The best handheld golf game available hits an approach shot straight into our hearts.
In case you weren't aware, Tiger Woods is kicking life's ass. He's got the championships. He's got the hot Swedish model wife. He's got enough money to buy anybody as his personal slave, including your mom. The man is on fire. You can now add another accomplishment atop his already mountainous pile of accomplishments: he's got the best golf game available on Nintendo DS.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 is the first new Tiger game on DS in a few years, as EA decided to take some time to reimagine the series after the lackluster '05 version. Good idea (if only EA could be similarly patient with all of their games!). The new version of this long-running series obliterates EA's past efforts and those of its competitors as well. Development was moved over to Exient, who are new to the series but longtime veterans of developing EA Sports games for portable systems. It easily proves to be their finest effort yet and something that all golf fans can get into.
It starts with the new swing mechanic. Tiger 05 had a strange setup where you had to trace the arc of a golf swing that took up the whole bottom screen. This time the swing seems modeled after the much-lauded True Swing Golf mechanic, wherein you pull straight back and flick forward to swing. It works well and is much more in line with the console versions of Tiger that involve pulling back and flicking the analog stick. For those who would prefer to kick it old school, there is also the option of using a timed button press system similar to the golf games of generations past. It's less elegant than the new system, but having the choice is only a good thing. Sticking with the stylus makes sense, though, because the whole game is designed around it. Navigating drop-down menus for club selection and swing type, putting spin on the ball after it's been hit, moving the camera around to get the best view of where you're aiming-- it's all effortless and intuitive.
As with most of the EA Sports offerings on DS this year, there is no shortage of options and game modes to keep you busy. You've got Play Now, Create-A-Golfer, Tiger Challenge, mini-games like 333 (where you can only choose 3 clubs to play with), and even a PGA Championship that realistically plays out over a calendar year as you earn money and upgrade your golfer's abilities. It all adds up to several dozen hours of playtime. Multiply that by roughly a billion when factoring in multiplayer, which gives you single cart-play, local wireless, and a perfectly smooth online mode. There's even a Pass Play option for passing your DS back and forth with a friend. While there are only eight courses, a low total by console standards, what is here is well designed and enjoyable. It's all presented with full 3D graphics running on both screens, a pretty impressive feat. The overall level of detail takes a hit by maxing out the DS's horsepower in this way, but the game still looks as good as any other DS golf game and runs without a hitch.
The game is not without its minor annoyances. Putting is generally well done, but be prepared to hold your breath as your ball approaches the hole, as unreliable physics might keep a great shot from going in. Sometimes your ball will glide right over the hole without any change to its trajectory, or it will sit precariously on the edge of the cup when the vast majority of the surface area of the ball is over the hole. Gravity should pull it down into the cup. Sometimes it just doesn't (this becomes less of a problem as you upgrade your putting skills). Also, there are no chat options in multiplayer-- the integrated PictoChat of True Swing Golf would be so cool in an online scenario, but there's nothing of the sort here. Finally, and this is nit-picking a little, the sound effects are extremely minimal. There'll be absolute silence and then birds chirping out of nowhere, then silence again. It can be kind of jarring without a bed of ambient sound to connect the louder moments.
Overall, this game is outstanding. I would even recommend it above some of the console versions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf, for the simple fact that it's tailored so perfectly for a handheld system. You can pick it up and play a few holes or dive in deep with the PGA Championship mode. Unfortunately, no matter how much experience I add to my in-game avatar, I have yet to unlock the hot Swedish model wife. I guess there's always next year.