Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 Review
Let's get this out of the way first - the load times that plagued the first Tiger Woods PSP game are almost completely gone. It doesn't take long at all to get from one hole to the next, and you don't have to wait through any loading times between shots anymore either. Even better, you can speed up your opponents' turns, and even skip them entirely with the press of a button. If you do skip them, there's a brief load time but it's well worth the short wait. For some reason, you can't save during a game, so your only option if you want to quit and come back is to put the PSP in sleep mode. This works fine, unless you want to play a different game, listen to music or watch videos on your system instead of finishing your match, It's a small gripe, but one that seems simple enough that it should have been fixed.
Instead of the traditional, three button tap system that many golf games have used over the years, the PGA Tour series uses the analog stick to replicate the feel of a real swing. Striking the ball is still done by pulling the analog stick towards you for your backswing, and then pushing it forward to complete your swing. You control how hard you hit the ball simply by not pulling the stick back as far during your swing, which does take some getting used to, but once you do, it's great. You can add power to your swing by pressing the right shoulder button rapidly as you swing, and spin can be added to the ball after you've hit it by pressing the analog stick in any direction and tapping the left shoulder button. Like the first Tiger Woods game on the PSP, there are still times where things just simply go awry, and you'll end up hitting the ball poorly for seemingly no reason. It happens less now, but it still happens, and it's incredibly frustrating.
The biggest change to the game this year is the new putting mechanic. Gone is the ridiculous "Tiger Vision" that essentially guaranteed you'd make three putts a round from anywhere on the green. Instead of your caddy giving you directions on where to aim, a grid has been placed over the green, with little dots moving to show the green's undulations. You can change the maximum distance you can hit the ball in ten or twenty foot increments, but putting the ball the proper distance is up to you and how far you pull back the analog stick - just like a regular golf swing. This new method of putting takes a little while to get used to, but for the most part, it works really well, except for how difficult it is to putt the proper distance. Even with the addition of a power meter on the left side of the screen, it's far too easy to leave puts short.
While Tiger vision is gone, you can still get a leg-up on putting by exploiting the ideal putt cam by pressing X and watch the camera trace your ideal putting line. This helps you spot some tricky spots on the green, but like Tiger Vision, it can be exploited to make the game too easy. Simply finding an object in the background that's in-line with where the camera aims is all it takes for you to line up your putt with near-perfect results. Sure you don't have to use this, but like Tiger Vision, it's just too tempting to pass up for most people.
A new mini-game, entitled "putting frenzy", where you try and drain as many putts as you can from varying spots in two minutes has been added, but it's not anything to get excited about. Since you're under so much time pressure, it doesn't really help you with your putting, and since the putting controls aren't very precise, it's often a matter of luck who wins. Even though it doesn't have much of anything to do with real golf, putting frenzy is part one of the rivals mode challenges, and it feels a little out of place.
Tiger Woods 06 has a rivals mode like its PS2 brother, but they are similar in name only. Instead of going back in time and playing against real and fictional golfers, you must climb up a ladder of PGA pros to get to Tiger. The roster of golfers includes: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Mike Weir, Adam Scott, Chris DiMarco, Stuart Appleby, Jim Furyk, Charles Howell III, Justin Rose, and Colin Montgomerie. It's a respectable list to be sure, but it would have been nice to have a few created golfers in there, since they are one thing the series is known for. The amount of courses in the game is impressive, as there are nine new courses this time around, only three, TPC at Sawgrass, Pebble Beach, and St. Andrews return from the first TW: PGA Tour game.
You'll be able to earn endorsements if you play well. If you get an endorsement, you'll earn small bonuses for each piece of equipment or item of apparel you wear from the company. These start off small, but once you get noticed by the high-profile companies, you can earn some nice cash for selling out to the man. It's a cool way of making you feel like you're a high roller, especially when your endorsements are better than your friend's.
While the console versions got a new way to upgrade your golfer, the PSP does it the same way it did last year. You simply take the money you've earned and use it to improve your attributes. The higher your skill, the more the upgrades cost, so you'll want to spend your money wisely. Money can also be spent on new clubs, balls, gloves, and a number of other items. Each item has a level and skill of yours it will improve, like luck, accuracy, putting and so on. The only problem with this system is that you'll often find yourself loading up on stuff like hats, and gloves that you really don't want, but you do it because they make you better.
If you asked the average gamer to name one thing they know about the Tiger Woods series, chances are they would mention the outstanding create-a-golfer mode. The game face creation is nowhere near as in-depth as it is on the PS2, but it's plenty adequate. You can adjust numerous facial features, give your golfer a mullet, a giant nose, and many other cruel and unusual characteristics. Or you can make him look just like you, which might be even worse. Even with only a fraction of the options of the PS2 Tiger Woods, you can still have a great time making golfers on your PSP.
Since it has been only seven months since the last Tiger Woods game on the PSP, there aren't a whole bunch of noticeable improvements to the visuals. The graphics are a little bit clearer, and there's less clipping, but the courses are still a little bland. The golfers themselves look very good; not only do they look like their real-life counterparts, but they've got the smooth realistic swings to boot. The grid that gets placed across the green when you're putting can be very tough to read on long putts, simply because the screen is so small. On a whole, it's a nice looking game, but it's not going to take your breath away.
There are very few genres where you could eliminate sound entirely and still have the same game experience. Golf titles are one such example - and not because there's anything bad here, but more so because it doesn't matter. David Feherty and Gary McCord are back one again this year, and as they did last year, provide sparse (and quite often negative) commentary on the matches. Their commentary has been pared down when compared to the PS2, but they still have a fair amount of things to say. The ambient sounds in the background compliment the game without getting annoying. And the crowds will cheer a big shot, clap politely after an unimportant shot - it's about what you'd expect to hear from a golf game.
Being a golf game, EA toned down the EA Trax a bit, and they're not too shabby. Stand Up, by the Dave Matthews Band is the "headlining" song, and while it's not one of the group's best tunes, it's not bad. There are only a couple of other artists in the game, but a few of them contribute several songs, so it's not a skimpy track listing. These other artists include Thievery Corporation, David Holmes, Thunderball, and Supreme Beings of Leisure.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 is a much better game than the Tiger Woods game that came out for the PSP's launch. The load times are dramatically better, and the controls are less frustrating, but it doesn't offer anything more from a gameplay standpoint. If you don't already own Tiger Woods for the PSP, then this is the game for you. If you do already own it, and the only thing you disliked was the long load times, 06 is worth a purchase too.
10/28/2005 Aaron Thomas