Even Injured, Tiger's Got Game
It may be getting a little colder outside as fall is upon us, and you might not have the luxury of flying to beautiful California, Hawaii, or in a completely different country like the pros do. What's a golf enthusiast to do? Sure, you could play Hot Shots Golf (a great series in its own right), but you certainly wouldn't get the real feel of the playing. Step up to the tee and take on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 All-Play for the Nintendo Wii-- an experience that is as close to the bermuda fairways of the real thing as you'll get on any other console or game. The previous two Wii entries were failed experiments overall, but with the inclusion of more fine-tuned controls, a bevy of new mini-games, and an online mode, does PGA Tour 09 make the cut this year?
One of the 22 real-world courses in this content-heavy golf game.
This is Sun City's signature hole-- number nine.
This is Sun City's signature hole-- number nine.
The first thing you'll notice as your peruse the start menu of Tiger Woods 09 is that there are a LOT of options and content to open yourself up to. The greatest time-sinker is the Career mode where players create their own golfer and put him or her through three specific modes. Firstly, there's the PGA Tour Season which starts you out as a rookie playing through the amateur leagues for a year all the way up to the Q-School tournament where making the top 30 rewards with you with an entry into the big show, the PGA Tour. You can play up to thirty years taking part in 1-4 round competitions tournaments, all the while advancing your career by receiving new sponsorships, staying on the top of the FedExCup and money leaderboards, and performing well in events. The second option is the FedExCup itself. This mode allows you to skip the drama of a season and jump directly into a four-tournament playoff with the best score determining the overall champion.
Finally, there's the Tiger Challenge which is the most varied of the three Career mode paths. This mode requires you to accumulate enough points to go man-to-man (or woman in Annika Sorenstam's case) with one of seven pro golfers. This is accomplished by completing some of a given pro's nine challenges-- each challenge gives you points. Earn enough points, and you can take on the pro of that given level. By completing a level's pro, you go on to the next pro's challenges and so on until your final match play round with Tiger Woods himself. The aforementioned challenges consist of short rounds of stroke, match, or skins play against a fictitious (and done right offensive-looking) amateur golfer. There's also long drive, nearest to the pin, and putting challenges as well to keep the variety flowing. Persistent players will want to get 100% on every Career mode as that unlocks new golfers as well as new items to purchase in the Pro Shop.
However, you'll need a golfer to put those new items on. Your created character is yours to sculpt. Everything from head, ear, nose, mouth, eye, body, muscle, arm, leg, and any-other-body-part-not-mentioned size is available for you to alter. Then you can enter the Pro Shop with the money earned from various challenges and competitions to get yourself some presentable clothes... or just go my way of wearing an untucked button-down shirt and cargo pants and say the hell with course etiquette. You can purchase hats, glasses, shirts, slacks, shorts, shoes, socks, sandals, accessories, golf equipment, even victory and defeat animations, and much more. In total there are over 2,500 items available for purchase inside the Pro Shop, so start saving up (but don't invest in any American stocks right now). After taking your custom-tailored golfer out of the womb and straight into the world of golf, you might want to adjust your clubs if you feel that you're not getting what you want out of your shots. This is where the Club Tuner feature comes in. You can literally calibrate your clubs to tinker them to the point of your own personal satisfaction.
Not content on just having an expansive Career mode for players to lose their lives in, but this year for the Wii installment, EA included a Party mode. Now I know what you're thinking, "gee, Phil, this is probably some dumbed-down mini-game crap, man! I'm so hardcore! I don't need dat $@##, mother--" Shut your mouth! Actually, this mode would better be called an arcade-themed mode. Sure, you have two dopey events where you try to juggle one or a series of golf balls on your club as well as a mode where you drive your golf cart over golf balls to collect the most before time runs out, but that's really the only oddities in the bunch. Otherwise you have true tests of skills with a capture the flag type putting game where there's a myriad of holes strewn about the green and the goal is to take turns trying to see who can "capture" or sink the most holes within the round limit. There's also a driving contest to see who can break the most the most targets within 90 seconds-- the smallest and furthest away targets being the ones that are worth the most points-- as well as a game where a number of large targets are spread out across a landscape and the goal is to drive your ball to a target-- again, the hardest to reach greens are worth the most points. At the beginning of Party mode, players can choose how many games they'll play-- either 5, 10, or 15. The player with the most points from things like mini-game wins and mid-game bonuses wins overall. The biggest inclusion to Party mode is the hilariously entertaining Ball Battles. Any shot from any player can be slowed down to enter a ball battle. While the ball is in motion, players can use the B button to grab onto the ball and flick it gradually towards another direction to either influence the ball to a big play or to influence your friends or relatives into thinking you're a big bastard. Guess which friend was considered the big bastard? Yeah...
