Grand Slam Tennis Wii Review

Motion controls have been at the forefront of the videogame industry this month with Microsoft and Sony pitching their elaborate mature visions for the future at E3. While those concepts remain locked behind closed doors, Nintendo drops their next evolution in readily accessible motion controls, Wii MotionPlus, into stores with A-list publisher Electronic Arts providing two of the three games designed to accommodate the add-on device’s increased motion sensitivity.

Tennis would appear to be an ideal candidate to showcase MotionPlus’ 1:1 movements that, in theory, would translate to precise racket control crucial for succeeding in the sport. Although EA has not churned out a tennis game in nearly two decades, their tenured resume suggests if anyone can overcome working simultaneously with a new sport and technology, they can.

All Wii owners by default already own and have likely played Wii Sports Tennis which EA Sports’ Grand Slam Tennis on the surface is not too much of a departure from. The game plays top to the bottom with your player’s on-screen movements handled automatically unless you decide to take over control with either the D-Pad or the Nunchuk controller. All you need to be concerned with is hitting the ball properly which a series of hidden control scheme menus demonstrate via illustrations how to apply top spin, back spin and slices, and to mix up your game with lobs and drop shots by pressing the A or B buttons, respectively.

Another hidden menu, and the only one that makes any mention of MotionPlus, offers advice to utilize smooth aimed strokes to achieve the desired ball spin. There are no animated tutorials or practice sessions to analyze your swing and offer improvement suggestions. This menu tab also suggests keeping the controller still for two seconds to reset the MotionPlus if the controls appear to be off. The bigger and insurmountable problem is they never really appear to be on.

Fencing in next month’s Wii Sports 2, Nintendo’s first game designed for use with MotionPlus, demonstrates that the most subtle wrist movements are translated on-screen to your sword’s movements. In Grand Slam Tennis, attempting the same movements with the racket while awaiting a serve jerks it through a small handful of available angles that do not always match the intended racket movement. If 1:1 movement exists then its existence is impossible to identify on-screen.

Translating racket angles and shot types into gameplay is a hit and miss affair. The distinction between shot types is marginal despite difficult setting which will have you performing unwanted returns on any shot with even a hint of difficultly attached. A lull from an ongoing soft volley may persuade otherwise, but it won’t take long for what feels like a shot aimed down the line to slice off into the middle of the court.

The difficulty settings may as well be nonexistent as defeating an opponent is equally challenging whether ratcheted up to hard or bottomed out at beginner. Winning or losing a match will earn valuable skills for your player who begins at rock bottom, but there is not much fun to be had in consistently losing matches 3 sets to none. It might have been easier had EA pitted you against equally skilled opponents from the get go or offered some sort of practice or exhibition mode. Instead, the only way to hone skills is by losing badly or returning shots from a static ball machine.

The Grand Slam Tennis presentation is up to EA’s elevated visual and immersive standards with over 20 licensed current and legend players, accurate real-life courts matching Grand Slam events and authentic tennis sounds like the ball hitting a racket, the court or the net and in-game commentary. The visuals are a successful cross between stylized animation and realism with frame-rates steady and multi-layered backgrounds that move appropriately during instant replays.

But not even EA could overcome the double whammy of dealing with a new sport coupled with a new motion control technology in MotionPlus with Grand Slam Tennis. The unreliable swing controls siphon any enjoyment out of playing and MotionPlus is presented as an afterthought that adds virtually nothing to the game. Another year for EA to focus on harnessing the capabilities of MotionPlus and ironing out the swing controls will do the franchise well. Treat this first effort as you might any new foray into uncharted waters: with great caution.

– Dan Bradley

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