I recently went from playing zero golfing games to two. The first, Mario Golf: Super Rush, arrived on Switch last week, whereas the second, Battle Golfer Yui, released for the Mega Drive (that’s the Sega Genesis for my fellow Americans) in 1991 and never left Japan. And while they share a host of similarities, the opposing emotions these games exhibit and elicit toward the sport makes both that much more compelling when played side-by-side.
That’s not to say either game is a faithful recreation of actual golfing — I can’t remember the last time Tiger Woods engulfed his club in electricity to avoid an explosive environmental hazard — but it’s obvious Mario Golf has at least a passing fondness for the 500-year-old pastime. Classic characters like Mario, Peach, and Bowser come to Super Rush dressed in their Sunday best, Toads enforce a strict, skill-based membership hierarchy, and the entire game takes place on a country club whose sprawling grounds would wastefully slurp up our own planet’s dwindling water resources.
No, the most obvious differences between the two games’ views on the sport are nestled in their respective story modes. Mario Golf: Super Rush is very much pro-golf in that vast swaths of the single-player adventure deal with improving or saving the gargantuan club, and it ends in a showdown against a snowman-like Ice King who has frozen several areas vital to the course’s operation. Super Rush treats golf as something to cherish, a pastime that nourishes the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom in ways that the real-world sport, criticised for its exclusivity and lack of diversity, might not.
Battle Golfer Yui takes a different approach. We’re introduced to heroine Yui Mizuhara through an intro video that sees her rescued from Dark Hazzard, an evil organisation plotting to take over the world with high-level athletes known as “battle golfers.” The game uses this term frequently in reference to Yui and her opponents, but it’s never quite clear how exactly Dark Hazzard’s leader, a creepy old fart known only as Professor G, plans to use them in these schemes.
In any case, Yui is saved from the process that somehow turns regular golfers into battle golfers by a mysterious, SMG-wielding man who tells her literally nothing about what the heck is going on. Yui, alone and confused, decides to enter a local golfing tournament organised by a group called the Hazzard Foundation (oh shit!) in search of answers about fellow abductee and friend Ran Ryuzaki. From there, Battle Golfer Yui follows its eponymous protagonist as she faces off against a host of strange opponents and grows in power as a battle golfer.
Unlike Mario Golf: Super Rush’s campaign, Battle Golfer Yui professes no profound love for golf. At times, it can even be downright hostile to it. Everyone Yui faces on the links — from a perverted teenager who gets off on Yui degrading him to a faux sentai superhero with an oddly realistic face — is a battle golfer themselves, though unlike our heroine they’ve been brainwashed to the point of servitude to Professor G. Only through losing a match to Yui are they saved from this fate, and they use this newfound freedom to teach her how to perform their Mario Golf-like special shots. Although details on the hows and whys are scarce, golf in the world of Battle Golfer Yui is portrayed as a tool of oppression, capable of stripping people of their humanity and turning them into super-soldiers with the power to subjugate the rest of the world. No one in Battle Golfer Yui plays golf for fun.
The story culminates in one final match against Ran, who has been masquerading as Yui’s insignificant caddy throughout most of the game. In the time since Yui’s escape, her friend has been transformed into Dark Hazzard’s most powerful battle golfer, a chilling reminder of the fate that might have befallen Yui had she not been rescued. After defeating Ran, Yui can choose to either blow a magic flute she received from taking out Professor G (yes, magic, because Battle Golfer Yui never really decides if it wants to be science fiction or fantasy) or break the mind-controlling instrument. The former results in a game over that sees Yui become the new leader of Dark Hazzard, while the latter frees Ran from Professor G’s influence. Choose correctly, and the two athletes embrace, finally reunited as friends. That’s when shit gets dark.
As soon as the two touch, Yui’s black flame combines with Ran’s shadow lightning, somehow setting off a bomb planted under the country club by the man who saved Yui at the beginning of the game. This results in a massive explosion that (yay) wipes Dark Hazzard’s headquarters off the map, but also (oh my god) kills 20,000 people. Battle Golfer Yui closes on the two friends riding upward in an elevator, watching a city skyline as the credits roll. It’s ambiguous as to whether this scene takes place before or after the grisly events of the game (or even outside the realm of metaphor, for that matter), but one thing is left abundantly clear: Golf is bad and ruins lives.
Battle Golfer Yui is a solid golfing game with a lot of similarities to the Mario Golf series, but Super Rush, benefitting from three decades of game design progress and far stronger hardware, plays better in practically every way. And while I fell in love with its old-school Mega Drive visuals and bizarre, barely lucid storylines, Battle Golfer Yui’s preoccupation with menu-based conversations turns downtime between matches into frustrating exercises in trying to choose the right dialogue options in the right order to proceed to the next game. These moments follow no rhyme or reason, sometimes asking that you select the same topic multiple times to get anywhere. It’s baffling, even with the helpful English translation patch.
Even so, playing Battle Golfer Yui in tandem with Mario Golf: Super Rush helped me better enjoy them both. When I wanted to play a more mechanically solid golfing game I looked to Mario and friends, and when I wanted to vicariously destroy the elitist sport as a cute anime girl I booted up the ol’ Mega Drive (wink wink) and mashed my way through conversations en route to that unexpectedly gruesome conclusion. As someone who’s long considered golf — at least as it operates now — a waste of land and water resources on a planet rapidly losing both, hopping back and forth between a game that respects many of its traditions and one that ultimately wallows in its destruction provided me with a new perspective on what they were both, at least in my mind, trying to achieve.
And, hey, even if you think that’s all bullshit, Battle Golfer Yui is still a wonderfully bizarre game that was sadly never given a chance to shine outside of Japan. Sure, it doesn’t hold a candle to, well, just about every instalment of the Mario Golf series mechanically. But I’ll take an eccentric-yet-surprisingly-earnest story about bringing an evil version of the real, slightly-less-evil sport to its knees over another sappy adventure to save a golf course any day of the week.