Golf games are a perfect match on the handheld systems, and definitely love me some virtual links as proven with my choice for the Game Boy Advance's Game of the Year, Mario Golf Advance Tour.
. Mario may own the GBA courses, but Tiger Woods is the master of the console market in the EA Sports PGA Tour
series. For launch, Electronic Arts managed to squeeze out a Nintendo DS edition of Tiger Woods
in the extremely short development window it had with the project, and it's clear that the time in production affected the quality of the final product. Over the several hours spent with the game my relationship with Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf
has gone from "hate" to "tolerate," and though it sides more on the "good" side of the fence than it does the "bad," it's far from being as polished as the series is on other platforms.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf builds off the golf foundation created for the console side of the series, or rather ideas that went into the past versions of the game. The idea is clear: offer the shell Tiger Woods experience while adding to and enhancing it to take advantage of the additional control and display features of the Nintendo DS hardware. The feature list for the DS game is solid, offering six 18-hole courses, eight professional golfers, several dozen career mode challenges in three difficulty settings, and a wireless multiplayer mode for four players. Sorry gang, it's multiple cartridge only this time around. This is also the first time the EA Sports series has gone full, realtime 3D for a handheld version. On the Game Boy Advance, the behind-the-golfer view had offered via either a Mode 7-style effect or other fashion that limited the ability to move freely in the world without some sort of technical limitation in the way. Even classier, last year's GBA version of Tiger Woods utilized a "voxel" engine that offered a 3D terrain, but again, the limitations restricted the player's abilities, especially when the CPU had to take the time to draw the landscape's fairways, hills, traps, and water hazards.
For the Nintendo DS, Electronic Arts' Canada studio has tapped the system's 3D capabilities to provide a very fluid and versatile gaming experience. Hardware limitations keep the game from looking as slick as the console versions, but everything's in there, from fully textured, motion captured golfers, to the ability to view any part of any hole in a fluid 3D perspective. The graphics are somewhat on the dark side, though, which makes it touchto see the subtle variations of the fairway and green, and details, like player and ball shadows, are missing in this 3D engine. The touch screen does make it incredibly easy to send the camera to any point on the hole, though players can't manually rotate the camera to view it from any angle.
I think much of the problem of Tiger Woods for the DS derives from the complete change in swing mechanic, and the designers inability to train the player to use it. Golf games such as Mario Golf use a power bar and timing mechanic to hit the ball down the fairway, and the console and GBA versions of Tiger Woods use a clever Analog-stick swing system. But for the DS, the designers creates a new mechanic that requires players to use the stylus to "draw" a stroke down a V-shaped power-bar, following it up with an upstroke that determines a fade or draw. Sounds like it should work, and if you can wrap your noodle around the concept it actually does work.
But there's no training mode beyond a simple text explanation for first-time golfers. This game's begging for a driving range so players can try out the mechanic without being penalized in a game, to have the opportunity to see what a slow and steady stroke does versus a quick slash down the meter. Even after playing through several 18-hole challenges, this new touch-screen swing mechanic still throws some wrenches in the works -- on occasion, what you'd expect to see as a perfect swing is barely a 50% powered stroke. And the swing meter never offers any visual cue on what went wrong with a swing. If my stroke was off and caused the ball to shank wildly, I want to know why...and this touchscreen mechanic never tells the player why it wasn't a 100% swing.
Just because the swing mechanics were done this way, and works with practice, doesn't necessarily make it the right way of doing them. And I'm convinced that this swing mechanic could have been handled much better on the Nintendo DS' touch screen without feeling as mysterious as it does in this iteration. Perhaps I'm swayed a bit because we have a coin-op version of PGA Tour Golf in our break room, but I think that a recreation of this velocity and direction-focused trackball mechanic would have worked out far better on the touch screen than this "V-Stroke" idea does.
But the putting game is far worse than the fairway game in Tiger Woods DS. Many golf titles have a problem getting a decent putting game working as seamlessly as they do the driving game but the DS version is by far some of the worst yet, and feel entirely like an afterthought to the entire product. When the ball lands on the green, players hit a putting interface similar to the console versions of Tiger Woods; it's a simple matter of aiming at a virtual point near the hole to navigate the slight inclines and slopes of the green. But on the DS, the graphics aren't good enough to show the varying angles of the putting green, and all players get is a tiny three-by-three grid in which to eyeball distances. The Caddy Tip is definitely helpful in finding the aiming point on the green, and honestly it's the only way to aim. But occasionally the game gets so confused calculating the putting grid that "Caddy Tip Unavailable" pops up, which forces players to blindly putt until they're close enough to the hole to get the proper caddy read.
There were also some poor choices in game navigation in Tiger Woods DS. Even with two screens available to the player, the designers still shove important elements, such as club selection and types of swing, are shoved off-screen to a secondary menu system. Stuff like this should be immediately available, and having it moved into a supplimentary interface just seems like a quick hackjob. And other important items, such as windspeed and direction, are on the lower screen's overhead map, which removes them from view when players move to the swing interface. Wind is a pretty integral part of a swing, yet the gauge is gone when it's needed the most.
But even with the negatives mentioned, Tiger Woods does have a tendency to grow on you the more you get adjusted to the product. There's a lot of gameplay in the design, including character customization, unlockable courses and pros, the ability to spend earnings on play abilities...tons of elements that keep the experience going.
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