Tiger Woods for Wii: What a waste

I’ve been looking forward to Tiger Woods for the Wii since I played Wii Sports in November. I’ve written before about how sports games have been boring me lately, for a number of reasons. But one of the most annoying things about sports games is that the power meters for pitching, golf swings, and other actions reinforce how divorced the games are from actual sports: Success is simply a function of correctly timed button presses.

Tiger At base, of course, this is the case with all video games; every on-screen action is a matter of button presses. But in many games, the controls correlate at least somewhat to the on-screen actions. In a shooting game, using the joystick to aim (like moving your arm to aim a real gun) and pressing a button (i.e. pulling the trigger) to shoot is actually somewhat realistic. In a racing game, moving the joystick is steering a wheel on a much smaller scale. (In some genres — god games or even RPGs — the controls aren’t meant to be connected to the on-screen actions; like D&D dice, the controls are simply the way in to this huge world.)

Wii Sports really crystallized for me how much other sports games are just a bunch of button presses, and showed the possibilities of the Wii as a sports simulator. Tennis, golf, and bowling are the best of the Wii Sports games — not coincidentally, they’re all sports based on one motion that can be easily mapped to the Wii remote — and Tiger Woods promised to build on the simple preview of Wii Golf.

It turns out Tiger Woods is even more of a demo-masquerading-as-game than the extremely basic Wii Golf — minus the easy fun, the no-duh power meter-control scheme, and the excuse of being a demo-ish pack-in game.

In a tennis Wii game, how hard you swing the remote doesn’t matter much. Hard serve, second serve, and drop shot are basically all you need (Wii Tennis wasn’t that sophisticated, but I’m talking theoretically). In a golf game, how hard you swing is crucial not only for the immersion (if you can flail away randomly and still do well, it hardly feels like golf) but also for succeeding in the game itself (if you flail wildly and the shots are correspondingly realistic, you’ll score a 9 on every hole). So if you can’t tell how hard you need to swing, you might as well be playing blindfolded.

Wii Golf simply and elegantly solved this problem by putting three dots on the swing power meter — and putting those same three dots on a line on a tiny map of the hole. So if you want to reach the second dot on the map, you try to swing with just enough power so the meter rises to the second dot. You can practice each swing to try to get the power meter just so, and each repetition helps your muscles learn how you want them to move — just like practice swings in real golf. This seems to be the perfect and necessary control scheme for a Wii golf game.

Tiger Woods inexplicably has no visual power meter or any equivalent to the three-dot system. Practice swings yield a number of the swing’s relative strength — 96% of Tiger’s possible power, say. That’s not very helpful in the first place because the number comes after you swing; Wii Golf’s power meter rises in real-time with your swing, making it easy to connect the muscle memory with the on-screen power. What’s worse is that without the three dots, there’s no way to know how hard you should be swinging on each shot. There’s no way to know how far a 76% shot will go versus a 98% shot. A full swing might get over a bunker — but it could also overshoot the green. There’s no way to tell. And no way to know how much you should lay off the swing, if you want to take a safe approach shot. (Also, in Wii Golf you start each shot one step back from the ball, so all swings are practice swings until you hold one of the main buttons which moves you on top of the ball. In Tiger Woods, each shot starts ready to hit for real; you have to press one of the tiny secondary buttons to step back and practice, and then press that button again to go back to the ball. Even if there were a good power meter and distance dots, this would be annoying.)

Without the power meter and distance indicator, the game is hopelessly crippled. There isn’t even an attempt to come up with a different control scheme. Maybe Nintendo stumbled on the perfect setup and no other control system would work — but at least EA could have tried. They didn’t.

Also, it’s weird having crowd sounds and announcers when the courses are completely bereft of life except for your character. (Wii Golf has some “crowd” response when you sink a putt, but it’s not terribly realistic sounds and fits the whimsical graphics and presentation.) And the graphics are weak even by Wii standards, with muted colors and constantly shimmering grass, trees and even desert (either because of poor coding or not enough power to render individual blades and leaves). Wii Golf is much brighter and more vibrant.

This iteration of Tiger Woods seems like a rush job to make up for EA’s miscalculation in underestimating the Wii’s success. They should have just waited for Tiger Woods 08.

— April 16, 2007

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