I'll make this very clear. If you want the very best game of golf that Wii has to offer, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 All-Play is the standout answer. In fact, this is one of the most enjoyable golf titles I've played on any system to date and there are a number of reasons why this is true. This year's iteration was handed over to Madden developer Tiburon and the company has injected several layers of polish previously unseen in Wii-bound Tiger Woods games. The controls have been dramatically improved -- the franchise finally makes good on a nearly one-to-one golf swing, which is the holy grail for Wii fans like myself. There are now some excellent multiplayer modes -- party games designed specifically for Nintendo's system, yes, but also a fully fleshed-out online experience that is downright addictive. And it even looks and runs a little better than any of its predecessors. So I'll tell you right now, if you have waited on my review before deciding whether to purchase the game or not, stop reading now, get to your nearest retailer and slam your money down on the counter. You won't be disappointed.
Previous Woods games on Wii have felt like PlayStation 2 projects with tacked-on Wii controls. EA made the controls work well enough, mind you, that I still enjoyed the experiences, but I never felt as if the publisher was really taking advantage of Nintendo's system. And even with All-Play, which makes progressive leaps in nearly every area, remnants of those feeling remain. The graphics have seen some updates. Textures appear crisper. Lighting is better. Some of the new stages look very good. Best of all, the framerate is much smoother, and that makes all the difference. And yet, Woods 09 still looks like a well-made PS2 title and not really a cutting-edge Wii effort. I'm sure most fans will be satisfied with the presentation, but with the franchise selling best on Nintendo's console, I think it's time that EA make this version a priority and develop a brand new Wii-specific engine to go along with the welcomed new controls and features.
All-Play arrives on Wii with all of the features you've come to expect, and then some. As always, the bulk of the meaty single-player component lays with the title's My Career mode, which houses the lengthy and sometimes difficult PGA Tour Season, the FedExCup and Tiger Challenge. The PGA Tour Season alone will keep you busy for a great deal of time given that the '09 schedule includes some 35 matches, all of them 18-hole competitions (and you can also go beyond the '09 season.) Trust me, these tournaments are true time-sucks, which is why it's good that the title enables you to quit mid-match, save, and return again at your leisure. The problem is that the system is not completely fool proof, for if you opt to exit a tournament mid-match, you will have to return and finish it when you next boot the game. If you opt instead to try out a different mode, even a randomly generated Quick Play match, you will lose your mid-tournament data and will therefore have to re-start the bout, which is a nuisance.
In My Career, you'll want to create yourself using the game's detailed create-a-golfer feature. This year's character editor is more flexible than ever, enabling you to customize hair styles, face layouts, body types, clothing and more, right down to the nitty-gritty details. I could, for example, sculpt my character's jaw, add stubble, wrinkles, weathering -- whatever I wish. The only drawback is that I haven't yet been able to truly transform the design of a model's eyes, which means that while I have successfully re-created everything from my spiky hair to my chicken legs, my customizations always look somehow vaguely related to Tiger Woods, a small disappointment. As you win matches and earn money, you will also be able to tweak your skill settings, a truth that offers ridiculous replay value since you'll always be striving to max out your stats. You can modify everything from power, accuracy and spin, to putting, concentration and general attributes.
New to this year's game is the Club Tuner (housed under My Coach), a feature that grants you access to tweak the settings of clubs so that they perform best to your swings. For instance, if you're always accidentally adding fade to your drives, you can go in and trigger an auto-draw that corrects your lean. This is a great feature that I find largely unnecessary in this year's game for the simple reason that if you use the standard control options, as most will, you won't need to worry about draw and fade subtleties, a point I will get to below. I think there is great promise for the Club Tuner when Wii MotionPlus arrives, but until then, it seems largely a component without the proper mechanics to support it, at least in the Wii version of this year's Woods.
We all know that there's a valid reason the Tiger franchise has performed best on Wii and that is, of course, the prospect of using the Wii remote to swing golf clubs. Previous iterations of Woods have taken very simulated, mechanical stabs at recreating the sensation of a one-to-one swing. The greats news is that All-Play 09 comes the closest yet -- indeed, it just about nails it. When you pull slightly back on the Wii remote, so does Tiger. If you so desire, you can hold the club mid-swing and he'll do the same. Push forward just a little and he'll follow your cue. The game even measures your speed and momentum as you take a swing so you will see a bigger drive if your arch is smooth than you might if you pull all the way back, hold, and then pull forward again. It all works extremely well and as a result, it just feels fantastic. I really can't stress enough how intuitive and responsive it feels. I would go so far as to note that the tactile control in the Wii version outweighs any graphical benefits of the other incarnations.
