Spin-off games set in the Mario universe are all but a staple of the series. Over the past few decades, players have come to expect a new entry in each one for every Nintendo console generation. Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, Mario Party and Mario Golf are a few of the peripheral titles we see with every round. While not core entries in the IP, their sprawl supports Nintendo’s enduring first-party appeal, arguably paving the way for the company’s biggest cross-character hit, Super Smash Bros.
The latest, Mario Golf: Super Rush, is emblematic of Nintendo’s approach to rehashing the classics. The base game has been embellished with new alternate modes, like Golf Adventure (a story-based feature that uses RPG-like elements to level up your Mii character) and Speed Golf, a competitive race version of golf, holding an edge over its real-life counterparts with the use of iconic features like dashing and trick shots. The effect is a more intensely paced version of golf, one that rewards aggression and quick thinking over quiet concentration.
While these flourishes make Mario Golf: Super Rush more fun than the average golf game, they almost tease at how much more fun the game could be. Now that I’ve had a taste of blood, I don’t know that “regular” golf will ever satisfy me. The standard mode, which most closely mirrors the vanilla golf experience, is pleasant enough, but if you don’t already like golf, it probably won’t win you over. Speed Golf, where players race through each hole by chasing their ball after each swing, and its counterpart Battle Golf (where players are placed in a GUTS-like arena with the first to take any three holes as the winner), meanwhile, have spoiled me for the sport. There’s something about that burst of energy after watching the ball sail through the air that makes the stakes seem higher, as if gunning it between drives is the only way to keep my adrenaline running enough to stay in a competitive mindset. And while I haven’t learned to perfectly time my use of Special Dash, the unique abilities it gives each character on the course adds a bit of Super Smash Bros.-like chaos. Both Speed and Battle Golf benefit greatly from the frenzied slapdash pacing and unpredictability factor, hinting at what a better game Mario Golf: Super Rush could be.
The problem with games like Mario Tennis Aces or Mario Golf: Super Rush is how little they do to establish an individual identity for each series. Their presentation, while consistent across the Mario universe, has become too familiar: the punchy brass soundtracks, bold red chyrons, that meticulously selected palette that never strays even the slightest shade. At times, it feels as though the Mario games comprise their own little ESPN. But if the sports games of the Mario universe are going to be so similar thematically, they might as well take that crossover full throttle, and add the random power-ups and hazards of Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. Not only would it make the game more interesting, it would also help balance the game between players of different skill sets.
After playing the new Mario Golf: Super Rush modes, I don’t know that I could ever go back to playing or even spectating another game of golf that doesn’t have some kind of edge. Racing my opponent to my ball or the next hole makes me wish I could throw elbows or brandish my club, if not bust out a Fire Flower or Red Shell. If Nintendo wants to better justify the existence of a Mario Golf game, they should lean into the five iron frenzy.
Holly Green is the editor-at-large of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.