Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters remains the top golf sim for virtual swingers. Even though the series embraces the Move motion controller in its PlayStation 3 edition this year, superior controls in the Wii version of the game still make it the best way to play video game golf. This year's sequel builds on the outstanding Wii remote controls from the last two years, which show the MotionPlus attachment at its best, making for lifelike drives for show and putts for dough. The new game also refashions everything around trying to earn an illustrious green jacket at the famous Masters tournament, which lends the proceedings a gravitas that golf fans can't help but appreciate.
What you notice when firing up Tiger Woods 12 for the first time is how much the game has been reskinned to take advantage of its Masters theme. This isn't so much a Tiger and PGA game as it is a Masters game, since golf's biggest star and its biggest professional organization take a backseat to the annual tournament hosted by Augusta National Golf Club. The opening cinematic is all about the Masters. The menu screens are loaded with photos of Augusta National. The game opens with a playable intro that walks you through the final shots of Tiger Woods winning a green jacket. And, most importantly, the career mode has been renamed Road to the Masters, with the focus switched from simply progressing from the amateur ranks to the PGA Tour, to doing all of the above plus earning an invitation to this prestigious tournament. As a result, career play is more focused, with a concrete goal behind all of your efforts. Just as the Madden games wrap with a Super Bowl every season and NHL hockey games close with the Stanley Cup final, now you have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
There are other Masters-related frills, too. Along with being able to play Augusta National in one-off rounds, you visit its hallowed links in two other modes. Neither is wildly innovative, but each serves to further place the tournament at the heart of the game and offer tough diversions from single matches and developing a pro career. Masters Moments is a series of nine challenges where you step into the shoes of pros from tourneys past and try to come close to their achievements. These range from back in 1935 all the way to 2010 and include a wide selection of memorable moments such as Jack Nicklaus' eagle and two birdies in 1986, an Arnold Palmer eagle in 1958, and Tiger Woods' incredible seven birdies in a row in 2005. Each challenge can be beaten by getting close to the pro's achievement or mastered by matching or bettering it. This can be extremely hard in spots, because you're called upon to make a couple of unbelievable approach shots to within a few feet from the pin and do things like finish a run of seven grueling holes at four under par. Tiger at the Masters is the other main Masters-related game. It sees you playing as the great one during each of his four Masters victories, with the goal of keeping pace with every round. Fall behind by a single stroke on even one round, and it's back to the drawing board.
Even with the glitz of the Masters, controls are the standout feature of the Wii version of Tiger Woods 12. As in both last year's game and its predecessor, the Wii MotionPlus-enhanced swing mechanics are stellar. Control sensitivity is spot on. Angle the remote even slightly, and the club face moves with it, letting you manually hit fades and draws with relative ease (or slice, with relative annoyance at your incompetence). Drives have real weight to them so that you often find yourself standing back and admiring the ball in flight. Approach shots allow you to feel them out for distance, letting you put a little touch on the ball just as you would in real life. Putting is also dead-on, with just the right amount of effort required whether you're tapping one in or launching lengthy lag putts across the carpet.
With all that said, Wii swinging in Tiger Woods 12 is pretty much the same as it was in Tiger Woods 11. It does feel more lifelike than the similar PS3 Move controls, however. Here, your shots feel realistic no matter where you are on a hole. With the PS3 Move, approach shots are tough to address when you need to play with distance, and putts typically require a great deal of effort, more akin to rowing a canoe against a current than swinging a putter against a little white ball. The Move controls feel a lot like the Wii remote controls did three years ago, before the release of the MotionPlus add-on. So the PS3 has a way to go before catching up to the Wii, at least when it comes to the accuracy of the motion-tracking controls.
Caddies have been added this year as a sort of controller assist. Now, instead of simply being presented with automated shot recommendations or doing it all yourself, an overalls-clad caddie standing off to one side provides verbal tips and pep talks accessed by pressing the minus button. He typically presents a couple of recommendations that often involve a safe shot like laying it up onto the fairway or just trying to hit the green, or an aggressive drive to the flag. The advice provided is not nearly as detailed in the Wii game as it is in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game. Interaction has been stripped back so much that the caddie function has been reduced to bland instructions, so it never seems like you have an ally helping you out. You get basic "do this" comments about things like the break on a putt going left to right, or an overhead diagram of how the caddie thinks the ball will move. This pales in comparison to the much more involved verbal advice in the other versions of the game, which reveal specifics, such as the break being two feet off the cup. Your caddie can still be useful here, since the tips are generally sound, but the illusion that you're dealing with a real person has been lost.
Aside from these new elements, Tiger Woods 12 is structured much like Tiger Woods 11. Progress through career play is the same as it has been in recent years. Everything has a role-playing vibe: you create a pro with a unique look and dress style and then earn experience points on the links for every event. The result is a custom-crafted pro with a skill set in which you can adjust basic abilities such as power and accuracy. Options have been noticeably reduced from the other editions of the game, though, so you're building a much more limited golfer here. You also gradually earn sponsor levels and unlock equipment courtesy of corporations like Nike, Callaway, and Ping. Gear is more limited in the Wii game, however; only clubs boost your skills, unlike in the 360 and PS3 versions of the game, where pretty much every accoutrement buffs one ability or another. If creating a pro doesn't intrigue you, you can also play single rounds of all the traditional golf games with up to four friends locally or online; take part in minigolf, disc golf, golf party, and a host of target-shooting and cart-racing minigames unique to the Wii version of the game; get into online tournaments; and play in the Presidents Cup.
A total of 25 courses come with the game, including a lot of familiar ones, such as St. Andrews and Pebble Beach, along with the big additions of Augusta National and its Augusta National Par 3 sidekick. There are no additional downloadable courses on offer for the Wii, although the out-of-the-box 25 include nine more courses than in the 360 and PS3 games, so you get a bonus up front in compensation. Extra attention has clearly been paid to Augusta. The famous course is loaded with the colorful foliage that gives the holes their specific names. Amen Corner looks very good, particularly the 12th hole known as Golden Bell. It's hard to believe that a scenic little nook tucked away behind a stone bridge and a creek could be such a strain on so many pro golfers' nerves, but such is the beauty and challenge of Augusta National. The usual PGA pros are on board as well, led by the likes of Tiger, Vijay Singh, and Jim Furyk. Newbies this year include Bubba Watson and Rhys Davies.
Commentary has been beefed up with the addition of Jim Nantz, the CBS broadcaster long considered the voice of pro golf. Oddly enough, though, he doesn't have many lines in the game itself. His contributions are mostly limited to cliches during rounds and raves about the Masters in cinematics. After all of the buildup, comments about Augusta National are actually quite subdued. Nantz introduces each hole by name as you play through, but in a very brief fashion. You're told the name and the reason for the name, perhaps given some brief shot advice, and that's about it. So while it's pretty dramatic to have Nantz's voice doing the reading, the insubstantial intros leave a lot to be desired.
Although Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters on the Wii can't be considered any sort of golfing evolution due to its reliance on many of the same features and mechanics found in its immediate two predecessors, the still superb motion controls and the addition of one of pro golf's premier events score it a solid birdie. Being able to go for a green jacket is an impressive goal that gives career mode a kick in the plaid pants, and the other new features, like famous Masters shots and those Tiger wins, further build the illusion of hitting the PGA Tour as a real pro. Add in the intriguing caddie option, and you have a strong sequel that adds just enough impressive new amenities to keep virtual duffers ponying up their virtual greens fees for another round.