Mario Golf’s Courses Deserve A Better Story
Mario Golf: Super Rush is a pretty great golf game. The motion controls are solid and it's easy to pick up and play in a group, while the button play adds more depth and allows you to refine your game without needing to stand up and make a fool of yourself when there's no one else around to enjoy it. Golf is a very meticulous sport, and for that reason, I've always struggled with the more serious golf sims that go for arcane interpretations of the sport’s minutiae. Mario Golf takes an arcade approach while still being ‘proper’ golf with a robust range of clubs, different approach options, and regular courses. The only problem is the story doesn’t deserve the fairways it treads on.
I'm not expecting The Last of Us level storytelling from a Mario Golf game, but I would like some level of storytelling. I know Mario has no personality, but that shouldn't be an issue as he's hardly in it. In fact, you need to play the story mode as a Mii, and it starts off fairly strong. After a short tutorial on how to drive, you retire to the lodge and chat to Birdo, Chargin' Chuck, Boo, and Toadette, who all have a clear personality. Birdo doesn't play golf, and instead looks after the new recruits – she even says you can call her "mama". It's very cute, but unfortunately this is basically the last interaction you have with her in the game.
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As for Boo, Chuck, and Toadette, they all have different approaches to golf, both in terms of how they play the game physically and how they approach it on a philosophical level. That seems like fertile ground for some decent Mario Golf storytelling, right? Wrong. Instead you'll play your first round with them, have zero interactions, then go off on your own, occasionally teeing off with one or two of them again, but mostly playing courses solo. That makes no difference though; whether they're there or not, they won't say "Boo" to you. They won't say "Chuck" either.
In fact, nobody says anything to you at all beyond explicit instructions for progression. Each course is just a glorified tutorial – you play a practise version of a new mechanic, whether that be XC Golf, Speed Golf, or some other variation that's way less fun in solo than it is in multiplayer, then once you've performed well enough at the practise level, you get to do the exact same thing again but for realsies. The 'proper' version might see you compete against the silent and not at all deadly Boo, and might have a few more holes, but it mostly makes the practise feel like a waste of time. If you fail, you just get to try again anyway, so why make me do it twice?
There is one single, solitary narrative beat in the entire story. When playing through one of the courses, you need to use your super-powered drive to smash open a rock, which will flood the course and fill up the dried water hazards, giving each hole a new complication. You'll notice how mature I am by avoiding making a pun about nice, wet holes.
This isn't even really storytelling though, it's just activating the imaginative level design, and that only serves to highlight the gulf between the gameplay and narrative in Mario Golf: Super Rush. The courses are superb, making fantastic use of distinct hazards and teasing you into risky play, being just as likely to reward you as they are to punish you. There's some wacky creativity, especially in the trickier ones, but they all feel like legitimate golf courses too, which is an important part of solo play. There needs to be a real, grounded challenge for me to boot up a game like this where I'm not just swinging the Joy-Con in the middle of the living room with family or friends. Unfortunately, the story completely blows any opportunity to utilise this level design, so it feels like I'm having to trudge through it in order to unlock each course for solo play so I can hit the links with Rosalina instead of my dopey looking Mii.
Once you get through story mode, you get to play against yourself, beating your best scores and lowest times, which is exactly how golf is meant to be played. It's a solitary game, and that does make it more difficult for a story than say, Mario Strikers, where team rivalry comes into it. But the game starts off so well, providing a bunch of different characters who each play this solitary game in varied ways, which should have allowed the story mode to build on solid foundations. The longer you play, the more it seems like the foundations were made of sand, as the game slices the narrative into the bunker.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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