Reviewed: July 3, 2009
Released: June 8, 2009
There have been a handful of tennis games to trickle their way onto the Wii system over the past few years but none of them have achieved any level of greatness or even notoriety until now. With EA’s Grand Slam Tennis we finally get a fully functional motion-input driven tennis game that builds on the solid launch offering of Wii-Sports and creates a full-spectrum tennis simulation.
While much of this greatness can be attributed to the actual game design and care put into the game by EA Canada, we also have to recognize that this game would not be possible without Wii MotionPlus, the new Wii-mote attachment that launched the same week as Grand Slam Tennis and Tiger Woods; perhaps the two games that would benefit the most from this new technology.
I don’t want to stray too far off topic but for those who don’t know, Wii MotionPlus is a new sleeve for your Wii-mote that has an extra few inches of controller at the bottom that plugs in where your Nunchuk normally would. This new add-on provides unparalleled sensitivity in sensing motion and direction, translating the smallest move of your wrist or hand into a near-100% mirrored reaction on the screen. It’s uncanny really and basically changes the face of Wii gaming with a mere $19 add-on.
But back to tennis. While having a Wii MotionPlus isn’t required to play Grand Slam Tennis, the difference is arcade vs. simulation. While other games merely require you to go through the motions, Grand Slam is going to cause you to stand up and take this game seriously. Don’t let the charming looks fool you – this game can be brutally tough.
Grand Slam Tennis supports all levels of gaming and your hardware choice. For those who want to merely smack the ball around you are free to go with the timed input of a remote-only interface, or if you want to control your player more directly you can add a nunchuk and use the analog stick. For the ultimate experience you’ll want the nunchuk and the Wii MotionPlus so you can aim your serves and return with deadly accuracy…sometimes.
With or without Wii MotionPlus the game is not without its flaws. The remote can start to lose its one-on-one tracking if you aren’t careful about calibrating between shots. This is done by simply keeping your hand still for a moment – no big deal, until you forget. But unlike anything other tennis game to come to the Wii before, you are in complete control of your swing, both in strength and direction and even spin to some degree. I only had a year’s worth of tennis lessons about 30 years ago but it all started coming back to me while playing this game.
Grand Slam Tennis offers plenty of challenging content starting with a robust career mode and custom character creator so you can create your alter ego and outfit him with all sorts of licensed gear. Once you have your player ready you can start playing in tournaments all over the world, rising up through the ranks and earning special boosters to improve your player attributes, but these no way detract from the physical skill required of the actual person playing the game.
There are a dozen mini-games ready to challenge and entertain up to four players in a variety of situations. You can even mix up these games with seven unique twists on the rules. And for those looking for an alternative to Wii-Fit, there is even a “calorie burn” mode that tracks the time you played and estimated calories burned during that time. It’s probably not the most accurate method of exercise but it’s a nice feature for those conscious of their health.
Grand Slam Tennis also supports online play via Wi-Fi with seamless multiplayer tennis that is so fast and fluid you’d swear it was a local game. The game tracks your progress as well as the score for your chosen country with multiple leaderboards and loads of stat tracking as well as your ranking within EA’s Online community. And thanks to the EA Nation infrastructure you won’t have to deal with those annoying “friend codes”.
I don’t expect much in the way of graphics when it comes to my Wii but Grand Slam Tennis does a fairly impressive job of presenting a colorful version of the sport that leans toward caricatures of real players rather than photorealism. The animations are spot-on as is the one-on-one movement of the player versus the human controlling them. The courts are colorful and reflect the surface texture and surrounding stadium. There were no camera problems and the replays were fun and entertaining.
There isn’t much to report when it comes to sound. You have some sporty music for the menus and various opening cutscenes and wrap-ups, but there is little commentary other than the announcement of the score. There are a few player-specific comments and the cheers and applause from the crowd that varies in size based on the event. The twang of the racket and the thud of the ball are nicely presented and it’s all delivered in a Dolby Pro Logic II mix.
There are so many ways to play Grand Slam Tennis and with 12 courts and a huge list of pro tennis players including, for the first time ever, John McEnroe complete with tantrums, there is no end to the fun you can have with this amazing tennis simulation. There is something for gamers of all skills levels and modes supporting family fun or serious online competition.
Those looking for slick graphics and photorealistic players will want to wait for the next-gen versions of Grand Slam Tennis later this year, but if immersive gameplay and the ability to actually feel like you are playing tennis rather than a tennis game is more important then look no further than the Wii version of Grand Slam Tennis. Admittedly, it comes with the additional investment of having to purchase a Wii MotionPlus, but with Tiger Woods and more games coming, you’re going to need this nifty piece of hardware eventually.
With Grand Slam Tennis EA has set a new standard for motion control input, tennis games, and Wii games in general. Sports games and Wii gaming in general is about to see a paradigm shift, with refined controls and total immersion of gameplay, and Grand Slam Tennis is only the beginning.