Mario Golf: Super Rush is a brilliant revival of one of Nintendo’s oldest spinoffs, and it’s unquestionably the best Mario sports title since the days of the GameCube and Game Boy Advance. Camelot, the studio responsible for both the best and the worst Mario Golf games, has cobbled together something new, taking the series’ best bits and binding them with one of the strangest and most significant tweaks to a major sports game since the “action sports” era of NFL Blitz.
But before I get to that, I have to answer the one big question for longtime fans of the series: Yes, there’s a story mode in Mario Golf: Super Rush, and yes, it’s quite compelling.
You play as a Mii of your own design and visit a variety of colorful locales, each with its own 18-hole golf course, tournament, climate, shop, and talkative townspeople. Every challenge, small and large, rewards experience points, which can be spent to improve the power of your swing, the control of your shots, and a handful of other variables. You’ll rapidly collect clubs with quirky benefits and gradually improve from rookie to something else. I’d hate to spoil the deeply weird turns this story takes, so I’ll just say there are boss fights and a surprising amount of Wario and Waluigi.
It is, superficially speaking, the exact thing fans have been requesting since 2004’s Mario Golf: Advance Tour — it’s a simple RPG with lots of cheesy conversations, a zero-to-hero quest, and constant upgrades that provide that hit of progress. But Super Rush diverges from Advance Tour in one huge way: As the title implies, you have to hurry. Literally.
You now dash to your ball between strokes, sprinting across the fairway alongside other golfers. You manage a depleting stamina bar, collecting hearts that allow for flashy speed boosts. Each swing of your club builds up energy for a powerful strike that will send your ball even further and potentially knock away your competitors — and their golf balls — in the process.
How this course trotting impacts the experience depends on the course terrain and the club rules. Some rulesets require players to focus on completing a hole before their competitors. Other clubs don’t care what place you finish in, so long as you complete each hole within a certain amount of time. My personal favorite location is a mountainous open world in which you can complete a nine-hole course in whichever order you please. However, you have a limited amount of time to climb to the ball between each stroke, so hitting the golf ball up the mountains on your first shot will make for a tricky, Breath of the Wild-esque hike up a cliffside with little time for error.
I didn’t expect my most intense gaming moments of 2021 to come from a golf game. Then again, I didn’t expect a Mario sports game to be this great.
When it comes to platformers, Mario has been on a decadelong hot streak. Across the Wii U and Switch, Nintendo has released fantastic mainline entries in 2D and 3D, and even let players create their own stages with Super Mario Maker. In fact, the platformers have been so consistently strong, it’s felt as though the company left nothing in the tank for its many Mario-focused spinoffs.
Mario Party, the various Mario RPGs, and particularly the Mario sports entries have mostly floundered over the past 10 years and change. And not for a lack of trying! Camelot’s Mario Tennis Aces came close with its strong arcade gameplay, but dropped the ball with a crummy story mode. Outside of the obvious exception — Mario Kart 8 — Nintendo has struggled to find the fun in Mario’s hobbies.
Mario Golf: Super Rush feels, in many ways, like Nintendo finally listening to its fans, creating a game that returns to what worked. That the future of Mario Party involves taking inspiration from the N64 era suggests this may be the beginning of a trend. While I love Nintendo nostalgia as much as any other 30-something locked in generational arrested development, the things that make Super Rush sing — and what I predict will make it memorable for a younger generation, the way Advance Tour is for my own — are its twists on the formula. While a traditional round of exhibition golf can still be enjoyed from the start, the bulk of the game emphasizes sweaty competition.
Now that I’ve finished the story mode, most of my game time goes into the competitive Battle Golf mode. Four players gather on the same small course; the first to sink three golf balls into any of the holes wins. It’s controlled chaos, balls flying in every direction and each player adjusting their strategy while on the run. Losing is infuriating; winning with a 30-foot chip shot milliseconds ahead of another player’s putt, however, is pure joy.
Any mode that has players hitting at the same time allows for two players to play in split-screen view, while the Standard Golf mode allows for four people to hand off one controller. Online, all modes support four players. Players can use traditional button controls (time a button tap to a power meter) or Wii-like motion controls, and they may select from a 16-character roster that includes the familiar (Mario! Princess Peach!), the obscure (Pauline! Chargin’ Chuck!), and their own customizable Mii. Matches can be played on six traditional courses in unique biomes, ranging from sand dunes to a lava-filled lair, and Nintendo has promised that additional characters and courses will be available after launch.
When setting up a game outside of story mode, you can adjust the number of holes, the starting hole, the location of the tee, the strength of the wind, and whether other players can use disruptive special shots. The game also leaves room for players to recreate a more traditional golf experience, and the golf itself delivers on the basics, while also including its cartoon physics. My souped-up Mii can smack the ball over 200 yards, causing it to zigzag left and right and left again in the air, then stop on a dime with fierce backspin.
Still, I can’t imagine spending much time playing traditional golf in Super Rush. I have plenty of alternatives I could turn to for that. Mario Golf: Super Rush is the only game that lets me body-check Luigi on the way to notching a birdie on the 18th hole.
Mario Golf: Super Rush will be released on June 25 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed using a Switch download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.