Version tested: Wii
Golf is not the most accessible of sports and, in this, Tiger Woods on the Wii certainly achieves parity. Rather fittingly, most of your early attempts to play the ball fall short of the mark, or fly off into the woods. What's annoying about this is that it really needn't be the case.
The problem is that the game starts off by encouraging you to treat the controller like a golf club. This it is not. Tiger Woods on the Wii is about as close to real golf as shouting is to being a piano. What you're doing looks a bit like a normal golf action, but there are things you need to bear in mind that the game is curiously reluctant to acknowledge, leaving the appetent beginner - for want of a better phrase - somewhat handicapped.
The basic instruction is to grip the Wiimote like a golf club (never mind that it's not really long enough), hold the B button, draw it back and then swing.
This only works up to a point. The on-screen backswing doesn't mirror your movements in the way that, for example, the baseball game in Wii Sports reflects the slightest tremor in your wrist, so the first thing you need to do is slow down your backswing so that the on-screen equivalent has time to catch up - otherwise you can end up jiggling the Wiimote around at shoulder height, puzzling over how to get the in-game club to go any higher.
Take it at a steady pace and you're fine, and then once the on-screen club is at its highest ebb, you can swing through cleanly and off the ball goes. Playing shorter shots is simply a case of interrupting the backswing at an earlier stage.
But, annoyingly, the lack of a direct relationship between your action and that of your on-screen golfer means that you can't easily tell when the game is reading your movement and when it is not. In practice, if you press the B button and then shift your weight or incline your wrists slightly without thinking about it, the game may start reading your backswing too early - something it's impossible to discern. With a backswing initiated, the game continues to read as you start your wind-up, and then when the Wiimote accelerates through the air or twists as it approaches shoulder height, the game decides you've started your downswing when you haven't, and so your shot is played prematurely and botched for no obvious reason.
Were the game clearer about when it has started reading your backswing, rather than relying on the animation to provide feedback, this would be less of a problem. (Were the game to actually tell you how it worked during the tutorial rather than spouting nonsense, it would be even less of one.)
Failure is exacerbated by other, minor problems, like the way the game doesn't seem to read input at all until all the screen clutter has disappeared half a second after you press B. Move during this time and it gets confused again. Putting, meanwhile, obviously involves a much more compact swing, but while the instruction booklet encourages "a quick flick" to avoid playing the ball too far, the game rarely picks up on this. A better approach is to press B, wait for the screen to clear, angle the remote slightly so that the backswing starts and then shuffle it forward elaborately to interrupt.
On the plus side, EA has included a couple of new features that ease the pain. First, there's a little box in the bottom-right that pops up after the ball is struck and tells you how far it's going (100% of the club's optimal length, 75%, etc.) as well as illustrating whether you hooked or sliced it with a bendy arrow. The second thing is a facility to practice your swing by pressing the minus button. This removes the ball from the picture, but keeps the box that tells you how good your swing was. Once you've got the knack and a suitable distance, you can try and replicate the shot for real.
The other factor you need to consider is sidespin. In golf, sidespin ("draw" and "fade") occurs when the club-face is misaligned at the point of contact with the ball, either deliberately (if you're a crafty professional) or more likely completely by accident (if you're the sort of hopeless amateur who spends a lot of time fishing balls out of the pond). Cleverly, Tiger Woods' approach is to have you twist the Wiimote in your hands once you've pressed B, thus cluing the game into your plan. "Aha!" says the game, "he's going to try and bend it round that tree." Except, of course, the game doesn't say this, and sometimes misreads your twist as the start of the backswing. Cf all that moaning earlier.
Fortunately, you can turn that off by opting for the insultingly named "Easy" difficulty. With this, Tiger Woods is very much the experience you'll find on other formats - simple to grasp, but with mastery largely a function of golfing acumen. The difficulty curve is aided by the "aiming circle" - a big round target on the fairway that becomes bigger the more ambitious your choice of shot, giving you a visual indicator as to the balance of risk and reward, and probably encouraging you to play more conservatively as a result.
Should you find yourself sailing towards the rough of course, you can always try and bounce yourself away from trouble by making use of Woods' bizarrely enduring system of aftertouch, which allows you to add backspin or indeed any manner of spin to the ball while it's in the air. Whereas past games had you hammer a shoulder button, the Wii version has you hold a direction on the d-pad and shake the Wiimote vigorously.
Armed as you now are with all this knowledge of how the game works, you'll then be in a position to explore the content - and discover that it draws on elements of the other console versions in a mix-and-match sort of fashion. It has 18 courses, compared to 21 on the PS2 and 12 on the Xbox 360, while the Tiger Challenge mode is different but still extremely familiar: the idea is to take on 20 opponents in a variety of modes (matchplay, one-ball, etc.), eventually coming face to face with Tiger himself. A full PGA Tour mode in addition to Tiger Challenge ensures that there's a huge amount of golf to be played before you've seen everything the game has to offer.
You can also create your own custom character and build him or her up from nothing, earning experience points every time you play, but this version of Woods doesn't have the 360's experience system, still relying on you to drag points into each category manually. What it does have of course - this being the Wii - is a goodly number of multiplayer modes, including battle golf, bloodsome and greensome, one-ball and various mini-games like "T-I-G-E-R" (think "H-O-R-S-E" in basketball).
Content wasn't likely to be the problem though - EA's learned its lesson after the Tiger Woods 06 Xbox 360 fiasco - so let's get back to the key issue: the controls. It's important to separate a couple of things in addressing whether they're good or not. They are - as must be rather obvious by now - poorly explained and demonstrated, and remain slightly bewildering for several hours, and that's just bad design. In and of themselves, however, they're not bad mechanics; there's a margin of error that requires skill and patience to reduce, and a thoroughly tried and trusted assembly of content into which to plough the hours required. Standard and Advanced difficulty levels mean that as you improve, you can demand more of yourself, as the game proves readier to punish you for hooks and slices.
What's more, you can actually plug in the Nunchuk control and play it with an analogue stick, at which point it's more or less the same as the last PS2 game - except I can't find a way to get the extra 10 percent of distance the Wiimote applies when you increase the speed of your downswing.
"You might have mentioned the Nunchuk earlier, old beast." Yes, I might have done. But I didn't think it was all that relevant, and - let's be honest, Mystery Voice Man - neither do you. Nobody's primary interest in Tiger Woods on the Wii - debutant or devotee - is whether it can be played with the analogue stick. It's all about the Wiimote. Persevere with Nintendo's prodigious little joy-stick, and you'll be richly rewarded, because there's a good game in here.
The problem is that it's harder to find than a green ball in deep rough. This reduces the game to a rather cumbersome multiplayer activity - or at least one you'll all have to train for separately - and while it's hard to deny the charm of the controls once you've gotten to grips with them, it's rather easier to deny it marks on the basis of how silly the game is about getting you to that point. The sad thing is, that with necessary refinement, this could be one of the Wii's best.
7 / 10