He may not be the unbeatable prodigy that he used to be, but Tiger Woods has become just about the only game in town when it comes to golf video games. Bolstering this standing that much more, EA Sports kicks off the launch of the PSP with a game simply titled Tiger Woods PGA Tour, which is basically a shrunken-down version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004...with a little bit of 2005 mixed in for good measure. It's almost boggling that such a complete package can be had on a handheld, and it's one that will be difficult for anyone with a taste for golf (or just golf video games) to resist.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour features a solid implementation of the analog swing mechanic the series has been refining for years now. It's extremely intuitive. You just push down and up on the PSP's analog disc, and you'll watch your golfer move in tandem. Any deviations off the vertical axis will result in some curve on your ball, though the game isn't particularly punishing in this regard. The right shoulder button can be tapped while you're swinging to give your shot a little extra kick, and while the ball's in the air, you can use the right shoulder button in tandem with the analog disc to control the spin on it. Those already familiar with Tiger will be able to pick up the game instantly, and thanks to the forgiving mechanics and a good hands-on tutorial, it's pretty easy to pick up...even if you've never played a golf game before.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 introduced the "Game Face" feature, a character creation system that let you customize the appearance of your golfer to an almost absurd level. Game Face comes through in Tiger for the PSP, though it's not the "Game Face II" found in Tiger 2005, which added even more depth to the process, including a swing editor. Still, the character creation system here will likely exceed the needs of most players, what with 36 specific physical traits for you to play with.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour streamlines the different modes of play that have been available in the past. At the top of the list is the efficiently self-descriptive quick play mode, which is, as you might anticipate, good for playing a game...quickly. The legend tour represents the most substantial mode in Tiger, putting your custom golf pro through dozens of head-to-head and tournament games that have been broken up into rookie, pro, and legend ranks. The legend challenges mode represents yet another repackaging of the old scenario mode found in past Tiger Woods entries. As before, these challenges present you with a series of specific scenarios, whether it's coming back from a string of bogeys or playing the toughest greens the game has to offer. As established Tiger players should expect, these scenarios are rather good at testing specific sets of skills.
Beating your competitors in the legend tour and winning medals in the legend challenges mode both earn you a fairly substantial cash prize, as will the various sponsorships you'll pick up along the way. And all this glimmer can be put to good use in the pro shop, where you can purchase a ridiculously wide array of performance-enhancing gear. The money can also go directly into your character's skill stats. The game doesn't start off particularly brutally, and as you improve your character, it actually seems to get easier in some respects, though the computer-controlled opponents you'll face will do a good job of matching your impossible string of eagles. By contrast, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 was considerably easier. So it seems EA Sports has learned its lesson and decided to retune the game a bit for the PSP.
Though EA hasn't taken its PSP games online yet, Tiger Woods PGA Tour still offers some great multiplayer options. You can go head-to-head with another player using the built-in Wi-Fi functionality. There are standard stroke, skins, match, and long drive shootout games, as well as the new "Bingo Bango Bongo" mode. BBB is sort of like speed golf, though instead of solely rewarding speed, you're also rewarded for the longest drive and for getting your ball closest to the pin. The pacing in BBB is frantic, and really, it doesn't quite jive with the overall pacing of the rest of the game, which is otherwise much more methodical. The wireless multiplayer in Tiger is honestly a little clunky, allowing both players to have menu controls, which can create a tug-o-war dynamic. But it's still quite usable. More interesting still is the game's party play mode, which lets up to four players compete on a single PSP in short-form skins, long drive shootouts, and stroke games by simply passing it around. This mode seems like it would be particularly attractive for lengthy road trips.
Aside from the breadth of content in Tiger Woods PGA Tour, the most impressive thing about the game is the way it looks. It appears to be running on the same engine that powers the console Tiger games. A lot of the details have been simplified. Specifically, the character models seem to have fewer polygons to them, and the textures are noticeably blurrier. Even still, it maintains a nice, realistic look and even includes a few of the dramatic camera angles that have lent the series a distinctive flavor in recent years. All this "pretty" comes at a bit of a price, though...specifically in terms of time. Tiger Woods PGA Tour has some pretty serious load times all over the place. This would be quite a detriment to more-action-oriented games, but golf doesn't suffer from a more disciplined tempo.
Gary McCord and David Feherty have been the commentary team for Tiger Woods PGA Tour for years now, and you can tell this by how comfortable they sound here. Their deliveries are natural, unhurried, and more irreverent than ever. Even though this means you'll have to hear a few more bad puns from Feherty, it can be amusing when one of the two miscalls a shot and the other chides him for it. Outside of the commentary, the environmental sounds establish a natural feel, though some of the crowd noises are more like gibberish than the vocalizations of excited gallery onlookers. The sound is rounded out by a nice selection of tracks--most of which are relegated to menus--from dance music producer BT. Still, they help establish a uniformly relaxed ambiance to the game, complementing the overall mood nicely.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour for the PSP is, across the board, the best handheld golf game to date. Though it lacks the online play and a few other details found in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005, it's actually a better game in some ways, as it takes the sport a little more seriously. Though there isn't any direct competition for Tiger just yet, this is still one of the best choices a sports fan can make at the US launch of the PSP.