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Be Like Tiger

Game On


Published April 4, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.

This commercial works.

Shuffling across his living room, Tiger Woods puts down a sandwich and picks up a Wii remote. With an artful swing, he sends his namesake pounding a ball down a virtual fairway. The motions of the real Tiger and the video game Tiger move in perfect synchronization. Spectators assembled on and around couches clap with polite enthusiasm.

If, as Mark Twain groused, golf is a "good walk ruined," then the new "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07" is golf without all the walking.

For almost a decade, we've had Tiger as the mascot for an increasingly sophisticated series of golfing video games. Even as the courses evolved in lush, graphic detail and piled up in variety, the number of professional players and accessories increased and the game play improved, there was always something missing. Golf isn't the most athletic of sports in the best case, but sitting almost perfectly motionless on the couch, twitching a thumb or two, never captured the physical side of the game. Videogame golf evolved into a cerebral activity hardly more athletely demanding than a friendly game of barroom darts.

Now, swinging a Wii controller like a golf club comes as close as most of us will get to the feeling of driving a ball 200 yards down a Pebble Beach fairway. "Tiger" on the Wii might not require the raw power and surgical control it really takes to compete on the PGA Tour. Then again, the average button-mashing game player will want to fling his controller into the nearest water hazard in frustration after slicing the ball into the rough, or pump his fist in the air after sinking a breaking, 15-foot putt. This game feels like golf.

And it's about time.

When kids play and pretend, they put their entire body into the effort. A finger pointed as a gun transforms one kid into a cowboy while hands placed firmly on the hips brings out the inner ballerina in another. The physicality of play makes the activity come alive. On the other hand, videogame players have learned to express their imaginative desires while slumped on the couch, as still as sun-soaked lizards.

Standing in front of your television, focusing on the velocity of your club and the angle of your swing, you can pretend that you've really hit the links. Trouble is, sometimes the game is a little too real and sometimes not real enough. If you're distracted by a dog or a kid running through the room, a shot can shank so badly that even the canned-voice announcers commenting on the game wince.

Alternatively, in an effort to add as much detail as possible to the game, you start to notice that sometimes the simulation just doesn't synch correctly. Club raised motionless over your head, the onscreen Tiger goes ahead and swings, dribbling out a 70-yard fairway drive.

Lacking the ability to mulligan, all that's left is to mime snapping a club over your knee.

Who's It For: Real golfers will enjoy the selection of classic courses but might lament the close, but not close enough, style of play, swinging the Wii remote to drive a shot. Non-golfers should enjoy just getting up off the couch to play games.

If You Like This, Try That: With pro-bowling and tennis games in the works, expect a wide range of active sports titles for the Wii. For now, "Wii Play" and "Wii Sports" offer the best taste of active video-game play.

Most Disappointing Part: Wii players are used to building their own in-game characters to use during play. The build-a-player mode in "Tiger Woods" provides a limited and clumsy set of tools that make it hard to create anything interesting.