EA Sports (it's in the game...)
So how well does a 7 year old handheld port of a golf game hold up anyway? Answer: Incredibly well. Unlike so many other sports games that are dependent upon a certain roster of players on specific teams, golf video games age pretty well. Don't believe me? Go back and play Mario Golf 64, or even further back and play NES Open. Those games are just as fun today as they were way back when. And why? Because golf games are really only dated by two major things: course design and player interface. Course design is more a function of graphics capability and execution (whether or not a water hazard looks like a water hazard and whether or not the system can recognize it as such) and it is constantly improving with every new generation of system. Player interface is the same way. The Wii pretty much revolutionized golf gaming with its motion controllers making golf on the Wii about as close to real golf as you and get without goofy pants and a fat ass (thank you Happy Gilmore). But through the years, the greatness of a golf game was largely a function of the swing interface and your options at the tee. PC games stayed far ahead of the pack until the last couple of generations of console systems (some of which are just overpriced PC's anyway...) As long as these two features are solid, a golf game can survive indefinitely.
That is a really long way to go about saying, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 for the GBA advance is one hell of a golf game, even 7 years later. The course layouts are solid, if occasionally repetitive (looking at you Bay Hill with your sand trap in front of every green), the pin locations are vicious at the higher difficulty levels, the game controls are unusual, but not impossible, and the difficulty ramps well.
I am a video game golf pro. I freaking rock. Just check this score out.
Asinine bravado aside, this game is a lot of fun. However, there were two really big hurdles for me to overcome in getting into this game. The first was the swing control. I am used to a conventional swing meter which must be stopped twice, once for power and the other for accuracy. Fairly standard stuff. But TW2004 introduced me to a totally different swing control. I'm not sure if this is how the other golf games for the GBA work, but there is no swing meter. Instead, you control your swing by first pressing UP on the d-pad and then DOWN to swing. You determine your swing by the time spent pressing UP (if you hold too long you lose power) and then down to make contact. Power, fade or slice, can all be added during the backswing with the shoulder buttons or by taking a diagonal on the d-pad. Spin is added once the ball is in the air. Once you get used to it, you have pretty good control on the ball and can work it with pretty solid accuracy.
The other hurdle was elevation. The course mapping isn't the best at showing elevation and thus you can be aiming right into the side of a hill on the overhead map and not realize it until you get back to the swing screen. There is an elevation indicator, but judging elevation is better done by eye than by numbers.
Putting is mega easy with a laser line indicator of where your ball will travel that even adjusts for break and slope. They even auto-putt gimmes just to save you time and the occasionally thrown GBA. And if you really need a challenge, there just so happen to be Trophy Balls that you can earn for particular achievements. Some are easily obtained and some will require a lot of practice and skill building before you can add them to your wall of honor.
If there are any complaints they are small. The biggest one is the wind, which always blows right to left and has intermittent effects on game play. Accounting for wind is a risky venture and unless it is really strong you are more often better off just playing your game. Other quibbles include not being able to view each hole completely beyond the reach of your aim and occasional course hiccups particularly around water hazards.
All in all, though, the game is solid and ends up being a great golf game for the GBA. I don't think age is a real factor when it comes to golf games and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 proves that. Unless you are just really hoping to play a few rounds with golf legend Bobby Jones, having the actual golfers in the game (if there are any) aren't really that big of a deal. To me the Tiger Woods name is more there to sell games than to make me feel like I'm really playing alongside an adulterous 9-iron dodger...