Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: June 8, 2009
If there's one thing that EA's Grand Slam Tennis proves, it is how much real world skill it takes in order to accurately play the game of tennis well. For years, video game tennis titles have given players a vague sense of the sport, but until now the technology really hasn't been available on the home market to provide a simulation this close to the real thing.
The developers at EA have put the Wii MotionPlus accessory to good use, enabling the game to recognize even minute movements in height and position. This translates into incredibly accurate control and flexibility. It makes for both an enjoyable game as well as a technical showcase for the accessory itself.
Available in both game only and bundled with the Wii MotionPlus, Grand Slam Tennis is a tennis game that is obviously designed with tennis fans in mind. After connecting the MotionPlus dongle to your Wiimote, all you have to do is start playing. There is no extra setup or calibration needed. The game automatically recognizes the MotionPlus dongle and puts it to use if it is there.
The first thing you'll notice when using MotionPlus are the little movements that your character makes. While they aren't quite one-to-one accurate, they are close enough to be impressive. Simply moving your arm up and down while waiting to serve will see your character make the same movements on-screen. Whacking the ball with the racket is no longer simply a matter of timing. With the MotionPlus active, the game keeps track of your position and angle. Getting the result you want actually takes a modicum of real skill.
It's that last bit that takes a moment to sink in the first time you play, especially if you're a real life beginner in the game. Without MotionPlus, Grand Slam Tennis can be played like a traditional Wii game. You can play with the basic motion controls or move up to the advanced control setup, which gives you a bit more flexibility but requires more button usage. Either way, the game is more forgiving with the traditional control setup. It has to be, if only because the movements being tracked by the Wiimote are very broad. As a result, playing without MotionPlus is actually a bit easier because most of the time, the game is purposefully erring in your favor.
Once we got past the increased difficulty level (i.e., we spent some time practicing a few swings), the MotionPlus controls began to feel natural and intuitive. Getting the best response requires slightly exaggerated movements, but otherwise, it all "just works." There were a few occasional hiccups with the motion tracking, but for the vast majority of our play time, the MotionPlus control was seamless.
Although Grand Slam Tennis can be played with just the Wiimote, player movement becomes much easier when you plug in a Nunchuk. Using the two in combination allows for finer placement on the field and makes it easier to defend against cross-field shots. It also helps ensure that the player AI doesn't make the wrong guess on location, setting you up for a backhand when you really wanted to hit a forward smash.
Court selection is varied, with 12 different locations featured in the game. Grass, clay and hard courts are all represented. The court material isn't just for show; the ball reacts differently based on the playing surface, so when jumping between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, you need to adjust your game if you want to keep winning.
Winning at Grand Slam Tennis is something that takes a bit of work, as the AI found here can be quite ruthless at times. While it never really feels as if it cheats, the AI rarely makes a foolish mistake, preferring to keep up round after round of near-flawless play. Besting the AI is a matter of strategy. Rather than simply volleying back and forth and hoping that the computer misses a shot, you need to work on controlling the court and forcing your opponent to run back and forth to the net. Once your opponent is at the net, lob a shot to the back court. Or, get your opponent to the left side and then return the ball directly to the right. The trick is learning how to put the ball out of reach.
In addition to an impressive on-court control system, Grand Slam Tennis also features a fairly in-depth career mode. You have the ability to create a custom character and then develop their stats by playing your way against the greats. Beating the featured pros in-game allows you to take their special abilities and use those abilities to help develop your character. Custom gear is also on hand, so you can achieve just the right look.
Visually, Grand Slam Tennis isn't going to be as stylish as something that you'll see on the PS3 or Xbox 360, but the oversized characters and large ball actually work to the game's advantage, as it is easy to keep an eye on everything. Sure, it may not be ultra-realistic, but it keeps the focus on the gameplay.
Where Grand Slam Tennis stumbles a bit is in the extras. The game has a party mode as well as a calorie tracker, but both have a feeling of being tacked on rather than fully fleshed out. You're likely to play through the party mode once or twice, but the real draw is going to be in the traditional match-ups. As for the calorie counter, it is little more than a rough estimate based on your play time for the day. While it's a nice idea, we'd prefer it if the calorie counting stayed in the realm of fitness titles, where it can be put to proper use.
One final thing of note is the game's soundtrack. Electronica fans will be thrilled to hear that all of the featured music in Grand Slam Tennis is mixed by Paul van Dyk. There's no generic muzak here.
As one of the first MotionPlus titles out of the gate, Grand Slam Tennis is an excellent way to show off the power of Nintendo's new accessory. It may not be the perfect tennis game, but that doesn't mean it isn't one of the best options currently on the market. If you're a fan of the sport, this is one title that should be on your "must buy" list without question. When picking it up, though, don't skimp. Spend the extra $10 and grab the version with the MotionPlus dongle bundled in. You won't be disappointed.
More articles about Grand Slam Tennis