Speaking of big things, the biggest new addition in the eyes of most players is that of online play. Madden's had it for a year on the Wii, but this is Tiger's first online foray for the Wii, and quite honestly it's one of the best online experiences to be had on Nintendo's white console. As with all EA Wii games, you need not use those dreaded friend codes. If you've played a past EA online game on the Wii, you'll already have your tag which covers every past, current, and future online EA Wii project. Pretty cool, huh? Even if you don't have one yet, it's as simple as logging in online via the game lobby and creating one. You can choose to play with a total stranger, set up your own game, or hook up with friends using the EA messenger to create buddy lists and contact them easily. If you've played Camelot's We Love Golf from this past summer, you probably noticed that online play was simply relegated to match play only. Tiger Woods 09 gives the player more options. Not only can you play in turns, but you can also play simultaneously meaning that 2-4 players can partake in stroke play without waiting for another to finish a given shot. And if you've played a boneheaded CPU opponent in match play on easy mode-- oh, now playing his fourth shot in a row-- you'll know what I'm talking about in saying that this is a godsend. It's as if you're playing a round all to yourself, but your opponents' shots are displayed in real-time by a colored line for you to keep tabs. Scores are updated in between holes.
And if THAT wasn't enough, there's a total of twenty-two world-renowned courses for your clubs to go to town on. These range from the coastal and picturesque beauty of Pebble Beach to the mountainous and rugged valleys of Wolf Creek, from the vibrant and vivid grasses of South Africa's Sun City to going down under to take on Australia's The National golf course, and that's just four of the 22! In total, there's 396 individual, regulation holes in all, so rest assured there's plenty of holes to sink your balls into.
...No, I'm not going near the gutter this time. Moving on.
A great feature the developers added was the ability to change the difficulty of your opponents as well as the various courses on the fly. You'll earn more money for completing courses at higher difficulties than you would on easy mode. So if the game's too easy for you, tune up how hard the game will be to your satisfaction. You can make greens more complicated, the wind blow more fiercely, and so on. Unfortunately, a feature that is present in the arcade golf titles that is missing in Tiger Woods 09 is a record feature to watch your best shots and show them to your friends. Why is it in a game with no record feature I've made 19 hole in ones and 7 double eagles, but in games with record features I've made considerably less? Damn you, video game golf gods!!!
There's obviously a remarkable amount of content available, but it's all lost if the game plays like 07 or even 08. Thankfully, this isn't the case at all control-wise. Tiger Woods 09 is a brilliant step-up, and it honestly comes off as one of the best golf controls period. Now that isn't to say it's perfect either, but it's darned good. To get a grip on the lie and the area where your ball will approximately land, you just hit the A button on the Wii remote-- no nunchuks required. A single tap will slowly zoom the camera onto the circle's (where the ball will land) position whereas a double tap will quickly zoom in to give you an idea of what type of shot is required. The control pad is used to move the circle around, bring it in, move it left, etc. Get the double-click analog method and any meters out of your mind. There's none of that until putting which we'll get to in a bit. To swing, hold the B button in, swing back and then forward. You can also press the - button to practice your swing. The speed of your backward and forward swings affects how hard your drives or shots will let loose. While in the air, you can press a direction on the control pad and start shaking the remote to give the ball some extra juice. Maybe you didn't give enough juice to your shot. You can try to make up for this by holding up on the control pad and waggling the Wii remote to give it a modest amount more kick.
