Monday, September 01, 2008

Tiger Woods 09 All-Play Wii Review

Three years ago I poured many hours into Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 for the XBox. The graphics were solid as was the gameplay. To swing, I simply pulled the analog stick back and pushed it forward. If done well, my tee shots went long and straight. I played through two careers until attributes and equipment were maxed out. I thought I had played the pinnacle of videogame golf.

This changed after pouring 15 hours and 25 rounds into EA's newest Tiger game for the Wii over the last 36 hours. For your enjoyment or suffering, this is my review that reads like diarrhea of the mouth because I love the game so much.

Instead of pushing a tiny controller stick back and forth, you swing the wiimote get this...a golf club. I will never go back to the analog stick again. It works unbelievably well. Next year's version is going to use Nintendo's WiiMotion Plus add-on that'll give exact control thanks to 3 gyroscopes, but until then, this is exceptional.

Bow before the greatness that is this game.

As far as putting, I have complete distance control by angling the wiimote up and back down when I'm at the percentage I need. After setting your aiming marker that changes your putter's maximum distance, it's just a matter of hitting the percentage which is quite easy to do. I didn't play TW08, but have been told that its putting mechanics were nearly flawless, allowing you to actually putt as you would in real life; no wrist angling needed. I don't understand why EA would change this setup.

If the wiimote did it well last year, it should have been kept for this year's version. Players will be frustrated when trying a real putting motion, as I suppose my method isn't the intention. Despite TW09's not as real putting motion, I'm still satisfied when it comes to putting. This is not a dealbreaker at all. The putting mechanic isn't broken as some reviewers suggest.

Thanks to the wiimote, what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG). If your backswing and downsing are very quick, you'll hit the ball with 110% power. Take the wiimote back 60% and swing forward with the same tempo and you'll be in the 60% range. Playing on the standard setting let's you only worry about your swing speed. I think it's the way to play.

One of EA's selling points is the 1 to 1 control. For the most part this is the case. If you swing halfway, your character will only raise the club halfway too. Again, it's just a great experience swinging for your shots rather than sitting and using a controller. There's a 1/4-second delay after you move the wiimote, but it doesn't take away from gameplay because you dont' want to pause to admire your avatar mid-swing. In the advanced mode setting, you can add draw or fade depending on your wrist turn. Adding draw is a little awkward, so again, I strongly recommend playing on the standard setting where you don't need wrist turns to move the ball in-flight.

Behold, the great 1:1 swing.

Golf play physics are in tact, as to be expected with this, the 19th EA golf game. Golf shots act as they should. Sidehill lies will not fly straight, 5-wood shots to the green won't bite with any amount of spin, and punch shots fly low with plenty of forward roll. Should you change the angle of your clubhead, the ball's flight will change accordingly. You'll see a difference between an 8.5-degree driver and a 9-degree driver.

Provided you know how to read greens or just read color-coded arrows, putting plays out very well. This year you're allowed one preview per putt that shows your ball's path if you were to hit it according to your aimer. I have no qualms with this setup and think it keeps the game fair enough. Outside of putting, you're allowed to practice your swing percentage before having to hold the B button to make it count. To add spin before the ball lands, you press the directional pad in your desired spin direction and shake the remote. Again, it just works well.

WiiMotion Plus will be great for next year's copy, but TW09 gives me my golf fix.

EA also let's you speed up play; so much so that I've finished rounds in 20 minutes. What seems like a small tweak has made a huge improvement. You can skip all animations, or just skip them as you please with a simple click of the A button. You can even skip the flyover for your pre-shot landing and skip to your next shot before the ball comes to a rest. There are a host of other time-saving changes that are appreciated and add up. You can even tailor the on-screen information if it's looks too cluttered.

All-Play is EA's attempt to make its sports games accessible for everyone from the late 20-something to a 1o-year-old nephew to a grandfather. The All-Play feature takes the work out of your swing. It shows a shots trajectory and final resting place. The player does not have to estimate pre-shot changes for the lie, wind, or green contour. I think this is a good feature that let's me play in the standard mode while a non-golf fan could be competitive and quite difficult to beat. On the Wii, it's all about inclusion. It can even be turned on and off at any point during a round. Of course this leads to unreal scores.

Seeing where your ball lands no matter how you hit it makes the game playable for all skills.

Online Play
New to Tiger Woods on the Wii this year is online play. EA nailed this feature. Online play is smooth, lag free, and addicting. Yu no longer have to wait for opponents to shoot. Instead, everyone plays simultaneously, greatly reducing the time to play. A 30-second clock ensures people keep moving or face a 1-stroke penalty. If you hole out first, you get to spectate while others finish up. You will see their shots during the hole with a ball streak showing each shot's trajectory. It's a cool way to play and doesn't distract when you're about to hit.

Just as fantastic is that online play only requires a free, super-easy signup with EA's GamerNet. You don't need ridiculous friend codes to play online. You could even play as a guest and skip registering at all. You can play friends, strangers, ranked, or unranked. There are 3 lobbies to peruse: social, casual, and competitive. The match's organizer chooses the course, 18 holes, front 9, or back 9, as well as difficulty settings.

