Version tested: Wii
Despite the perfectly snug fit between golf and the Wii, last year's Tiger Woods offering felt like a lazy PS2 port with some token motion control tacked on. The good news is that for the '09 edition, EA has made an appreciable effort to give the Wii a distinct Tiger to call its own. The excellent news is that they've also included most of the new features from the 360 and PS3 versions. The slightly disappointing news is that the motion control, while vastly improved from last year, remains likely to frustrate as many as it pleases.
This is partly because until the MotionPlus add-on arrives, the remote still isn't quite up to the job of truly replicating your swing on-screen. It does a good job of creating the illusion of true 1-to-1 motion capture, with your golfer's virtual arms moving in sync with your own, but the power still seems to be gauged more by the height and fluidity of the upswing than whatever effort you exert in real life. This makes gauging the power of short game strokes something of a dark art - and one the game seems reluctant to help you learn.
Putting is the other problem area. Some people love the new system. Some have come to accept its somewhat quirky nature. Plenty, however, have found it so counter-intuitive that they've dismissed it as broken. It's not broken, exactly, but nor is it particularly well implemented. Unlike the feedback-free drives, putts rely on a twitchy power bar and figuring out the relationship between the level of the gauge and the length of your shot can be a long and irritating process. I even found more success by landing deliberately off the green, and then chipping the ball into the hole from the border rather than racking up shots with the putter.
It doesn't help that the holes sometimes seem to be protected by force fields, with perfectly good shots breaking around the rim all too often or stopping short. This rather clumsy system makes it too easy to turn an easy Birdie into a Bogey, or worse. Of course, putting is the bane of many golfer's lives, so the flipside to these grumbles is that this version of the game is the one most likely to feel "right" to real golfers. Once you've worked out the relationship between your movements and the action, stick it on the harder difficulty settings and success depends much more on your ability to read the green, or control the club, than the other console versions.
All of which sounds quite daunting for a game on the populist Wii, and that's where the All-Play concept comes in. Designed to allow everyone to join in, regardless of skill or coordination, playing with All-Play activated shows you exactly where every shot will land - all you need to do is swing your arms. It's laughably simple really, and makes it all but impossible to screw shots up.
It's not really clear what the purpose is though. You're not learning anything by playing in this mode, and you won't get any better at the game. Those playing normally certainly won't want to play against someone using All-Play, since it effectively means you're playing against a foolproof golfing robot. It gives the game an unbalanced feel, and it's a feeling that it never quite shakes. It's either pointlessly easy or frustratingly tricky, and there's not much room for the averagely skilled player to find their niche. Even if the game simply allowed you calibrate the top of your swing when you create your golfer, physically determining the parameters of your game, the ability to consistently hit medium strength shots would be more attainable. As it is, you may find yourself changing clubs to reduce the maximum distance rather than trusting your own arms, which is an odd way to play.
Building up your skills through the career mode is still your best bet for improved performance, and the game offers tournaments through 2009 and beyond. Impatient pros can skip straight to the FedEx Cup, or you can test yourself against the big names in the Tiger Challenge section. These challenges are actually different to the other console versions, and concentrate more on winning holes against real-life golfers than the smaller tests of power and accuracy that 360 and PS3 owners get to try.
Other features winging their way over from the other consoles include the Club Tuner, a very handy workshop that lets you customise each club to compensate for any recurring hooks or slices, or just to lengthen their range at the expense of accuracy. The character designer is also much more robust than previous Wii outings, offering the same level of detail as the other versions even though the ability to import your own face hasn't been included. This being a Wii game, they've also included a suite of mini-games alongside the impressive selection of more serious golfing modes. It's doubtful that most sensible players will appreciate the chance to play keepy-uppy with a golf ball, or use the remote to try and pull other player's shots off-course in mid-air, but there's enough serious business that such frivolity can be tolerated.
Perhaps most excitingly, the simultaneous online play has made its debut on the Wii at the same time as its more powerful, and more net-friendly, rivals. This means you can play a round of golf against friends (using either existing Wii codes or EA's own login system) or just dive into a game against whoever is online. Rather than taking turns, you play at the same time, with your opponents' shots represented on-screen by colourful trajectory lines. It's not as smooth as it was on the 360, with the other player's shots sometimes jerking about the fairway, but it's a huge improvement for a console that is almost always under represented in the online stakes.
It's just a shame that the game hasn't received a graphical facelift to accompany the influx of new features. For a console so famous for its bright and colourful games, it's rather bizarre that Tiger Woods on the Wii is such a drab experience. The golfers themselves look okay, but spotting the point where the fairway turns to green can be surprisingly tricky. It's also strange that the spectators have vanished - though you can still hear them. Given that even the PS3 and 360 crowds were just made up of bog-standard looped mannequins, it seems like a peculiar omission.
Even with the dreary visuals Tiger Woods 09 is certainly the best golf game on the Wii so far. For players who can get to grips with the slightly opaque nuances of control needed to hit the medium shots and putting, it's arguably the best version across all the consoles. And yet I can't quite bring myself to give it the same 9/10 as I gave the 360 version, simply because there's significantly more room for improvement on the Wii where precision and feedback is concerned. With the addition of MotionPlus, the Wii version of Tiger Woods 2010 should be phenomenal. For now it's just very, very good.
8 / 10