Widely considered one of the greatest golf franchises ever created, Tiger Woods PGA Tour
debuts on the PlayStation Portable as the first of the golf genre available in North America. So, while competitors like Hot Shots
won't be available until later this June, Tiger is ready to go on the prowl now, making it the only choice for golf fans. However, this doesn't necessarily mean it's a must-have. You'll want to consider the details before you go shelling out more cash than you'd pay for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005
on the consoles.
Let's begin our critiquing with one very important fact: Tiger Woods PGA Tour has never been realized so truly on the handhelds before. Sony's PSP has allowed EA Canada to port over the assets from the console versions with great success. From the options to the visuals, it would be hard to tell the latest versions apart at first glance. Tiger for PSP ships with 12 available courses, the Legend tour, the Gameface technology and multiplayer, which is both turn-based and wireless (but does not include Internet play).
Essentially, the shell of Tiger Woods PGA is kept intact. However, at the core, some things did not translate so smoothly. The PSP's analog stick is simply not as sensitive or intuitive as the consoles'. That's a big deal, because the entire franchise is built off of EA's "Total Precision Swing" technology, which lets you use the analog stick to actually swing the club in your golfer's hand, bringing it back and forth, drawing it to the left or right and, naturally, slicing it into a water hazard if you're not careful. Unfortunately, due to the slight awkwardness of the handheld's analog stick, you are left slightly numb to the great precision that is otherwise delivered on the consoles.
Now, as we said, this is the truest Tiger Woods PGA has been on a handheld. And that's a feat. It plays sufficiently well, but seasoned fans are going to find that you simply will make more mistakes now because of the way the analog stick works. It's like all the precision of the consoles is programmed in there, but there's just no way to consistently take advantage of it with the handheld -- you don't always get enough of a feel from your mistakes to learn from them. Furthermore, if you want to add power boost by tapping the R-trigger while you swing back, you'll find it's pretty difficult. It shakes the display and disorients you to the angle you're swinging at. That's part of the risk, but it's also a somewhat clumsy mechanic due to the PSP's design. It's a straight port of the control system that worked on consoles, instead of an optimized version of that system for the PSP.
Another noticeable remnant of porting this to the handheld is the loading speed. This is apparent as soon as you start using the Gameface to build your own character. Now, let's be clear. It absolutely rocks that you can build a character that looks quite a bit like you (or whatever you envision) -- EA didn't skimp on the details -- but it also hitches up a bit during the process. This is also frequent while you surf menus and change through the available modes. Often when you try quitting a mode to get back to the menu it can take as much as 30 seconds. Most of the waiting you do is in between holes and loading up new rounds (which really takes a while).
So, yes, there are some issues to contend with. But there's also no denying that once you work around them, the game is quite enjoyable. We look at Tiger Woods PGA Tour on the PSP like we would all 18 holes on a good course; it has its straightforward, uninspired holes (with several unsightly divots), but it also has a few beauties, that you'll brag you had the chance to experience.
What happened here is that EA tried to shove 10 pounds of sod in a five pound bag. It benefits from this by featuring more than a dozen BT Pocket Trax for interactive music, tons of audio commentary, and slightly choppy, but still impressive console-quality visuals. It's also got all the gameplay modes you'd want to take on the road, including wireless play. "Bingo Bango Bongo" is one of the new wireless modes among multiplayer (Stroke, Match, Skins, and Long Drive Shootout are the others). It has you racing to see who can complete a set of objectives first. It's pretty frantic and definitely fun because, even if the amount of strokes doesn't matter, you still have to shoot the smartest. Players get a "Bingo" for the longest drive, a "Bango" for being first to the green, and a "Bongo" for holing out -- cash is awarded for each objective. For more traditional play, you can play Stroke matches and even set a shot clock in increments of 10 seconds so no one delays the game for too long. These modes work great wirelessly with the occasional disconnect or hiccup. For example, there is some choppiness on the ball movement even though the characters aren't on screen and only two players are connected. Perhaps it's an effort to save batteries via less bandwidth, but to the user it just looks weird; plus, you lose out on the advantage of showing off your created character. It's minor, but it's noticeable.
Back to the point, the downside of porting almost every last thing from the consoles is that the game is not as accurate anymore. You'll end up with a bogey one hole because you probably held the analog stick back too long (but there was not enough motion to realize it) and another you may eagle out because you happened to be holding the PSP at just the right angle to ensure a straight swing.
If you're dying for a golf game right now on PSP, this is your answer. Tiger Woods PGA Tour is completely satisfactory. Playing it on the go has never been this good. However, know that it's not completely polished and there's some room to grow as EA, hopefully, releases newer versions in the future. If you were looking for something as good as the console versions or perhaps more tailored for on-the-road play, you'll have to wait it out for the next update or keep an eye on the competition.
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