There are several control options at your disposal. All-Play, which actually shows the full trajectory of where the ball will land, is for true beginners. It makes playing and winning exceptionally easy; I suppose it's a bonus inclusion for mom and dad, but I think even most casual users are better off with the second control setting, which is standard. This is what I use and for good reason. First of all, it doesn't highlight the trajectory of your ball -- you'll have to figure that out for yourself. Second, it measures with great accuracy your backward/forward swing. Third, it enables you to manually add draw and fade to shots by dragging the leans respectively with your Wii remote using the IR pointer. It works perfectly. And fourth, it more or less ignores the accelerometer, which is a good thing. Why? Because as always, dynamic draw and fade based on data from the accelerometer is dodgy at best and useless at worst. There's an advanced setting that ditches manual draw/fade purely for accelerometer-based play, and I can't recommend it because it operates erratically and it's uncomfortable. To add draw, for example, you must twist the Wii remote dramatically inward, hold it there, and then take your backward/forward swing. Try doing that with a two-handed grip! You will nearly rip your arms out of their sockets. And most of the time, it doesn't work, anyway. Next year, if Tiger arrives with Wii MotionPlus support, as it should, I expect this issue to be a distant memory. Until then, the standard control option is a great substitute.
Had All-Play shipped exclusively with the My Career option and the gameplay modes within, this year's game would trumpet an epic amount of replay value. In addition to all of the courses from last year's effort, 09 features five new stages, such as Gary Player Country Club in South Africa and Wentworth Country Club in England, all of them good. Amazingly, though, it also boasts a host of multiplayer games and an absolutely spectacular online mode. Under Game Modes, there are nearly 20 different game types, from Mini-Putts to Target, Capture the Flag, Rings and Battle Golf, all of them welcome alternatives to traditional golf. On top of everything else, there are the Wii-exclusive Golf Party games, designed for up to four players at a time. Here, you take part in as many as 15 different events like kart racing, ball bounce (use the Wii remote to bounce golf balls off an on-screen, controllable club), and more. I particularly like Ball Battle, in which two players attempt to sabotage each other after balls are hit; each person points at the soaring golf ball with the Wii remote and attempts to either drag it off course or keep it on -- all to the tune of techno beats and heavy metal riffs. There's some good fun to be had.
Woods 09's online mode, though, is an absolute addiction. It's a simple concept with spot-on execution. You can play against as many as three other gamers online -- all at the same time. As you make your way through a hole, you will be able to see the trajectories of your competitors' shots and you will also know how many swings they've taken, all in real-time, of course. In other words, you're rarely ever waiting for someone to make their next swing since you can all go at your own pace simultaneously. In all of my online bouts so far, whether playing against one other person or three, I have yet to see any measurable slowdown or hiccups in framerate. It just works and if you find yourself as impressed as I've been, you won't want to stop playing.
The online mode functions through EA Nation so there's no fumbling with friend codes. If you already have the Wii System numbers of your closest buddies, you can auto invite them to play Tiger Woods 09, assuming they also own the game. If not, you can play in ranked or unranked matches against players, all of whom you can add to your buddy list if you so desire. You can also join social, casual or competitive lobbies, each home to different types of players. If you play in ranked matches, your wins and losses, as well as your dropped matches and your overall rank will be displayed online. You can also view how many people are playing Woods 09 at any given time. And on top of everything else, there's the world rank leaderboards, perfect for combing over the achievements of all your competitors. It's a very robust system that's exceptionally easy to use.
Indeed, I've only noticed a few quirks, the biggest of which is that you can only communicate via EA pre-created text messages before matches. Simple hellos and good-byes and a handful of taunts, but there's no way for me to send a text, for example, like, "Don't start the match until four players join." And when you're playing, I don't understand why you can't send text messages to your competitors if that's what you want to do. On several occasions, I've finished holes before other players and would have enjoyed the option to communicate with them on some level rather than sitting quietly as a spectator. Finally, while Miis are shown before matches, you won't see them during bouts, which is a missed opportunity. I get that EA didn't want to render full characters onto the courses in order to preserve the fluidity, but a simple 2D overlay of Mii characters hanging above the trajectory of balls would've gone a long way.
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