Grand Slam Tennis (EA Sports) (Wii) - Review by Chris
For a company that virtually owns the sport section of the games industry, it's strange to think that EA don't have an applicable tennis title to challenge Sega's Virtua Tennis series. But as of June this year, they now do. Grand Slam Tennis is EA's first attempt at a modern tennis sim, with it having been designed specifically from the ground up for the Wii. It's also the first title to make use of Nintendo's new Wii Motion Plus attachment, with Nintendo's initial support for it not coming until July. So was it a right move to let EA launch the device? Let's see shall we.
The name on the box tells you everything you need to know about what is contained within. Grand Slam Tennis is all about playing that particular sport, whether it be in single or multiplayer or even online. The game provides a decent selection of modes to cater to all obvious playing styles and while there is a lengthy single player mode, it's the multiplayer where you'll spend most of your time. The single player mode is called Grand Slam and here, you'll create a character and refine it before taking to the World Tour and taking on the 4 major championships in tennis, these of course being the Australian, US and French Opens along with Wimbledon. In each competition, you'll play a succession of almost training matches prior to the real competition and in these you'll face off against star players in the hope of learning a new technique for your caricature or to increase your star rating. It's a good idea to have this in here because it gives the feeling that you are actually improving not only yourself as a gamer when it comes to hitting the shots but also your character, who'll get stronger and better at hitting the angles. When it comes time to compete for the actual trophy, you'll play through a series of 5 matches on your way to winning. It's a simple set up for a single player mode but very effective in its progression. And should you win or lose, you'll move on to the next tournament and continue on like this, winning the tournaments and eventually the grand slam. And even once you've won the grand slam, you can keep playing to see if you can retain it and you will because you'll always feel you have something to prove on the courts.
EA have also provided a Play Now mode, which allows up to four players to quickly pick their characters and venue of choice and drop into a game. It's seamless and quick to get into a match, which is great if you have little time to play or if you just want a quick game with your friends. There's also the obligatory Tennis Party mode included specifically for play with up to 4 players and here you'll play through a collection of tennis based mini games. It's another mode for your and friends to play through but while it can be fun, the main draw for many will just be to select Play Now while with friends. And thankfully, while other developers sometimes leave this mode out when it comes to Wii titles, EA has provided a decent online set up, but more on that later.
As the first title to make us of Wii Motion Plus, Grand Slam Tennis has a lot to live up to. The device has been hyped up considerably by Nintendo for providing true 1:1 detection of movement by the player with no delay. Well perhaps they should have told EA that. The controls work in a similar vain to Tennis in Wii Sports. It's all motion based with the A and B buttons being held for lob and drop shots respectively. It worked well there and is equally good here, with or without the Motion Plus attachment. A Nunchuk can also be connected so that players can move their characters around the court instead of the game doing it for them. The Motion Plus add-on does add to the playability of the title. Making use of what is inside the device, you can make a wider variety of shots than is possible with just the Wii-mote, as well as being able to add proper top spin or back spin to the ball, and place the ball almost exactly where you want it to go. I say almost because there are some problems with it. For the most part, it works well and enhances the experience but the device has to re-calibrate after each point otherwise hitting and aiming shots in the next will be difficult. It's a minor niggle that means you have to hold the controller perfectly still for a few seconds. There's also the problem of the over sensitivity of the device which can lead to a back swing or wind up of a shot being detected as an actual swing. As the first title to make use of the device, it works amicably but there's clearly room for improvement from EA on the controls.
Instead of trying to go for a realistic look, EA have opted for a cartoony presentation with the use of cel-shaded graphics for all aspects in game. This way, it seems EA could play to the Wii's strengths but what the end result brings is a rather mixed bag. Character models are great; well designed and capture the real life persona's of the players perfectly, even down to the small things like Nadal's shifting about of his shorts between points, and their animation is fluid. What really lets the game down, though, is that it seems more effort went into getting the look of the characters correct and getting the controls to work and so while the stages are replicated to a decent enough standard, they are let down by low resolution textures, poor quality umpire and court officials and some pretty bad 2d work for the crowd. In some titles, this would be a real damning point but because this is a game that's not about the graphics and is about the fun that you get from playing, just like Wii Sports, then it can almost be forgiven. It sets up a base from which EA can improve with the next iteration.
The game doesn't boast much in the way of musical offerings outside of the main menu areas, with a dance style tune is played. It's not particularly memorable though and as such, you'll rarely notice it. In game, the sound of the tennis ball hitting the racket is recreated well and even though the sound comes out of the Wii-mote as well as the TV, it still sounds good and realistic. The players have also been given their attributed grunts and these are also well presented and will bring a smirk to your face, especially with the over the top Sharapova one.
While Nintendo has been slow to push the online functionality of the Wii outside of big offerings like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros., EA continues to make use of its own online set up for the Wii, which thankfully doesn't make use of the friend code system but a system more in line with the online on the other home consoles. Connecting to the online service is quick and picking up a match, be it against friends or just anyone around the world, is seamless. While it may seem the basic modes have been provided, such as ranked matches against friends and unknown worldwide opponents or unranked in both single and doubles, it's more than enough to keep you entertained and coming back for more. This is undoubtedly where you'll end up spending most of your time. When playing, there is little or no lag at all and that which there is comes about purely as a result of your own connection strength rather than problems with EA's servers.
As a starting point, Grand Slam Tennis does some things spot on. The online service is superb and the amount of content is equally good. While character models are done to a high standard, the game is let down by the graphics in other departments but that's not what the game is about. The game is about providing a high quality tennis experience on the Wii and EA have managed to get there, although there is still ample room for improvement in many areas specifically the controls with Motion Plus. It's not the best advocate for the device, and we won't see its true potential until Wii Sports Resort in July, but it uses it well. With Wimbledon just around the corner, this is a highly recommendable title with the Motion Plus add-on.
Pro: Great online, decent amount of content, controls are superb when they work
Con: Some real draw backs in the graphics department, some control issues
Final score: 7.7