There's definitely some potential for a good handheld game of golf in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004, but unfortunately, halfhearted production really keeps the game from being as fully realized as it could be.
More often than not, when a publisher decides to roll out a game in true multiplatform style, the GBA version tends to come out as an afterthought. The features of the full-sized console versions get compressed to fit the limited capabilities of Nintendo's handheld--usually to lukewarm results--and this is basically the case with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 for the GBA. Some of these features actually translate pretty smoothly, but there are plenty that don't. Furthermore, the game seems to be lacking in some specific characteristics that you'd expect a modern golf game to get right.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 imitates its bigger brother's analog swing mechanic and has you pushing down and up on the D pad to swing the club. You can put hook or slice on your shot by pressing diagonally. This imitation-analog control scheme doesn't provide the same level of accuracy as the old-timey three-button-click mechanic, but all the same, it works well enough. Additionally, you can charge up the power of your swing by tapping on either shoulder button during your backswing, and you can affect the spin of the ball while it's in the air by pressing a direction on the D pad while tapping on either shoulder button. For all the realism that the game tries to imbue with the swing mechanic, it seems counterintuitive to include such blatantly unrealistic devices while not including an option to disable them.
When you get on the putting green, though, you're given little indication as to the contour of the turf, thus leaving you to rely solely on your "caddy's tips," which give you a rough estimation of where you should aim to sink your shot. The putting doesn't make you feel like you're really playing the game, and it just isn't fun. The other significant quirk comes when you're lining up your long shots. Before you go off the tee, you can press the A button to switch to a top-down perspective, which lets you change clubs and lets you adjust your aim. However, when you're in this view, you can only move around the course as far as you can hit the ball, which means you'll often be lining up a shot without any real idea of where the hole or even the green is. This poor functionality is so obvious that it almost seems like there's something missing.
The game doesn't really do anything too radical to the sport of golf and pretty much sticks to the safe stuff in terms of gameplay options. There's a practice mode, which is good for a one-off game of golf, as well as a career mode where you can choose between full 18-hole tournament games and special three-hole scenarios. Either provides a decent game of golf, but the career mode feels pretty limited, so a few days of steady play is enough time to tear through the game's eight tournaments and 12 scenarios.
One of the nicer features in Tiger 2004 is a single-system multiplayer mode, where you can just pass the GBA round-robin-style among up to four people. Or, if you don't like other people touching your stuff, up to four players--each with his or her own copy of the game--can get in on some link-play. And, if you're the kind of person who likes sticking various cables into your Game Boy Advance, the game features GameCube connectivity, which allows you to transfer stats and money to and from the GameCube version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004. Furthermore, Cedric Andrews becomes unlocked as a playable golfer. Obviously, the GameCube connectivity isn't the main draw here, so the functionality included feels utterly disposable.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 presents you with a three-dimensional behind-the-back view of your golfer when you're at the tee, but for most of the game, you'll be viewing the action from a top-down perspective. This is probably for the best, since the engine that powers the 3D perspective isn't particularly accomplished and features massive color pixels and flat-looking vegetation, which peppers the course in front of you. The model of your golfer, as seen from this perspective, appears to be a pretty pixelated, prerendered 3D model. The player animation is actually pretty decent, at least if you let your swing go all the way back. However, if you push forward before your golfer is completely wound-up, which is a necessity for hitting the ball at less than 100 percent, the motion looks chunky and awkward. There are a few other angles you're presented with, such as a close-up shot of the hole as your ball nears it, that just look clumsy.
The sound design in Tiger 2004 is pretty vacant. There are a few little synthesized tunes that play during menus, and there are a few little stings that play when you accomplish something noteworthy, but the quality of the music, both in terms of composition and fidelity, is middling at best. The actual in-game sound effects, which include the sound of you making contact with the ball; the sound of your ball hitting the turf, the rough, or the water; and the rare sound of crowd elation or disappointment, all sound rather hollow. There's an ambient track, which contains a few hushed bird whistles, that keeps the game from being totally silent.
There's definitely some potential for a good handheld game of golf in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004, but unfortunately, halfhearted design and somewhat low production values really keep the game from being as fully realized as it could be. But even when you take that into consideration, there really aren't many golf games on the GBA, and though Tiger 2004's shortcomings are certainly apparent, they're not insurmountable if you're a determined fan of the sport.