or speed golf over and over again; this is where the 'rush' part of the game and the advertising kicks in.
The gimmick is that you run to the ball after each shot and you are constantly keeping an eye on a countdown. It's not just about speed, though, as your end score in speed golf, for example, is your completion time plus 30 seconds per shot, so finding the balance between speed and accuracy is important. It's enjoyable, though we did occasionally want to play a normal round in the story with those cinematic views of shots, as opposed to dashing around constantly.
For chunks of the experience the Adventure feels low on ideas, as you're told to play 3 holes first, then another set, then a 'qualifying' round to upgrade your badge; it's understandable as it teaches you courses and conditions, but lacks creativity. Then, as mentioned above, there's a plot twist and you get to learn one of two slightly quirkier techniques and even have a few boss encounters. They're pretty basic but it is silly fun, and by the time we wrapped up the story the overall impression was positive. This is very B-tier in terms of polish and quality — a topic we'll revisit in a second — but it is endearing and is a great way to learn the mechanics. There are moments and aspects of the experience that raise a smile, which is mission accomplished.
Depending on ability level, we think the Adventure will take players anywhere from 6-10 hours. You then move onto general play, which is where you can experiment with the varied roster — for example to see what their Super moves do — or jump into multiplayer. After finishing the story we were at the point where our Mii was a stronger option than the actual characters, though you can earn 'experience' points to get them up to Star level and improve their clubs. The game falls a little flat here, however. The Solo Challenge area is where you go about levelling characters up, but this merely consists of stroke play or speed golf rounds of courses, and nothing else. There are no intriguing or clever challenges here to make things interesting, which makes levelling up feel like a true grind. The lack of smart challenges — a good feature of its 3DS predecessor — is a disappointment.
There are, however, good options if you want to jump into some customised solo rounds or local multiplayer. Six courses unlock as you play the Adventure or, alternatively, if you want to skip the story the next course will unlock after completing a full round of its predecessor. Standard and Speed golf are featured, and whether setting up a solo or multiplayer session you get good customisation options in terms of how many holes to play, where to start on the course, conditions and more.
Battle Golf is a quickfire new mode that also makes an appearance. This takes place across two arenas, and your goal is to complete three holes before anyone else. You can go for any pin you want, but once a player has completed that hole it disappears from the map, which makes it a rather amusing scramble. When you throw in each character's star move shots and their impacts — for example knocking your ball away or even transforming it into something like an egg — there's a nice element of chaotic wackiness to the battles. With only two courses and such short matches, however, it's not going to hold attention for long.
Nevertheless, playing any of the modes in multiplayer works well, with Camelot covering most bases in terms of control options and deciding how long a round will last. Though the game defaults to (and is easiest to play with) standard button controls, there are also motion controls using the Joy-Con. They're well implemented and quite intuitive, and the little controller is very accurate in detecting your swing and its power. It's still far easier to do more complex stuff like applying spin and fade/draw with the buttons but as an alternative that gets you off the couch, the motion controls are accurate and enjoyable to use.
We also got to test the online multiplayer to a limited degree, albeit we had to join a pre-determined lobby and the servers were naturally not under any real strain in the pre-release review period. It was lag free, but that's not particularly important in multiplayer golf, beyond messing each other up with super shots and limited environmental effects. The setup options are pretty much identical to local multiplayer, and lobbies can also be set for friends only and with or without passwords; you can even add up to two CPU players to fill out spots. If you want to play with family or friends remotely it's a very competent option, though there's no in-game communication — not even text messages — so you'll have to do that through other means. If you still actually use the Nintendo Switch Online app, though, it'll support voice chat for this title.
Lots of positives then, but there are some disappointing aspects around this title. Wrapping up our thoughts on the online feature-set, it lacks any incentive to compete — if you're not just playing with friends, there's not much point to jumping in. There's no ranking system of any kind and it lacks the basic but enjoyable tournaments of Mario Tennis Aces, which itself was a step back from the excellent online Tournaments in World Tour on 3DS. Super Rush's portable golfing predecessor setup regular events in which you'd register a score and get a placing (gold, silver, bronze) depending on scores from players around the globe. An equivalent here would have been very welcome.
There's also an inescapable feeling that, despite a premium price-point, this is a mid/B-tier first-party release from Nintendo. There is a good level of content but it lacks spark, and of the six courses we think only two or three are particularly interesting. In the context of Mario Golf and on capable hardware there's a lot of variety and environmental manipulation that could have been implemented, but the designs end up being rather safe and uninspired, even in the later unlocks that attempt a little wackiness.
This limited level of creativity is shown in the aforementioned disappointing Solo Challenges, and especially in the Adventure there's a feeling of corners and budgets cut. There's poorly used and repetitive voice sampling — the constant 'Hey Hey' of the coach irritated this player and others that happened to be in the room — along with basic storytelling. Limited animations of characters and a lack of visual flair for story segments all feel like they come from a discounted first-party effort. The music, also, is rather weak; the core theme is reasonable albeit nothing special, but some clips for between holes (as an example) sound more like royalty-free tracks than something you'd expect to hear in a Mario game.
None of this ruins the experience, not by a long way, and despite these complaints there is still a good amount of content, decent golf mechanics and just enough wackiness to justify having the Mushroom Kingdom cast on board. Those aforementioned irritations do strip away the sense that this is a premium first-party game, though. As enthusiasts, we may have come to expect this in recent Camelot titles, but for those expecting the same quality as other first-party efforts with a $60 price tag, they may feel underwhelmed by Super Rush.
Mario Golf: Super Rush is a game that in many respects hits its marks. Golf Adventure has plenty of charm and offers a fun way to learn various mechanics and unlock courses. Away from that solo endeavour there are decent options and customisation for multiplayer games, local or online, button controls or motion-based swinging. It's not a premium effort, however, with a nagging feeling of corners cut and at times an absence of creativity. However, many players should get a good amount of fun out of this one, both solo and with friends. This ain't the Masters, but for Mario Golf fans it is a solid par.