This game’s concept – no, even just it’s title – is nothing less than catnip to me. BATTLE GOLFER YUI.
This is precisely my kind of absurd. How could I ever hope to resist a Mega Drive game containing the aforementioned BATTLE GOLF, androids, bubbling lava, one golf ball related murder, and, er, lush putting greens? Well…
First things first – this isn’t a golf game. It’s not a battle game either. It’s an adventure game with a few rounds of golf in it – and the adventure isn’t actually all that adventure-y, not even by the standards of a cart-based tale from 1991. Yui’s tale plays out using a menu-based interface with a rigid text window/viewport/character portrait layout (and the game’s logo permanently displayed in the top-right of the screen, as all old games should), and so you’ll spend a lot of time Talk, Think, Ask, and Item-ing your way around a small selection of static backgrounds. This is honestly fine by me – a lot of good adventure games use this system, and I personally appreciate anything that steers the process away from “Should I push, pull, or examine this door? No? How about this desk drawer then?” style problem-solving – but the game’s content is so slender and so railroaded you find yourself forced into a routine almost immediately: Talk, golf (and win – losing kicks you back to the title screen), talk, next character, talk, golf…
On the one hand this means that with the exception of one door-unlocking puzzle in the back half of the story progress is always assured so long as you at the very least are engaged enough to exhaust all of your available options, but on the other all that’s left to really focus on is the writing, and Yui’s isn’t all that great.
Of course it wouldn’t be fair to seriously expect a game about battle golfing to have an intricately detailed or especially thought-provoking story, but I did hope it’d at least take its baked-in silliness seriously. As it stands the small cast are wheeled in individually, probably lightly parody an unrelated manga/anime/tokusatsu show while they deliver their lines, and are then left behind the instant they’ve served their golfing purpose. Even Yui herself – the character you spend almost every second of adventure mode either playing as or reading about – feels underdeveloped: her quest to find her missing friend Ran fails to convey any real sense of urgency or even general concern as you have little idea of who this person even is beyond a few scant details in the manual, and Yui’s own reaction to being captured and experimented on before being dramatically rescued by a mysterious gun-toting scientist in the game’s intro is bafflingly enough to go home and watch TV for a few days. It all feels very passive and without any real clue as to what it wants to be, as if the text hasn’t the courage to follow through with the eye-catching style shown in the faux manga page that fills the back of the box, the one promising battle golfers, missiles, and explosive YUI BEEEAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMSSSSSSS. There are times when it gets tantalisingly close to being as fantastically bananas as advertised, but these moments are rare and fleeting in an already brief adventure.
Indelicately shoved between these rough tracts of plot are vast sandy bunkers of actual golfing – regular gaming golf, where people take it in turns to get the little ball in the tiny hole in the grass using the fancy sticks. I’d really like to scowl at whoever was given the budget to make a game about battle golfers and then decide to… make a regular golf game? Why would anyone do that? Oh sure there’s a list of SP-consuming special skills enabling you to bounce the ball along the water (an astounding feat that’s also possible in a few wildly experimental niche golf games nobody’s ever heard of, like Wii Sports Resort and Everybody’s Golf), home in on the pin (which is more likely to send the ball out of bounds or skidding off at high speed into the water) or stop dead as soon as it touches the ground (amongst other things), but these techniques exist more to smooth over the difficult and exacting nature of the course designs than they do to twist the traditional sport into a more game-y trick shot heaven – there are no daring alternatives to standard course play, no creative use of your available skills to cut massive corners or land safely in otherwise impossible spots.
And this is because the courses themselves just aren’t very well designed: They tend to have very narrow playable areas surrounded by vast stretches of water or invalid empty voids and no little saves to separate you from them – no ribbons of sand near a tricky edge, no thickets of trees for the ball to get tangled up in before it shoots of into nothingness – so too often a shot either lands perfectly or is a complete failure.