My only complaint is that when I've chosen the Play Anyone option, I can't see the match's settings, so I don't know if it's ranked or even how many holes we're playing. This morning I finished the front 9 of Pebble Beach down by one stroke and thought I had 9 more holes to battle, but that was it. Joining a game through one of the lobbies allows you to see the setup before agreeing to play.

Despite this minor inconvenience, playing onilne is a smooth experience. You can add people to a buddy list for future play that'll show you when they're online. Chatting is only available from the lobby and offers 28 messages. It would have been cool to save your best shots and upload them to GamerNet, as well as give other players mini-challenges, as in the 360 and PS3 versions, but online play is still spectacular.

Plenty of minigames to go around.


It wouldn't be a Wii game without its minigames, and this game has them in bunches, 15 to be exact. They range from hitting targets to collecting balls while driving a cart. Up to four players can play. There's a neat twist called Ball Battle in which other players can mess with the current player's shot by pushing the ball off target during any minigame. It's a cool idea to prevent people from sitting around until their turn. I've spent 5% of my time on the minigames; not because they're poor, but because the career and online modes are so great.

Juggling golf balls like Tiger is different.

Golf Modes
In addition to taking your golfer through Q-School, the PGA Tour, and the FedEx cup, you can also play loads of different golf modes. I haven't tried all of them and haven't heard of half of them, so this looks like just another reason why the game's replay value is through the roof. There's even a putt-putt game; no windmills, just creatively designed putting holes using a golf course layout, albeit insane setups. It's clear EA put a lot of effort into this game. I did notice a scoring error in my 2nd tournament that took 72 shots off of everyone's scores and had no scores for the 2nd round, but the error/glitch has not returned since. Perhaps this will be rectified in a patch.

Club Tuner and Hank Haney
After you play a round, Tiger's coach, Hank Haney, will give you advice. He (or the game) will have you replay shots from your last round to improve. It works well enough. You may also go to the game's driving range and tinker with your club's settings in the club tuner. After hitting any number of shots, you'll see their distance and accuracy. Then you can toggle the club's scales for distance, accuracy, workability, draw, fade, etc. I've used this once and just accepted Haney's suggestions.

Club Tuner is nice, but not needed more than once or twice.

Options and Customization
As in previous Tiger games, you will customize your golfer's face, clothes, and clubs. You can purchase tons of accessories and even choose your player celebration. There are too many options to mention. As you earn sponsorships, equipment is unlocked for purchase to improve you game. Or you could just spend your money to complete your outfit of a kilt, wizard hat, turtleneck, and Foot-Joy shoes. Whatever floats your boat.

The character customization continues to be a strong asset for the Tiger Woods series. You can adjust things like hair, eye, and skin color, while also adjusting details like jawline and cheekbone structure. Two minor problems are that my eye shape didn't change no matter how I moved the sliders, and I couldn't place a mole on my right cheek. Really though, if these minuscule issues are my biggest complaints, then I'd say the game is damn good.

Should the game seem too easy on the standard setting, you're able to change the speed of the greens and fairway, the height of the rough, pin placement, tee box for the round, wind, etc. In other words, you have many ways to tailor the game to give you a fair challenge. You can even change the songs that play when you're looking at the menu screen. Did I mention you can now save at any point during your round? TW09 makes you play the round when you next turn on the game, stopping you from playing other modes, but this is a great feature. I haven't had to use it because most rounds take 20 minutes.

Yes, the graphics don't match the XBox 360 and PS3, but the Wii doesn't try to compete with them for that. The Wii version's quality does the job and really, as long as you can tell the difference in cuts of grass, your only concern in a golf game should be how it plays. I don't miss having spectators line the course or blades of grass blowing in the wind. Give me gameplay over graphics anyday. It's annoying when reviewers for Wii games bemoan how it looks compared to the other systems to penalize the game.

A dead-on video review.

The game's sound is passable. The announcers work well enough and bird and crowd noises get the point across. One course I played yesterday offers a lovely toilet flushing noise around the clubhouse. I wonder what other course specific noises are waiting. The series' heartbeat sounds the same as the '05 XBox version and is still around for shots like when you try for the green in two on a par 5. Another small, but nice touch is hearing the sound of the clubhead hitting the ball from the wiimote's speaker. Tee off with your driver and a ping will immediately be heard. The sound effects don't sound any different from that 2005 version, but I'm not sure there's much to improve except for variety.

Just buy the game already! Email your gamertag or leave it in the comments and we'll play.

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Anonymous said...

I have the game and agree with almost every point you make.

Great Review!

Do you know if there is any way for 2 players to play against each other and still earn career points?

My girlfriend and I used to play on the Playstation and you were able to play career mode + Guest, earning points.

Can this be done on this game?

B and T Crowd said...

Thanks for the kind words. I haven't looked for multiplayer career mode, but I'm not sure that the option's there. When I load my profile, I'm only able to choose myself. Perhaps there's an option to load more than one person, but I haven't found it.

Matt said...

Great review. I have been waiting for this game for some time, and it seems like it's everything I have hoped for. Now to convince the lady that i need to have it!

B and T Crowd said...

Thanks Matt. I had the same thoughts. Early reviews weren't too keen on it, but EA nailed this one. I waited for TW to be online before getting a version and I'm glad I did. I wrote my review b/c I was tired of reading so many that killed the game for really minor things IMHO.