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The annual update to the Tiger Woods franchise always brings with it the good and the bad. Whereas the 360 and PS3 console versions have graphical and feature updates to bash out, the Wii version still has to find its feet with its control system. In 09, the game brings some solid improvement across the board but manages to ruin the putting mechanic completely. This fundamental flaw unbalanced the entire game for me and had me reaching for the 08 version instead.
So let's get the bad news over with first. The putting mechanic has been simplified from Tiger 08. Gone is the two-stage real putting swing. Now, you can simply dial in the required strength of put and trigger the shot with a forward flick. No problem here, many will praise the move to make this aspect of the game more understandable.
However, it's this understandability that reveals Tiger 09's weakness. Because you can see from the slope and the distance exactly how much power is required (provided you are more or less on the level) it becomes obvious when the game doesn't deliver the strength you selected. While this works a treat 80% of the time, all too often the game clearly underpowers the putt. On those occasions you literally have to hit the ball two or three times harder than required to make the hole.
Over the short years on Nintendo's console it's grown into a nuanced and expansive experience. Nothing feels as good as that one-to-one swing when it works.
This is most frustrating because Tiger Woods on the Wii has succeeded with its control mechanic in the past. Over the short years on Nintendo's console it's grown into a nuanced and expansive experience. Nothing feels as good as that one-to-one swing when it works. The control scheme has such a pull that I'm more than happy to put up with the haphazard putts in Tiger 07 and the wonky chipping and short iron work in Tiger 08. But here, I am seriously considering putting the game down and heading back to an earlier version.
Now I've got that off my chest I can get onto some of the solid improvements in the rest of the game. This year sees the inclusion of All Play features into the game, a feature of all EA's 09 sports games on Wii that enables super young or novice players to use a simplified set of controls. This simplifies the required swing (although still not quite dumbing down as much as Tiger 08's sit down option) and is great to get various family members together for some social gaming.
Also new this year is a simultaneous online play mode, that not only lets you challenge your Wii friends to some golfing action but lets you both take your shots at the same time to speed up proceedings and reduce the amount of hanging around. Although it's nice to take walk and hit a few balls in the real world, waiting for other players to take their shots in the game can be tiresome.
A nice feature this year is the inclusion of some basic data. The par of the current hole, along with the distance and height to the hole are all clearly displayed - something that was inexplicably absent last year. Tiger Woods 09 still lacks a detailed ball lie indicator as found in Super Swing Golf or We Love Golf, so you have to rely on the general rendering of the course to determine this, which while it maybe realistic does seem a little harsh when a chip can get thrown to the left or right by a simple slope.
But like a golfer who chokes as soon as any challenge is raised, the game falls apart when it hits the greens.
Driving continues to be a key part of Tiger 09 and it delivers a nuanced and confident driving control scheme that has enough variety to provide a sense of freedom. At the same time it keeps the golf simple and streamlined. It uses the same swing detection as in last year's game, with only minor tweaks here and there. This enables you to pull or fade your shots by closing or opening the Wii-mote orientation. Power is then controlled by the speed and depth of your back-swing combined with the through speed of your club when you let rip. There's even a swing tuning mode that will rectify us lopsided hitters.
Shot targeting is much improved this time around. Now you can position the targeting cursor anywhere on the course to obtain a percentage readout of how hard you would need to hit the ball with the current club. These little improvements might not seem obvious but they can make all the difference when it comes to practically playing the game.
All this adds up to a whole lot of good. But like a golfer who chokes as soon as any challenge is raised, the game falls apart when it hits the greens. I'm sure some people will be willing to put up with Tiger's foibles and accept the odd occasion where they have a two-putt forced upon them. Others, like me, who are less taken with the Wii's real swing are more likely to opt for the less problematic 360 or PS3 version of the game.
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