They’re also just not as strange as playing battle golf against evil cyborgs should be either: At best the first course of a character’s set of three is based on their particular theme but the ones that follow could honestly not just be used for any of the game’s mere six challengers but come from any other run of the mill golf game. There’s not even any sort of consistency to them either, such as a run of stages based around making accurate big swings to small patches of fairway or combating high winds, a “battle” can open with a course shaped like a skeleton surrounded by lava (functionally this is nothing more than red water) but the next one in the set against the same opponent switches back to green grass and fluffy clouds as if it’s hastily apologising for following through with its own excellent central concept. “I’m so sorry! It won’t happen again!” promises Battle Golfer Yui. Further courses, reserved for the game’s golf-only mode, can behave more like novelty playable drawings than carefully designed golf courses. Does a course shaped like a dolphin bouncing a ball on its nose make for a cute map overview? Yes, it does. Is it any fun to play a hole that’s 50% bunker just so that landscaped dolphin can have a distinct underbelly? No it is not.
Even these fumbles could all be dismissed as nothing more than a tolerable shame if the raw mechanics of the golf itself felt right, if Yui had really captured the skill and satisfaction of a perfectly judged swing or a long putt rolling effortlessly towards the pin, but unfortunately Battle Golfer Yui manages to fluff even these fundamental aspects of the game. The adjustments available to you are much the same as any other golfing title: You have a full range of clubs, a caddy who will spout useless information like “Use irons in the rough!” “You’re in the bunker!” “Do your best!” when asked, the ability to add spin to the ball, and a classic power meter – so far so normal. But the information you’re given never feels trustworthy – the numbers you’re given just don’t match the golf swings playing out in front of you. If it’s 111 yards to the hole, and your currently selected club has a range of 110 yards, and the ball’s already on flat fairway, logic would dictate that a max-strength shot would land somewhere around the hole (even if it rolled on and away or curved in the air), yes?
No. In this repeatedly tested real-world example (hey, at least my overly-nerdy whinging comes from honest personally-experienced issues) the ball consistently sailed straight over the hole and landed (landed, not “finally stopped rolling”) about 40 yards behind. Another: I’m in the rough. It’s 53 yards to the hole. The game is telling me that the club I’m using should, under perfect controlled conditions, make the ball travel 90 yards. So I think to myself that between the deeply-buried ball and the club I’ve picked I should at full-whack end up with a shot somewhere near where I want it to be, if not a little over. That full-power shot didn’t hit the ground until it had travelled around 120 yards. From the rough. On a 90 yard club. And yes, I measured it. I expect there to be variances between golf theory and golf fact – not just because of wind speed, terrain, spin, and all the rest but because golf-maths would make for a very robotic experience – but I never came to a point where I felt Yui was being honest or accurate with me.
What should have been the tense joy of putting fares no better: There’s virtually no information or feedback at all during the one part of golf where everybody definitely needs as much usable data and fine control as possible. Or you would do in a normal golf game anyway – Battle Golfer deems a successful putt to be any time the ball touches the hole so long as it’s travelling at less than 100mph at the time. There are no nerve-jangling almosts, no slow circling of the hole – not even a generic close-up graphic of the ball hitting its mark. It all makes the one part of the game where you have the most direct input in the outcome feel like nothing more than rough guesswork and sours the optional golf mode too, turning what could have been a good reason to return to the game or even to bring a friend along for some multiplayer battle golfing into a woolly waste of everyone’s time.
I still adore that title and the idea behind it but I came away from this feeling as if I’ve played an entire game and yet somehow we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of how great android battle golf could be: the adventure mode’s plot is wafer thin, always daring itself to be different but never being brave enough to follow through in any way that actually makes you feel excited, and the downer ending that concludes with Yui accidentally causing more deaths than the big evil cyborg boss ever dreamed of and expressing no discernible reaction either way is an unsatisfying climax to both the character and the story. The battle golf, literally the game’s title and the central theme on which everything in here is built, turns out to be nothing more than regular golf with optional special assists and the very (very) occasional passive stage hazard. Battle Golfer Yui needed to be either a rock-solid golf game with an off-the-wall story added for a bit of fun, or have the adventure mode be so unapologetically daft the sporting side of things was just the unexpected icing on the cake. As it stands this graphically underwhelming adventure utterly squanders its core concept and will leave fans of adventure games, golf, and oddball import titles all better served elsewhere.