I’m not going to be shy about this: I love golf. I’ve already been out twice this year, and plan to spend as much time as possible this chasing a little white ball around the course. I took a short lesson early last summer, played all summer, and filled the fall and early spring with trips to the covered practice tees.
While golf is not a sport that most would immediately associate with gamers, it’s one that has developed into sort of a super-sized cottage industry in the gaming world. All by itself, Golden Tee has conquered basically every sports bar on the planet. And in just the first few months of the Wii’s existence, we’ve already seen the release of Super Swing Golf, and the inclusion of golf as part of the Wii Sports package. Now we have Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 for the Wii, and it’s easily the best of the bunch.
The heart of any release on the Wii is of course the games use of the motion sensing controls, so let’s start there. The easiest way to say it is that if the Wii remote had some more heft to it, or perhaps a less ridiculous looking attachment than the one available through Intec’s Action Pack, this would be the closest a game has come to allowing you to swing like you’re out on the course right out of the box.
The swing mechanism is simple: hold the B button and pull back. The length of your backswing and the speed of your swing through determine distance and power. In addition, PGA Tour 07 is the first of the golf games for the Wii to track the side to side motion of the wrists during the follow through. Super Swing Golf approximated this with its “overswing” mechanism (swing too fast and you hook or slice), and Wii Sports golf ignored it entirely. In PGA Tour 07, you will slice or hook shots based on your swing, so if you do it on the course, you’ll do it in the game. This means that to conquer the game, you’ll have to conquer your own swing first.
The interesting part about this feature is that while it definitely adds difficulty to the game, it also can act as a benefit to your golf game. I found that I was able to make the some of the same corrections while playing the game that I can out on the course. Slowing down the backswing, swinging through with more club speed, and snaping through the wrists really allows for straight, powerful shots.
The practice shot option is also key, because it allows you to sort of get a handle on each shot as you attempt it, and especially with a new user created golfer, the skills to make the shot you’re attempting may simply not be there, so practicing can definitely help you to determine what to expect.
When it comes to putting, you don’t just have to deal with the wing mechanic or your own personal swing foibles, but also the slope of the greens. On top of that, putting is somewhat less true to life than the other swings, as the developers seem to have gone with the idea that a firm putt is better than a soft one. It definitely takes a while to adjust to the putting in the game, and you’ll leave many a putt short until you get a feel for the process.
As I mention in the summary of the review, the graphics for PGA Tour 07 are definitely a mixed bag. To start with, the character models are very good from Tiger Woods through to some of the lesser known golfers; your opponents are well rendered. And while the courses are very faithful to their true layout, unfortunately the graphics here are less than up to snuff, even on the Wii. Super Swing Golf, set in an alternate world and not requiring realism, could add all sorts of decorative objects to their courses, providing the feeling of playing an oversized miniature golf course. PGA Tour 07 doesn’t have such a luxury, as all of the courses selected for inclusion are beautiful, there tends to be a feeling of seeing a similar hole on another course. This is further amplified by the fact that multi-day events require playing the same 18 holes multiple times.
Worthy of special mention in relation to the graphics is the character creation mode. You can build a golfer who looks a lot like you, or nothing like you, and anywhere in between.
When it comes to sounds, there really isn’t a lot to expect from a golf game, but I found the realism of the sounds of PGA Tour 07 to be particularly engrossing. When you’re standing on the fairway preparing for your next shot, you’ll hear the murmur of the crowd, the sounds of an airliner passing far overhead, the wind, or any of the dozens of other noises you’d expect to hear while out on the course. One of the especially nice touches was the use of the Wii remote speaker to produce the sound of the club striking the ball. The commentary is mostly standard fare for golf games, but if you’re playing poorly, the announcers will get after you a bit. You sure won’t hear announcers on tour say “Come on, hit it already” when you’re working on your putting stroke prior to hitting the ball.
In terms of depth of game play, PGA Tour 07 has plenty to keep the player busy. The centerpiece of this is of course the PGA Tour. The tour offers 29 playable events, but in playing through multiple seasons there are events that you simply can’t play starting out, you have to qualify for them by placing in or winning other events. Playing through most of my first season, I didn’t make a cut until about the 10th event, and didn’t place in the top 20 golfers until nearly the end of the season. The difficulty of this mode is what keeps me coming back, even on days when I’ve already hit a bucket (or two) and want to play some more.
Along with the PGA Tour mode, there is also the Tiger Challenge, the goal of which is to work your way to playing Tiger Woods one on one. In the process of reaching Tiger, you play various types of games that highlight the unique styles of play available in the game (stroke play, skins, alternate shot, one-ball, greensome, and bloodsome) against golfers created for the game up through the best players on tour.
No game is perfect of course, and PGA Tour 07 has foibles, even if only a few. Aside from the course graphics which will hopefully be drastically improved in the 08 version, this game is in desperate need of a driving range. Golf is a game of practice, and of building confidence and expectation of the results of swinging a specific club with specific speed. Having a driving range would allow the player to take the confidence gained from repetitive shots with the same club out onto the fairway and know about where the ball will wind up. Yes, the “true aiming” system gives you a general idea on where the ball will land if your swing is straight and at full power, it doesn’t tell you about the particulars of your own swing and what it will do to the balls flight and destination, especially if you’re working through a case of the shanks.
For a golf fan, I’d have to say the Wii’s control system makes this game the most realistic game for a console yet. There are some golf simulation adapters that allow you to use your own clubs with the PS2 version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour, but most rooms don’t allow for the kind of space needed for a full club swing. PGA Tour 07 for Wii adds realism without compromising gameplay. Now if they can just get the graphics right and throw in a driving range, this game will really shine.