You'll never go back: Since Nintendo's action-play console first broke through in 2006, the idea of using the Wii Remote controller as a golf club has piqued the interest of gamers. After playing just a couple rounds of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 09, I can't imagine playing a golf game using with a traditional controller ever again. The developers at Electronic Arts have worked wonders with the 1:1 swing mechanics in this year's edition, as the character on the screen mimics your exact movements with scary accuracy. Pull back slightly on your controller and your player does the same. To attempt a short chip shot, simply take a shorter three-quarters swing with the Wii-mote. If you're a golf lover, prepare to be swept away by an unprecedented level of touch and control.
Hank's helping hand: Lessons from Tiger's real-life coach Hank Haney provide helpful pointers for relative neophytes to the series and veterans looking to take their game to the next level. Hank is omnipresent in Tiger Woods, from inculcating the basic fundamentals and controls at the outset, to fine-tuning your clubs, to on-the-fly tips in your recurring problem areas based on the mistakes you're making. In the surprisingly helpful post-round debriefings, Haney turns the worst shots of your previous round into customized teaching moments.
Play it again, Sam: A lot of the less obvious details go a long way toward boosting the game's replay value. The robust My Career mode is comprised of three standalone modes: PGA Tour Season, the FedExCup and Tiger Challenge. (The Season mode itself involves 35 different 18-hole matches.) In addition to prize money, the acquisition of attribute points provides a major incentive for winning tournaments and moving forward in the game. You can allocate the points across nine different player traits like power, accuracy, putting or concentration, providing a pro-active, experience-based performance boost for your golfer as you move further into the game. Veterans of the Tiger Woods series will be excited to play five completely new courses, including the Gary Player Country Club in South Africa, Wolf Creek in Nevada and Florida's Bay Hill Country Club.
Party time: In following with the recent EA Sports trend, a healthy number of Wii-exclusive Golf Party games round out the package. Two to four players can take part in 15 different irreverent events like speed golf (a Houseguest reference?), golf cart racing and bouncing a ball on a golf club -- a not-so-subtle homage to Tiger's famous 1999 commercial.
Online: The flagship feature of PGA TOUR 09 is the simultaneous online mode, which enables four different users to play each hole at the same time. Watch for the color-corresponding ball trails from your playing partners to track their progress in real time. Unlike the real-life sport, you're playing at your own pace and seldom waiting for anybody to take their turn -- a truly groundbreaking innovation for expediting the previously tedious online mode. World rank leaderboards keep track of your wins, losses and dropped games in ranked matches.
Grip it and rip it: The general ethos of EA's All-Play movement is to cater to players of all skill levels and not to simply pander to novice users. In Tiger Woods, All-Play uses an on-screen arc (or line for putting) to show the precise location and trajectory of where the ball will travel. Beginners need only swing with the right power to place the ball right where it needs to go.
The nuts and bolts of Tiger Woods 09:
Things We'd Change
Got any good CDs?: EA Sports has pumped up the game's new announcer tandem of Sam Torrance and Kelly Tilghman. but the pair doesn't have much "new" to say beyond the first 15 minutes. It's not completely intolerable but their banal and repetitive chatter brings nothing new to the table. After my first half-hour with the game, I spent the rest of my Tiger Woods experience with the volume down listening to last week's new releases from the GZA and Of Montreal.
Picture imperfect: Even though I've learned to temper my graphical expectations with Wii releases, I've heard the graphics are a recurring complaint with the 360 and PS3 editions as well. This console isn't known for it's horsepower but Nintendo has certainly put out better-looking games this year.
A problem with putting: Where almost every other shot in the game is touch-dependent, each putt requires a full stroke regardless of distance. This means you must use the same full-swing motion for a tap-in or a 60-footer or you'll risk laying it short. It's the one area of the game which ranks inferior to last year's edition.
This year's addition to the long-running Tiger Woods series represents one of the better and more innovative golf games to be released in recent memory, thanks mostly to the greatly improved 1:1 swing mechanics which put the user right on the fairway. The graphics are decent enough by Wii standards, the gameplay is always engaging and the reworked presentation -- complete with point-and-click menus -- is sharp and efficient. One can only fantasize about the ways Electronic Arts will embrace Nintendo's upcoming Wii MotionPlus accessory, which promises more accurate reflection of real-life motions in a 3-D space. But until then, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 09 All-Play makes the most out of the current hardware and represents a more-than-adequate holdover.