Ignore the kid-friendly look of the box and the goofy All-Play tagline that mar the Nintendo Wii edition of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09. Yes, this looks like the preteen version of the EA Sports golf game, but it packs a real punch when it comes to faithfully re-creating an afternoon on the links. Brilliant controls that almost perfectly mimic real golf swings and a suite of great Wii-only party games make this the best version of Tiger Woods released this year. Developer Tiburon has nailed this one straight down the fairway, putting together a game geared to both serious golfers looking to take some realistic cuts and dabbling duffers up for hacking around with the wife and kids.
What really separates the Wii's take on Tiger Woods 09 from its cousins on the 360 and PlayStation 3 are the motion-sensitive controls. You simply point the Wii Remote toward the floor and hold down the B button to take over the golfer's movements, then pull back and push forward as if you were swinging a real golf club. Remarkably golflike action then ensues. You can hold the remote almost exactly like an actual golf club, using a real hand-over-hand golf grip. It doesn't feel totally authentic due to the lack of weight at the end of the remote, though. While you swing and follow through just as if you were out on a real course, you feel a bit off-balance because you're basically swinging an invisible club. So accuracy can be a problem, as well as trying to control the power of your swing for distance. It's easy to put too much oomph into shots and blow well past the pin, and then overcompensate and wind up leaving the shot dozens of yards too short.
But these issues are really just growing pains. Controls here are so accurate that you'll quickly get accustomed to the weightless club, and you'll soon have no problems judging how much effort is needed to hit specific distances. In a short time, even a seasoned golfer can swing the Wii Remote like a real golf club. If you're having major problems, you can dumb things down by going to the All-Play control option, which provides trails showing the ball's direction and other aids.
Just about every shot in the arsenal of a pro golfer is available here, from draws to fades to punches. Some creativity was needed in this department, largely because so many golf shots rely on things like stance and foot positioning. So to mimic these movements, Tiger Woods 09 exaggerates wrist twists. Pull your hands over while swinging, for instance, and you can fire a nifty draw. As you might expect from this carpal tunnel-challenging description, these sorts of shots are not particularly easy. Rounds of golf here are real workouts for the upper body, especially if you want to play like a pro and up the difficulty setting to use the entire lineup of wrist-breaking shots. Success is awfully sweet when it comes, however. It feels as if you have actually accomplished something on the golf course at the end of a round.
Putting, however, could be better. Things get rather touchy on the green, largely because the remote isn't sensitive enough. Putting should be all about the fine touch. But here you have to swing the remote just like you do drives, slamming forward at full speed to get to the hole even on little nubbers from five or six feet. It's a huge problem initially. You can easily hit the green in two or three and then hit a wall where you need seven or eight putts to finish things off. Once you sort of get used to the amount of power needed for putts, you can start sinking 30- and 40-footers. You can also push the shot target well past the hole to lessen the need to really crank your putts, although it's absurd to have to do this with every single shot. Doing this also forces you to fool around with the target and try to guess how much extra distance added here will make the putt seem the most realistic in terms of how much swing effort is needed. The motion never feels much like real putting, and right now it stands out as the lone sore point in an otherwise stellar simulation of a real golf swing.
And what would a Wii game be without a pile of family-friendly extras? Here, both adults and kiddies can enjoy loads of Golf Party minigames for two to four players made exclusively for the Wii version of Tiger Woods 09. None of these games are all that inventive, being mainly focused around standard golf-game novelties like hitting targets, driving for distance, and so on. Still, they fit the bill nicely for those moments when you and some buddies don't have the time or the desire to play a real round of fake golf. Ball battles spice up all of the target shooting and long driving, too. You can now trigger fights for a rival's ball after a shot, and then chuck the thing into the rough if you gain possession. All in all, this is an interesting idea, although it just drags things out unless you're having a rough day and want to wreck somebody else's game. Online multiplayer for single-stroke play rounds is also offered for up to four players. It seems smooth and lag-free for the most part during matches, although its lack of more involved modes of play such as tournaments limits the appeal somewhat.
Everything else in Wii Tiger Woods 09 is pretty much exactly like what is featured in the versions for both 360 and PS3. The same lineup of two dozen or so male and female pros is included, headlined by Tiger Woods and stars such as Colin Montgomerie, Mike Weir, Annika Sorenstam, and Se Ri Pak. Tiger Woods' coach Hank Haney is on hand to offer up more advice here, and to walk through the mechanics of the Wii Remote swing. You play the same roster of courses, including legendary links like Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass, and St. Andrews. The only drawback to the course selection is familiarity. It seems like every one of these courses has been included in every worthwhile golf game released since Links 386, so the deja vu kicks in early. Primary modes of play are also ported over. So you can take on traditional golf games like stroke play matches, skins, and best ball, along with arcade challenges such as Rings, where you try to hit the ball through rings spread along the course, and Battle Golf, where the winner of each hole gets to take a club from his opponent's bag. The big draw here, however, is the PGA Tour option in career play, an incredibly deep and involved sim of life on the road as a budding golf pro. It hasn't changed much in the Tiger Woods series over the past few years, although it is still very involving and capable of consuming a few hundred hours of your spare time.
Visual presentation is the only place where Tiger Woods 09 for the Wii falters in comparison with its 360 and PS3 cousins. Even then, this is one of the better-looking games available on the system, with sharp graphics and smooth animations that put it about on par with the best PS2 titles. Yet because the Wii can't compete with its big-brother consoles when it comes to eye candy, the game suffers somewhat. It's tough to really bask in the golf atmosphere at a place like Pebble Beach when you could cut yourself on the palm tree jaggies. But the visuals are certainly more than good enough if you're not wildly picky, and they never get in the way of the action, which always flows smoothly and quickly. Audio is a bit behind the times as well. Sound effects in the other console versions of the game seem to have been stripped away, leaving you stuck listening to the same yahoo in the crowd screaming "In the hole!" every other shot and boring, canned play-by-play commentary. Additionally, the announcer has an annoying habit of calling out exactly where your shot is going to end up before it lands. It takes some fun out of watching a shot when the booth jockey always interrupts with unerring comments like, "It looks like that one might catch the sand."
Even with the putting and presentation issues, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 All-Play is both a great golf game and a significant accomplishment. Where so many Wii sports games are simply second-rate ports of games from other consoles with new control systems tacked on, this game really takes advantage of the Wii's unique strengths and proves that it can be a stellar sports gaming platform for both kids and adults.