A lot of the time you'll be faced with challenges regarding your short game. If hitting a shot 100% will send the ball flying past the hole and hitting the ball 70% will make it hit the green, what can you do? This is where practice pays off and makes the game much more rewarding than on the other consoles. By not swinging as far back, your shot won't be as strong allowing you to get more technique in your short game. It takes practice, but once you nail it, it really is an awesome feeling.
Probably what's the most frustrating part of playing Tiger Woods 09 early on is that of putting. It's definitely not broken or anything like that, but without understanding what you're doing fully it seems that way-- at least it did for me (again at first). Regardless, putting is much trickier than it should be. It certainly has a minor learning curve. When on the green, you're given your putter. This isn't a one putter show either. That thing's brought his whole family. I believe there's five putters in all each for different jobs. Too far away for the 5 ft putter? Bring out his bigger brother then. The traditional grid on the green shows the severity of the slopes and which way the green breaks if at all. This as well as the right putter choice makes all the difference. Nonetheless, you basically have to get a feel of how far you should putt something to see how close it gets to the hole-- and how it breaks. This is where the putt preview comes in. While on the green, hit the - button when you've thought of what you want to do for your shot. The putt preview will show what line the ball will take at that putting strength (1-100%) factoring in slope and green speed. If the preview says the shot will miss, it's up to you to compensate it all on your own as you only get one preview per hole (it wouldn't really be fair otherwise). The putt preview isn't always 100% accurate either. I've had it where the preview say the ball will go dead in the hole at the current strength, and when I putted it, the ball didn't have near enough juice to reach the hole. Bah, Jack Nicklaus made it look so easy!
On the gameplay side of the course, most everything is quite good. When you step into the that back nine into presentation, things get pretty crazy. For one thing, the commentary is very much unchanged from last year, but the commentators certainly aren't. This year we have Kelly Tillman and Sam Torrance. I'd be more than thrilled with them if they knew what the hell they were talking about most of the time. I love their expert analysis when I'm on a green that's severely breaking right and Kelly goes, "Don't think about it. It's a straight putt." Yeah... You must still think Clay Aiken's straight, too, right? Oh, crap, I'm using obnoxious pop culture references now. Brilliant. Then there's Torrance who's always there to make your bad shots even worse. Impossible putt that I narrowly miss and he goes, "This is some of the worst putting I've ever seen." Ouch.
The graphics are quite a modest (see: lazy) effort, too. Everything is Playstation 2-level quality. The water is as smooth and graceful as a drunk elephant, the trees are as static as cable TV owners who won't upgrade to digital in February 2009, and the majority of faux golfers are incredibly tacky, ugly, and repugnant. Totally unacceptable. The textures of the greens, fairways, and bunkers aren't too bad, however, and my created golfer and the pro golfers look satisfactory enough. The point is that while the graphics aren't certainly grotesque or an eye-sore, they could be much better if effort was put into the visuals as much as it was put into the gameplay. At the very least it wasn't the other way around. To round out the package, there's some nice tracks which play through the various menus as well as during gameplay (if you choose to do so from the options, that is).
Despite any graphical shortcomings, Tiger Woods 09's gameplay and the exhausting amount of content in this fifty dollar Wii disc are more than worth it. Add in some MotionPlus next year, more new courses, a few absent options from the HD versions, and/or more up-to-par graphics, and the next installment will undoubtedly be better. So don't feel depressed or disappointed if you're wasting away this winter because you're unable to go outside and hit the links because now you can because Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 All-Play for the Wii is the best golf-gaming experience available. And here's the bonus: you won't even have to wait behind the two boneheads who've spent the past hour arguing over whether or not the ball in the lake is a playable lie!
Graphics: Nothing sensational, but there's a lot that's not very good. It's average at best, embarrassing at worst.
Gameplay: I don't know how I can honestly go back to analog controls and love them as much as I love this.
Sound: Cool music from Jimmy Eat World and more-- all without vocals to not clash with the commentators who can fetch my shagged balls from the drink. Man, that sounded dirty, too.
Replay Value: There's so much here that you might be playing all the way until next year's game.
Overall: 9.0/10 - Fantastic. Even if you have a feign interest in golf, you need to try this game out. It's wonderful.