Armchair golfers have grown accustomed to getting yearly updates of the Tiger Woods series on consoles, but Nintendo DS owners had to wait nearly three years for their latest Tiger fix. However, that long wait was worth it, because Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 surpasses its predecessor in every possible way. All of the play options you could want are here, including offline and online multiplayer. The new touch-screen swing controls are intuitive and engaging, and though the overall presentation is a touch plain, the onscreen depiction of the various professional golfers and PGA Tour courses is remarkably realistic.
An abundance of play modes let you get in a few quick swings or spend your whole afternoon on the green. You can practice specific holes, go through a full round on any of the eight included PGA courses, test your skills in dozens of golf-inspired minigames (called Tiger Challenges), or take advantage of the built-in memory to gradually work through an entire season. The more you play, the more you'll find yourself bouncing between the different Tiger challenges and PGA events to earn the money necessary to buy into individual contests and to purchase new clothes and better equipment for your custom golfer. Stroke, match, skins, Stableford, and shootout-style configurations are available for both solo and local multiplayer. Match play under the "one ball" option is especially fun because you and a friend have to take alternate shots using the same ball. Sadly, the online component drops match play, but it does allow head-to-head competitions in all of the other configurations.
Wisely, the development team threw out the trace-based shooting mechanic from the previous Tiger Woods game and implemented a more intuitive drag-and-flick mechanic for this latest installment. After selecting a shot type and club from the touch screen, you simply drag the stylus downward on the touch screen to initiate your backswing, and then pull it upward to strike the ball. You can take a brief pause between the backswing and downswing to charge power into the shot, but the overall shot strength and distance is mainly determined by how quickly you draw upward on the touch screen. Dragging in a straight line will result in a straight drive, and angling your stroke will cause the ball to veer to the left or right. Once the ball is in flight, you can put frontspin or backspin on the ball by rapidly drawing upward or downward strokes on the touch screen. As you can see, every aspect of the shot is handled with the touch screen. By and large, this drag-and-flick mechanic mimics the act of swinging a club really well. However, if you prefer the classic button-based tap-and-release mechanic, you can choose that control option from the settings menu.
The putting controls take time to master, and you'll probably gnash your teeth the first few times you're asked to sink the ball from the green. Instead of flicking the stylus, all you have to do is position a target marker to set the power and angle of your shot, and then tap to make contact with the ball. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, given that it isn't immediately obvious how power translates into distance. Likewise, changes in elevation can have a major impact on how far the ball travels. Just like in real golf, you'll need to make a few crummy putts to get a feel for the process.
Apart from putting, most shots are actually easy to get a feel for. You'll get a good idea of the course layout from the flyover view that's shown on the upper screen, and the behind-the-golfer view on the lower screen provides ample cues for the angle you need to try and for any trees you need to watch out for. Other useful information, such as overall distance, wind speed, and caddy hints, is shown onscreen or available from the pause menu.
Seeing the golfers go through their fluid, motion-captured swings is a treat, and the 3D representations of St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, and the other PGA courses look nice, for the most part. The grass patterns and shading are very lifelike, and all of the recognizable terrain features are where they're supposed to be. However, the golfers have only a few canned walk-ups and celebratory actions, and there isn't much going on out on the course. For example, you won't see any spectators, birds, or visible signs of the weather. The graphics also look blocky when the camera pulls in too close to the course, although it mercifully tends to remain at a flattering height most of the time. Still, the visuals at least get the job done, which can't be said for the audio. You'll hear the appropriate ping and clunk noises, as you'd expect, but the rest of the audio consists of occasional applause, some birds squawking, and a whole mess of silence.
Golf isn't exactly a visceral sport, so the understated presentation honestly isn't a major issue. What matters is that the controls are easy to get the hang of, the portrayal of golf is realistic, there are plenty of play modes to keep you occupied, and the multiplayer aspects work like they're supposed to. You also need only a single cartridge to get a local multiplayer game going, which is nice because you don't have to ply 30 dollars away from your friends just to get them to play. Anyone DS owner with even a passing interest in golf owes it to themselves to check out Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08.